Rob Liefeld on the Extreme Universe Movie Deal: "The '90s Have Been Largely Underserved"

Rob Liefeld attends WIRED Cafe during Comic-Con International 2016 - Getty-H 2016
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"This fanbase is just sitting there."

The news that Rob Liefeld has partnered with Akiva Goldsman and Graham King to bring his Extreme Comics characters to movies surprised many when it broke this week, but talking to Heat Vision, the comic book creator — who is also responsible for Marvel's Deadpool — revealed that he'd been working on the deal for some time.

Liefeld also revealed that the Extreme revival won't just be happening onscreen, with work on new comic books based on characters and concepts like Brigade and Bloodstrike already underway to coincide with a new reprint program for the original material. After years of Marvel and DC dominating the superhero genre onscreen and in comic book stores, is it finally time for the Extreme age to begin?

This announcement came out of nowhere. How long have you been working on bringing the Extreme properties to the screen?

This is the product of a yearlong process. I went to meet with Akiva Goldsman, who reached out to me because he was interested in the character Avengelyne. He was interested in angels, the afterlife, the conflict between good and evil, and he'd singled out Avengelyne as something that he really wanted to discuss. So I spoke with him, and we got along famously — he shared with me all of the different things he'd been doing — and he's like, "I'm running the Hasbro room for Paramount next, and then I'd like to do your universe," and I'm telling you, that's pretty exciting. He said, "I have a friend named Graham King, and we have financial capital, and I will be your film showrunner. You'll sit with me as we create the [writers] room, and we'll get screenplays for these properties, and we'll get them going." It was pretty astounding.

What happens, with this many titles and characters … there's a deal-making process. That took a year, but no one's enthusiasm faded during this time. Deadpool took seven years to get to the motion picture screen, and I use that as my measurement. That tested me and my patience more than anything I could've imagined, because the screenplay was so good. It was like, "Why can't someone see how well this will play?" It was all over that page. I'd already lived through that seven-year birth process, so taking one year to get all the particulars of this deal worked out, when you have two producers and a financier [was nothing].

The selection of characters mentioned in the announcement was interesting; you had Brigade and Bloodstrike, from Extreme's earliest days at Image Comics, but also material like Kaboom and Nitro-Gen, which came almost a decade later …

Well, Kaboom and Nitro-Gen represent the youth of the package. I mean, they are teenagers. And with Brigade and Bloodstrike, the thing is, they can't be separated. They're bound by a familial tie, they're the Cain and Abel of this particular universe. I mean, if you died on the battlefield and I brought you back without your consent, you might hate me too, being sentenced to a life of constant regeneration. So John Stone and Cabbot Stone are beyond estranged, and that's where the conflict comes from. Altogether, we've got around 100 characters, and we know the central conflicts.

If I'm a ticket buyer, I ask myself, "Why should I give these movies my attention when I already have Marvel and DC movies?" I see all those movies, I'm a fan. I see them on opening night, and depending on the quality, I see them multiple times. With these characters, there's a central conflict between the two brothers that hasn't been seen yet, so we have something new to offer. You've also got monsters, aliens, robots, cyborgs, undead soldiers. We have a lot of stuff.

That brings up something about the Extreme books and characters in general; they're almost more sci-fi than traditional superhero, it's as if they're future-proofed from any backlash against the superhero genre. You could essentially play a lot of these properties as straight sci-fi if you wanted.

There really was a different focus to these characters. Not just story wise, but design-wise, too. They are heavily sci-fi/fantasy. My focus, especially back then, was — I didn't have a lot of spandex characters. My characters came with a lot of gear, a lot of weaponry. I was just watching, just before we talked, these two police officers transport a prisoner into the courtroom and I was taken by all the stuff they're wearing, all their armor. That's my fascination. It's something I started with Cable in New Mutants and X-Force, the gear fascination. Superheroes didn't look like that before. I mean, they've added a lot of pouches to Captain America now [Laughs].

Do you think that Deadpool helped set something in motion where movie audiences are looking for something else from their superhero movies now? Something that isn't the superhero origin story, but perhaps a movie that takes in tropes from other genres?

Yeah, yeah. Definitely. And let me tell you what else Deadpool did. I did 30 tour-dates in the last two years. I went to 30 different conventions all across America, I tried to go to places I had never been, and I kept hearing people say, "Finally! It's about time we had a '90s movie! It's about time we got a movie with characters we love!" I'm telling you right now, the '90s have been largely underserved in film. What Marvel is relying on is largely the Stan [Lee] and Jack [Kirby] stuff, the 1960s stuff. Doctor Strange? I loved it, it's brilliant, but it has its roots in the Lee/Ditko material of the 1960s. Age of Ultron, that comes from 1970s Roy Thomas and John Buscema stories. The '90s have not gotten film service, and those fans were out in force, great in number. They were 13 years old when they bought those books, and now they have families and they want to share this material — everyone wants to share what they love with their kids!

I'd go to those conventions and the fans would have X-Force and New Mutants and Deadpool and Brigade and Bloodshot, and they'd ask, "When are we getting Extreme films, Liefeld?" and I'd just have to say, "I wish I could tell you!" [Laughs.] "Hopefully, if everything goes right, sooner than you think!" Brigade went to the top of the charts, Bloodstrike went to the top of the charts. This fanbase is just sitting there. To be honest, I was not prepared for the outpouring of love that followed this announcement. These fans want to see this material onscreen.

What about the source material? Will fans be able to buy new Brigade comics, or Bloodstrike? You brought back some Extreme properties in 2011, but many of these characters haven't been seen on the stands in years.

I have a new Brigade series ready to go that I've been waiting to launch with Bloodstrike, and then we have an Extreme anthology coming out. I'm not going to flood the market. We'll do selective stories, selective arcs, and then at the end of the year, we'll be collecting the material. I love collections. We're going to collect the original stories for the first time, as well. Very little of the '90s stories have been collected. Bloodstrike No. 1 was a book that I laid out, we had young talent at the time — it gave me a chance to control the storytelling — and we're going to recolor and reissue that so that people can have an affordable version of that. Re-Gex No. 1, I did with [Marvel TV head] Jeph Loeb, we're doing a new edition of that. But, yes. There'll also be new adventures. We'll do a couple of story arcs. We've got a lot of the Extreme talent working on new material, some of them are already back at work on it. Marat Mychaels, who was the original artist on Brigade, is working on it again.

And again, the fans love this stuff. On my desk right now, I have a bunch of books from '92 and '93, and I looked at the layouts of this stuff, I looked at the visuals, and I'm telling you, we at Image Comics and Extreme Studios, we pushed the boundaries of storytelling. We had big, bold, colorful characters, and we had interesting conflicts. I just think, especially aesthetically, there's a visual direction we gave great care to. That's fun. That's fun. I do feel like everything old and new again. I loved Twin Peaks, and I keep thinking about that little guy. "That gum you like is back in style."