Who is behind the drug called BLISS? Who leads the Street Gods that turned our sweet hero into a killer? What choices did Benton make to fall so far, and how have these choices driven his family apart?
The monstrous goddess Lethe emerges to defend Benton’s honor as his son Perry fights for his father’s life in court. Breaking Bad meets Neil Gaiman’s Sandman in an urban fantasy unlike any you’ve ever seen.
In their latest title Bliss, much like in their previous series, Coyotes, the creative team of writer Sean Lewis and artist Caitlin Yarsky have created a fantasy world that’s tethered just enough in reality to make readers second guess their understanding of what “real” is.
Is it the future? Is it an alternate reality? Is it something completely different? The pretty-on-the-nose name of where the story takes place, Feral City, is a solid hint that we aren’t in Kansas anymore.
There are details that feel tethered to our world (hospitals, poverty, crime, Thanksgiving and basketball) mixed with the fantastic (supernatural — or are they? — underworld bosses and gods, the namesake drug that empties memories) that are reminiscent of The Dark Crystal, Brave New World and the Neil Gaiman BBC series Neverwhere.
Much like they did with Coyotes, Lewis and Yarsky have created an adult fable surrounded by familiar elements that feel hazily new.
Not that these references are slavish; they’re more like echoes. The story, moving back and forth in time, revolves around Benton Ohara, the tragic pro/antagonist who made a Faustian deal to save his son Perry’s life — the same son who will later defend his absent father in a very odd trial that runs throughout the book.
Perry’s mother, Mabel, intuitively knows that something is amiss through all the bliss. Benton and Mable sincerely love each other and have a comfortable and frank openness with each other — even though Mabel knows that there are some questions she might not want answers to. The themes of protectiveness, family, love, memory, violence — mostly rationalized — and redemption run deep throughout Bliss.
And much like Benton, who struck me at first as a visual cross between Lin-Manuel Miranda and Katt Williams — the way Lewis writes him and Yarsky illustrates him so vibrantly, so … tragically, his appearance kept changing to me. Reading this story made me realize that I was seeing him both through the eyes of his son, the eyes of Mabel and the eyes of the story. After a while, I wasn’t sure any more what he really looked like. Another echo, like a dream.
That’s the thing about dreams, though: they’re fluid. The balancing act that Yarsky achieves in making this world and its characters visually consistent but powerfully dreamlike is a superb display of artistic finesse.
While Bliss #1 introduced the main characters, world and mythology — not to mention that aforementioned trial — Bliss #2 expands on the father and son’s journey. Mabel gets the short end of the narrative stick here, but based on her actions, looks to be quite significant as the story goes further.
I had the opportunity to discuss Coyotes a few weeks back with Brenden Allen and Tony Thornley for the New To You Comics series. It gave me the opportunity to gauge how much Lewis and Yarsky have evolved in the three years since that comic was released.
Bliss isn’t as surrealistic as Coyotes or as cryptic. Bliss is its own animal: strident, dark, sleek and cunning, very much like the reptilian crime lords who are behind the machinations of this new world Lewis and Yarsky have created. A world that’s almost Fellini Satyricon-esque in its depictions of the cavernous criminal underworld, but, again, it’s just an echo. Just like Bliss.
Bliss #2 released Aug. 26 by Image Comics, written by Sean Lewis, art by Caitlin Yarsky.