Bliss #5 keeps the momentum going through its own descent into the dark roads of pain and addiction. It’s an issue with a deeper real-life reflection, about memory and the path to redemption; one road leading up and the other leading so far down the gods are killing each other.
Sean Lewis (DC Future State’s Superman of Metropolis) and rock star artist Caitlin Yarsky return with the final arc of their critically lauded series. Benton has come face to face with Lethe on her home turf where memories are weapons. As Benton is literally tortured by the past, his son travels with the god Hera through the swamps of Feral City looking for the secret that could bring Lethe down.
Directly underneath all of the otherworldly fantasy, menace and mystery swirling throughout Bliss #5 rests a subtle, but very real-world theme: the insidious cynicism that comes with sobriety.
The latest issue of Bliss is back after a few-month hiatus and fills in the blanks as to what happened to our tortured anti-hero Benton after he hit rock-bottom in Bliss #4 — which in this world means attempting to kill your wife under the influence of the titular memory-erasing drug. This issue also answers where the drug itself comes from — and its wicked debut.
Bliss #5 — apparently self-aware of its own hiatus — wastes no time in getting to the action and concentrates on two storylines.
The first is that of Benton going after Lethe, a goddess of Feral City’s seedy, criminal underworld who is attempting a coup by killing all the other gods. After reading what was probably one of the coolest pieces of fist-pumping dialogue ever uttered by Benton in Bliss #4 (“LETHE! LET’S DANCE.”) right before diving after Lethe from one of her giant zombie raven assassins (no joke!), it was imperative that writer Sean Lewis and artist Caitlin Yarsky keep up the tempo. All they had to do was keep the foot on the accelerator.
They succeeded. There’s a breathtaking momentum to Bliss #5. You’re compelled to read it at the pace Lewis and Yarsky have made, I assume, by design. You can’t help it. There’s a ticking-bomb quality to it that engages the reader with anticipation, even if at the issue’s core is a story about, well, the necessity of slowing down when it’s imperative.
(There’s a slight continuity error between the issues, however, with Benton jumping off the raven at the end of issue #4 — making the scene even more exhilarating — and astride it at the beginning of issue #5. It happens.)
Yarsky’s work throughout the series, especially with the last two issues’ cover art, has been stellar. Simply superb. There’s a skewed symmetry to her art that is uniquely hers.
The second storyline revolves around Benton’s son, Perry, who is looking for a way to help his father with the aid of Hera, one of the gods that survived Lethe’s purge.
Benton is the arguable catalyst for the chain of events leading up to this point. It was his Faustian deal with the gods of Feral City’s underworld that led him down the dark, dark, DARK path of becoming their enforcer and assassin.
This choice also led him to his addiction to the mind-erasing powers of Bliss. The only way he could fathom to live with the memories of his sins was by erasing all trace of them every time they happened.
Once he reaches a memory center that’s basically rehab, Benton, with the help of his serene but strong counselor Rachel, begins the exhausting and brutal process of rebuilding himself. Doing so by deconstructing and destroying his old self.
As Benton’s memories start to return through the haze of his addiction, he asks Robin through the web of his own self-torture, “You gave me these memories back. So what do I do?”
She replies with stern reassurance, “Nothing. You haven’t earned that yet. Forgiveness takes work.”
That’s the subtle takeaway. That this assassin who spent years killing other people in a deal to save the life of his child has to ultimately kill that version of himself to move forward. To achieve bliss without it.
Unfortunately, there’s an uneasy balancing act that happens when that cycle of addiction is broken. That’s when the cynicism manifests. Not just from others, the hurt, the skeptical and the enabling, who might find it understandably difficult to take a person’s newfound sobriety seriously, but from the recovering addict themselves.
It’s easier for some people to dry-drunk it and say that they’re just “taking a break” from indulging in the narcotic of their choice than to commit to sobriety. It’s an escape hatch in case of failure because, regardless, if it’s been one day or fifty years, every addict is one bad day away from relapsing.
This revelation didn’t come to me as I read the issue, it came to me a few days later with the power of a newly activated memory, much like Benton’s. This put all of the events throughout Bliss #5 into a proper context with all of the requisite melancholy and dread that permeates this tale of addiction and redemption. These are somber roads that Bliss keeps taking us through, appropriately housed in the underworld.
The question for both Bliss as a series and the real world it reflects darkly is the same one that I imagine inspired the motto “one day at a time” and the same one Benton asked his counselor from that oubliette of guilt, shame and pain.
Bliss #5 released Feb. 10 by Image Comics, written by Sean Lewis, art by Caitlin Yarsky.