With the comics industry continuing to battle the effects of the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are continuing to talk about comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, sparkly tights, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals, and things that go bump in the night. This week, we take a look at a reinvention of a 90’s hero that pushed some boundaries in all the best ways.
Prior to Bloodshot Reborn, Bloodshot was a bit of a cipher, intentionally so. The character has lost his past thanks to the manipulations of Project Rising Spirit. Without this series though, the character lacked depth- he was still the cyborg killing machine that he was trying to cast away.
In the wake of the miniseries event, The Valiant, Jeff Lemire, Mico Suayan, Raul Allen, David Baron, Dave Lanphear, Patricia Martin, and Borja Pindado relaunched the character with a franchise redefining story. It was an instant hit, giving the character- who had been a Punisher/Wolverine pastiche at best before- more depth and humanity than he’d had for the preceding three years.
Ray Garrison thought he was out, thought that he was human again. The nanites were gone, and he was free. A shocking, violent crime shatters that illusion when he sees pictures of the killer- including chalk-white skin and a blood-red circle on his chest. Now to prevent any more violence, Ray has to do the one thing he hoped to never do again… He will return to the life of Bloodshot…
Tony Thornley: A very long time ago, in the first month or so of the column, we chatted about the prelude to this story, The Valiant. Now, you don’t need to remember much of that story to jump into this, but Lemire followed that event up with this- a much darker and more intimate story about violence and the horror that it’s unleashed on one man.
This is probably one of the darkest books I’ve brought to you but damn I like it.
Brendan Allen: I don’t mind dark. You know that. This one’s interesting. It’s a little bit Roger Rabbit, by way of Brown Bunny and Fallen. Probably throw some Wolverine and Punisher in there, too. Lots of really cool elements smashed together in a way that isn’t too heavy handed or obvious.
Tony: Yeah, I think the couple of times we’ve talked Valiant, we’ve talked about how some of the leads are pastiches and amalgams of other characters. Lemire leans into that a bit and makes something wholly his.
I can be hot or cold on Lemire. In my opinion though, all of his Valiant stories are just top notch. This takes a man at his lowest, trying to claw his way up until his past catches up to him. Without the science fiction trappings, it’s a classic sort of story with a little noir. With them though, it starts to transcend the tropes.
Brendan: More to my point. There are plenty of tropes at play, but they do seem to fit together really well. Some of the edges that are a little rough in the beginning smoothe out the further you get into this one, and that’s even reflective of real life and experiences.
Tony: It’s hard to say that I liked the examination of violence, but it was extremely well done. Here’s Ray, whose entire life that he can remember is dedicated to violence. He wants to change, but he realizes worse violence will be happening to the world if he doesn’t embrace that part of himself again. It’s bleak and frightening, but Lemire makes it work.
Brendan: It’s violent, sure. The violence is at least somewhat redemptive, though. We don’t really know how good of a guy Ray is yet, but he does want to be a good guy, and is willing to sacrifice his own well-being to get there. The flip side of that, though, is that he’s willing to sacrifice a lot of other people’s well-being as well.
Tony: Yeah, I feel like the whole point of this volume is taking this character who’s defined by violence and transforming him into something better. The arc that Ray Garrison has across the three-plus years Lemire writes him is one of my favorites of this era of comics.
Suayan’s work is really gorgeous. I love photoreal artists who still give their work a sense of motion and action. His take on Ray feels like a regular schlub until he puts on the red circle T-shirt, and then he shifts him into this angry determination that recalls Hollywood revenge thrillers, or maybe the Punisher. The various Bloodshots through the arc are all distinct and unique, and that’s not just the design. They move and fight all in their own distinct ways.
Brendan: The art in the first four chapters was incredible. As you said, almost photo-real, with gritty lighting and a moody palette. Had a real noir feel to it. Then, in the fifth, it did a complete 180. Linework cleans up with bold outlines, and the colors brighten up. Was there a completely different team? I was trucking right along until the blatant switch up. It’s visually jarring.
Tony: Yeah, it’s Raul Allen instead of Suayan.
Brendan: Even the lettering changed up. The narration boxes went from this ‘hand-lettered’ all caps font that had a great organic feel to a smaller, sentence cased font that is too regular to even sneeze at ‘hand-lettered.’ There are even a couple spots where the same bits of phrases line up on top of each other, highlighting their sameness. ‘I try to’ directly above ‘I try to,’ with every letter lining up perfectly. Completely breaks the illusion of ‘hand’ lettering.
So, I’m going to go ahead and say the first four chapters were drawn, colored, and lettered brilliantly, and then the fifth just… wasn’t.
Tony: I like Allen’s art in that fifth chapter because it was mostly a hallucination, but it is a jarring change. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so jarring if they’d had Suayan on the first couple and last couple pages?
I think the only thing I didn’t like about the art was how Magic, the young woman Ray rescues at the end of the volume, is depicted. When she first shows up, she’s drawn like she’s only 16 or 17 years old. She’s not proportioned like an adult. Then the page before Ray has an internal monologue about “looking back, was I in love with her from the beginning” she’s suddenly aged up.
I’m not sure if that was intentional, or a bad description in the script or what, but it definitely made that final page of issue #4 EXTREMELY uncomfortable.
Brendan: I don’t know whether to credit Lemire or the art team for Ray slashing open his palm to test his humanity. Why is it, in every movie, book, and TV show, that when someone needs blood, they slice open their palms? There are so many other places that are more convenient and would do the job just as well, without sacrificing mobility and dexterity.
I mean, I see why they did it, a couple sequences later, but still. Transfer of fluids could have happened on a forearm, a leg, or even a fingertip with fewer issues.
Tony: Yeah, you and I have talked about that before. I think the only characters that trope makes sense with are the Wolverines, since they heal almost instantly.
So what did you think?
Brendan: It’s good. I really could have done without the weird visual switch-up, but the story is solid, and the art is (mostly) on point. If you told me the next arc went back to the artistic style of the first part of this one, I’d definitely be interested in checking it out.
Tony: Yeah, the next arc is actually by Butch Guice, who we talked about on Captain America. I think you’d dig it, but it’s a big switch from Suayan.
What do we have up after the holiday?
Brendan: This one may be a bit of a shocker for you since it’s way outside my usual lane. Batman Vol.1: I Am Gotham, by Tom King and David Finch.
Tony: I haven’t revisited that book since it came out, so I’m interested to see what I think on the re-read!
Bloodshot Reborn V1: Colorado is available now from Valiant Entertainment.