After a few issues away, Bloodshot finally returns to Magic after going on his ill-advised journey to Daddy’s home. Yuck, just writing that name makes me deeply uncomfortable. Thankfully, Lemire moves us beyond his trailer park of sadness and into some really cliched superhero moments that comment and riff upon themselves, making their placement significantly less egregious. Don’t worry, I’ll talk on it after the break. Oh, and here be spoilers.
Written by Jeff Lemire
Illustrated and Colored by Renato Guedes
Lettered by Simon Bowland
ALL-NEW ARC! ALL-NEW JUMPING-ON POINT! “THE BOOK OF THE DEAD” – PART ONE!
Into the Deadside! Years ago, Project Rising Spirit’s cutting-edge nanite technology transformed Ray Garrison into the walking weapon codenamed Bloodshot. Now, those very same microscopic machines have infected his infant daughter’s physiology and threaten to destroy her from the inside out. As the life of an innocent hangs in the balance, Bloodshot will be forced to make an unimaginable decision: to watch the child he loves die, or to confront death itself…and strike a bargain for her safety. Now, with the supernatural heroes known as Shadowman and Dr. Mirage to guide him, Bloodshot is about to undertake an unreal journey into the demon-haunted dimension known as the Deadside to save a life…or sacrifice his own…
Plus: Magic and the Bloodshot Squad lead an assault on Omen for the rescue attempt of a lifetime! A wrenching new chapter for Valiant’s powerful series starts here as New York Times best-selling writer Jeff Lemire (Black Hammer) leads Bloodshot to the precipice of loss, grief, and retribution – featuring fully painted interior art by sensational rising star Renato Guedes (X-O MANOWAR)!
Since losing his powers way back in “Bloodshot: Reborn” #1, Lemire has put Bloodshot through the ringer and while he hasn’t been able to quite capture the magic of that very first arc, he’s shown he has a deft hand at capturing what makes Bloodshot such an interesting character: his inability to learn from his own damn mistakes.
“Salvation’s” first arc opened with Bloodshot believing he was finally free from the superheroics of “Reborn” and “U.S.A.,” whether or not his actions were heroic can be debated, and would be able to start/continue his new life with Magic as Ray Garrison. In contrast to this, thematically, the arc showed Bloodshot’s changing trajectory from constantly being dragged into danger to instead seeking it out. Unsurprisingly, this made the arc feel like a new, albeit false, start for our bleached killer. This issue feels like more of the same, thematically, but the events show the tone of the characters has changed.
We start by seeing Ray dealing with the consequences of leaving a pregnant Magic to go running off to kill Daddy (ugh). Magic is more hostile towards Ray, physically and verbally, not letting him get away with a simple apology or excuse for breaking his promises. For going back on his word. For returning to Bloodshot.
However, after a slightly more heartfelt apology, one dropped of pretense and excuses, Magic releases her anger and his status quo is restored. True, this status quo now includes having to go on a mission to save his daughter from the nanites that are killing her but Bloodshot is back at full strength and about to play at being a “hero” again.
In doing this, he once again indulges in all the harmful tropes and actions that comes with the distinction, the biggest of which is the “you need to stay back because it’s too dangerous.” Having Ninja-K hold Magic back at the end seems inexplicable, especially after all he just went through, and feels like a slap to the face to an audience who has seen this kind of thing hundreds of times before . . . but it’s not out of character. Ray has always been overly obsessed with protecting those he cares about and the only way he knows how to is by being Bloodshot, the loner, the killer.
Just for the record, this is a trope that really grinds my gears in not just superhero comics but all media (I’m looking at you CW’s The Flash and Arrow). This grinding of gears, however, is exactly what Lemire wants from us.Continued below
How do I know this? It’s through the way Lemire frames the narrative, flipping the script on the usual superhero dynamic. This isn’t Barry Allen, hero extraordinaire, who is treated by the story as usually in the right, and, again, the hero-ness of Barry can be hotly debated. This is Bloodshot, anti-hero at best, who has constantly, and repeatedly, made very bad, self-destructive decisions, ones which the comic itself calls out and punishes harshly. From Magic calling Ray out on his “I had to go after Daddy” bullshit to future Ray’s narrative captions constantly reminding us of how many bad decisions he makes between the start of “Salvation” to whenever it is he “dies,” this issue is priming us to see Ray’s actions as unheroic and performative.
Despite all this, this issue feels like set up for whatever comes next, re-treading ground in order to establish the recurring thematic and story beats and to propel us into something new and different. It works to that end but, again, it’s a lot of stuff we have seen already and it’s not particularly interesting. We’ve seen Ray make stupid decisions before and, while it fits thematically, watching him make almost the same decisions here feels like wasted potential.
Anyway, this brings me to the artwork. I couldn’t find the right place to talk about the art. Each time an opportunity to talk about how the art enhanced the story came up, I found myself unconvinced it did. That’s not to say the art is technically flawed, not at all. The panted style and photo realistic people gives the issue a soft yet gritty feel. There is a darkness to all the colors and it feels like we are at a low point in Ray’s story. It’s reminiscent of Esad Ribic’s art in his choice of color palate and the detail with which he draws each panel.
Additionally, Guedes’s framing is spot-on, positioning the characters and the camera to maximize the drama. One page that is of particular note is the splash page on page 18, where Shadowman makes his grand entrance. The graveyard feels particularly spooky even with Bloodshot and Bloodhound taking up a large portion of the left and bottom side of the page. Yet he uses this to draw our attention to the Shadowman, who is crouching, menacingly, above Bloodshot on the top of a crypt.
Bloodshot’s gaze forces us to look up at him, making him imposing even though he is technically in the background, and by centering him on the page, his presence is enhanced. He is smaller, on the page, than Bloodshot or even Bloodhound, but because of the framing of the page, he is the largest and most important thing on that page.
So, if he’s that good at the framing of events and characters, what’s making the artwork fall short? That comes down to the way he draws faces; specifically, the way he doesn’t make them emote. Each of the characters seems to have two default faces: a resting bored/stoic face and an angry face. Obviously, that is an oversimplification. For example, on the second panel of page ten, Guedes paints Ray looking at his hands, blaming himself for what’s happening to Jessie. The slight shadowing on his face, coupled with the hunched position and mournful eyes Guedes has given him, emphasizes and reinforces the truthfulness of his emotions.
Yet on the next page, every shot we get of Bloodshot has him with the same face, the resting stoic face. Even when he’s supposed to be furious at Ninja-K, he looks disinterested. The only indication we have that he’s angry is through his physicality, the intensity lines radiating out of the background, and the dialogue. In fact, most of the scenes’ emotions are carried by the dialogue. The artwork itself conveys events, actions and physicality beautifully but when it comes to conveying emotion, it falls as flat as Bloodshot’s expressions.
Final Verdict: 5.2. – a decent, although repetitive, start to the second arc that has the misfortune of having art that has no emotions to it. This is an issue of necessary, just not very interesting, set-up.