He is also credited as a pioneer of the '90s Anti-Hero. Many stylistic advents in superhero comics of the 1990s are inaccurately attributed to Liefeld, such as the sharp, thin-lined Crowquill inking style that he (and others) cribbed from contemporaries such as Dale Keown, Todd McFarlane, Art Adams, and Jim Lee.
As with the confrontational splash pages, Liefeld's approach to character and costume design was shocking excess in the wake of a fairly conventional period in superhero comics. This initially impressed comic-book readers as a powerful creative energy many likened to that of Jack Kirby (some still do, infuriating others).
Unfortunately, efforts to quickly develop numerous properties for Image Comics to compete for shelf-space with the established mainstream publishers resulted in a glut of Liefeld-style designs and many artists suddenly working in the Liefeld/Lee/Silvestri "Image Comics" style. It was too much. Contrasting Liefeld's own crude work to that of so many (often more polished) artists working in similar styles stripped the wunderkind of his mystique.
That most Image Comics titles also eschewed using dedicated writers didn't help matters. Though there were exceptions, and writing quality varied, the rottenest apples are best remembered.
Massive Hype Backlash followed, which gave Liefeld the distinction of being one of the most influential and successful comic artists, and one of the most broadly disparaged. Suffice to say that in recent years he is heavily parodied◊ and mocked.
Despite this notoriety, several of the characters he created have gone on to become long-running mainstream A-list properties (most notably Cable and Deadpool), and he continues to find (or create) regular work in the comic-book industry.
Tropes exhibited by Liefeld and his works:
- Author Appeal: Aside from his love of drawing highly deformed women, this also extends to male characters. For example, this◊ picture includes a rather prominent bulge in the main character's pants.
- BFG: Another hallmark of his artwork involves characters wielding a large futuristic gun.
- Boobs-and-Butt Pose: As usual for the period, his female characters fall into the BadGirlComic trope: sexy (anti-)heroines that pose provocatively for the "camera". Examples include Avengelyne, Glory and Genie (from Re:Gex).
- Captain Ersatz:
- American Agent, interim stand-in for Captain America (using unpublished art from a Captain America project) while Liefeld negotiated rights to reprise Fighting American. Fighting American was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby for a different company, but went satirical after a couple of issues when they started giving the otherwise-interchangeable Communist spies names like Hotsky Trotsky. This affair resulted in a lawsuit, resolved by the court ordering that Liefeld eliminate certain similarities to the Captain America property (among other things, Fighting American was not allowed to throw his shield).
- C-List Fodder: He created so many characters during his early New Mutants and X-Force run that it was inevitable. One-note characters like Sumo were killed quickly, while most of the Mutant Liberation Front were either depowered or killed over the years.
- Dark Age of Supernames: Liefeld's character names and book titles often have some form of "blood," "death" or "kill" incorporated.
- Darker and Edgier: While not the first to push the envelope when it comes to comics, he did not shy away from some darker and edgier content in his work (YMMV if it was a success or not):
- In Youngblood flipbook story in the first issue, one of their members telekinecly pops the head of a Saddam Hussein stand-in on the page, and the panel only shows blood gushing from his head.
- A more drastic example occurs in Youngblood #10: Chapel confronts Spawn (the man he killed) about the latter's pact with devil-like Malebolgia. Then, in the next pages, Chapel shoots himself in the head, blood, brain matter and bone fragments exploding forth from his head.
- Guns Akimbo: As a comic book artist, in many action scenes he drew, there is always one dual-wielding character either firing one gun or both at the same time.
- Heroic Build: Liefeld has the noted tendency to just throw muscles everywhere, even by the standards of superhero comics.
- Nineties Antihero: His output as a creator included characters developed during the early 90s that fit the mold of non-classical, Silver Age heroes.
- Shoulders of Doom: As part of the heroes and villains' ensemble, they often wear two shoulderpads (sometimes, only one).
- Stripperiffic: The female characters he drew and/or created wear what basically amounts to a bikini. Some examples include Glory and Avengelyne. A more explicit case could be made for Celestine, who wears a very fetish-y purple outfit.
- Super Hero Packing Heat: One of his signature elements, which he helped popularize for the '90s Anti-Hero. Many of his creations do have superpowers which they use, but a particularly egregious example comes from Youngblood: Chapel, mercenary◊ extraordinaire. Even when he was the artist for X-Force in the early-1990s, its members were drawn with guns (on this cover, Cable, Domino and Shatterstar - granted, Cable is a soldier from the future, and Domino is a mercenary, but Shatterstar's characteristic weapons are a pair of swords).
- Too Many Belts: Many of the characters he designed have a large amount of belts and pouches on them.