The rebirth of the other hot comic book company of the 1990s (besides Image) continues as The Summer of Valiant brings us a new version of the nanite infested super-solider Bloodshot. By the time ol’ Dot-chest came around, Jim Shooter had been ejected from the top chair at Valiant but the sensibility he established continued to emphasize story and sci-fi over artwork and fantasy. I came to Valiant really after the company went out of business with the Great Comic Book Speculator Bust of the 1990s and I’ve always felt that Shooter template was one of the greatest examples of The Road Not Taken in comic history. I still feel that way as the artist-dominated Image ethos has been replaced by a more writer-centric approach to comics because today’s “delicate geniuses” flail about with the strong editorial structure that Shooter cultivated. Valiant did comics a particular way and the industry as a whole has spent the last 20 years doing things the opposite of that. So, I think there may be something to learn from comparing the ’92 and ’12 versions of Valiant’s first issues.
1992 Bloodshot opens with MI-5 trying to foil a clandestine terrorist exchange at London’s Heathrow airport. “Trying to” is correct because a pale-skinned, red-eyed, heavily armed man with a big red circle on his bared chest blows away the terrorists, grabs their secret material and escapes with only a bullet in the arm. That bullet is quickly ejected from his body by the nanites in his blood, leaving the man to wonder how he’d survive a shot in the heart.
The scene shifts to Japan where an old man tells two hulking bruisers that the pale-skinned man in codenamed Bloodshot and is the product of Project Rising Spirit. In addition to the aptitude for violence and the self-healing bit, we learn that Bloodshot’s “computerized blood” allows him to interface with computers. We also learn the two bruisers have been similarly enhanced but they are quickly dying from the process and are ordered to bring Bloodshot back to the old man.
Back in London, we find Bloodshot continuing to hunt the terrorist group because he’s seeking information on who and what he is, indicating that he doesn’t know himself. He questions an American mobster named Canelli who’s working with the terrorists, only to be attacked by the two bruisers. They prove to be too much for Bloodshot physically and almost kill him, until he takes mental control of their “computerized blood” and causes it too pump so fast their brains explode. Bloodshot barely survives and re-emphasizes his amnesiatic condition. The book ends with a jaunt to Little Italy in Lower Manhattan where we find some a mob boss very interested in Bloodshot because he looks like a supposedly dead gangster named Angelo Mortalli.
2012 Bloodshot begins with an infodump on the inside cover, informing the reader of what nanites are and what abilities they grant to Bloodshot. Then some U.S. soldiers in Nevada conducted a remote drone strike in Afghanistan to kill some terrorists, only to be fried by a teenage girl that country who can reach through the telecommunications link between the soldiers and the drone to electrify them.
Next we get a guy named Ray who’s apparently a highly skilled military operative. He’s called in to save an old friend named Apanewicz who’s been kidnapped in Afghanistan and is going to be killed. Ray explains why he needs to take this mission to his wife and child and they understand, though aren’t thrilled about it. Things cut to Ray parachuting out of a plane over Afghanistan and getting blown up in mid-air by a missle. Ray’s burned and blasted corpse is taken to the exact site he was told Apanewicz was being held and that’s where a burst of memory causes Ray’s body to regenerate with pale skin and a red circle on his chest. Using his nanite ability to alter his appearance, Ray makes it into a room full of armed men with a big metal door on the other end. Able to hear instructions from his superiors without any radio gear on him, he’s told to wipe out everyone in that room and free Apanewicz. As he pulls the door off its hinges, Bloodshot sees his son standing there and is distracted long enough to get shot in the head.
When Bloodshot revives (from getting his brain blown out?), he’s strapped into a chair with cables stuck in his skull. A Mr. Kuretich tells Bloodshot his memories are all implanted delusions to get him to follow orders, something he demonstrates with a touch of a button that causes Bloodshot to remember all the various wives and children he’s been programmed to believe is true. Kuretich knows Bloodshot’s masters can see through his eyes, so he warns Simon Oreck and the staff of Project Rising Spirit that Kuretich and his group are going to download all of Bloodshot’s memories and expose all of his bloody past missions. Freaked out about his fake memories, Bloodshot leaves chunks of himself behind as he tears himself out of the chair and escapes into the Afghanistan wilderness. That’s where a helicopter full of American soldiers, acting on orders from Bloodshot’s masters, tear him apart with a hail of gunfire. His arms are severed. His guts spill out. Half his head is blown away. As Bloodshot’s tattered body is raised into the helicopter, Simon Oreck asks if out much mutilated main character could take another “memory cap”. Sure, he’s told. “We’ve done it hundreds of times before.”
Now, if you’ve read my previous Summer of Valiant review, you may notice there’s not nearly as big a difference in pace and narrative density between the Bloodshot #1’s as there was for XO Manowar and Harbinger. That’s because those first two books appear to be largely repeating the same opening storylines as their predecessors, only at an astonishingly slow speed. While I’d still give the edge to ’92 Bloodshot as a complete, coherent narrative, the ’12 version doesn’t suffer nearly as much in comparison because it seems to be telling a separate tale. Maybe this guy will eventually end up the same place ’92 Bloodshot began, which looks like what is going to happen with XO and Harbinger, but that’s not screamingly obvious from this first issue. And objectively, ’12 Bloodshot has essentially reached the same narrative point at the end of issue #1 that ’12 Harbinger got to at the end of issue #2 and where ’12 XO may hopefully arrive at the conclusion of issue #3.
There is a huge difference in how much information about Bloodshot is given to readers and how it’s conveyed. Though nanites were a much newer concept at the time, ’92 Bloodshot weaves just enough details through the story about them and how them empower the character to allow a reader to follow along. ’12 Bloodshot gives the reader “Everything You Every Wanted to Know About Nanites (But Were Afraid To Ask)” before the comic even starts. I’m not sure if that says something good or bad about how modern comic readers absorb information from their books and how they expect that information to be presented to them.
Another big change is in the nature of the main character. ’92 Bloodshot may be a man alone with the world out to get him, but he’s also a major league ass-kicker. He’s taking action to figure out what’s been done to him and dealing severely with anyone who gets in his way. ’92 Bloodshot is facing long odds but he comes across to the reader as a victor. ’12 Bloodshot, however, is clearly a victim. He has three pages where he’s the one dishing out pain and death, while the rest of the comic has him getting the everliving hell beat out of him. Nailed with a surface-to-air missle. Riddled with bullets and shot in the head. Forced to tear himself away from implanted medical equipment. Revealed to be the subject of terrible deception and practically eviscerated at the end of his first issue. ’92 Bloodshoot is a violent super-hero. ’12 Bloodshot is more like crash test dummy who keeps coming back for more. Yet the ’92 book treats getting shot once as a big deal and tries to allow the reader to suspend disbelief and buy into the danger facing the character. The ’12 book pretty much defines the characters as essentially immortal, which puts a twist on the idea of him as a perpetual victim. ’92 Bloodshot faces death as the ultimate threat. In 2012, our acceptance of depravity has risen to the point that constant mental and physical torment is necessary to pique out concern.
The artwork may be the most interesting thing to compare with these two books. Don Perlin’s art has the simpler line and muted colors that were the Valiant house style, but his panel layout is much less structured and more aimed at hitting the reader with the biggest and best image he can. Unlike many modern artists, Perlin doesn’t try and do that with every single panel but his work has much less of an apparent rhythm and form as, for example, was on display in XO Manowar #1 in 1992. 2012 artist Manuel Garcia, on the other hand, makes good use of structure and rhythm in his work. Almost all of his art is in the form of horizontal panels that stretch all the way across the page, usually 4 panels per page, one on top of the other. That pattern is repeated over and over, imbuing the story with a sense of flow that compliments the words and individual images. It also adds an extra punch to the art every time the pattern is broken. I’m no expert, but that technique looks like it’s not just unknown but inconceivable to many artists today.
I thought the first two Valiant 2012 book were good by modern standards but suffered when matched up against the 1992 counterparts. ’12 Bloodshot survives that comparison much better and encourages me that the whole line up may have a brighter future than I first thought. We’ll see fairly soon because the bar gets raised way up when 2012 Valiant reboots Archer and Armstrong, one of the most underrated comics of its era.