“Bloodstrike” is back with an origin story and with Michel Fiffe telling it, it isn’t going to be exactly what you suspect.
Written, Illustrated, Colored, Lettered by Michel Fiffe
“BRUTALISTS,” Part One In the spirit of Bloodstrike’s groundbreaking carnage, the creator behind the indie hit Copra shines a light on Image’s most extreme series. Witness the origin of Cabbot as he launches his undead strikeforce upon the world!
Reading “Bloodstrike” #0, the start of Michel Fiffe’s three issue ‘Brutalist’ miniseries, felt like reading a meta comix epic in the vein of Grant Morrison or, more recently, Ed Priskor’s work in “X-Men: The Grand Design.” This is a clearly well-made comic as Fiffe handles all the production. At the same time, if it weren’t for paratexts like his “Bloodstrike” twenty-fifth anniversary retrospective or a letter in the back of this issue, I’m not entirely sure I would understand what this issue, and the miniseries overall, is aiming for. To be clear, “Bloodstrike” #0 serves as something of an origin story for the cast, in particular Deadlock, which along with the following issues, the previously unpublished #23 and #24, are supposed to give a greater sense of continuity and tie loses ends from the first volume of “Bloodstrike.” So your mileage may very on this one. This isn’t a clean continuation or restart like the new “Youngblood.”
I’ll admit it, there is something surprising to see someone take the lore of “Bloodstrike” if not “seriously,” earnestly. This earnest presentation means Fiffe isn’t preoccupied with making sure everything looks 90s rawesome, and instead composes a series of vignettes that presents these cartoonish figures with a surprising amount of humanity. As the man who would be Deadlock escapes his Project: Born Again captors, Fiffe disrupts the three panel flight with moments of reflection. In two separate panels Deadlock stares back at the reader, as if in a mirror, with his face changing panel to panel. What was once normal human face transforms into an unrecognizable one craggy with scars. During a profound moment of messy horror that appears on the next page, it is similarly punctured with these shots of the self slowly turning into something else. These are small moments of human vulnerability feel counter to the surface level appearances of brand that seemingly got off on indefatigable, hypermasculine, aestheticism. But it’s the angle a smart fan would go for. That insistence on team Bloodstrike’s humanity in undeath is what tied together the issues vignettes and gave it an emotional anchor. I may not be well versed in their exploits, but emphasizing their humanity sold this motley crew of weirdos as characters better than all the ultra-dynamic Dan Fraga art I’ve seen has.
The recognition of their humanity is an effective counterweight to the dehumanizing corporate view their masters in Project: Born Again give them. Fiffe treats these government stooges like they’re out of Robocop, everything revolves around money for them. One mad scientist chastises another for musing about bringing in outside help to make the program more viable at all stages of production and threatening their jobs. During a prison break, security losses are dryly written off as necessary budget cuts. They can’t bring themselves to recognize their captives names. Fiffe’s spotty coloring helps give things a sense of motion and give things a satiric Paul Verhoeven vibe.
The plot specifics of this issue may not be the most new reader friendly, but Fiffe’s art certainly makes it worth a look. It’s interesting to consider how Fiffe, whose work “Copra” is informed by the alternative comics, composes in a way that would be in the same key as original “Bloodstrike” penciller, Dan Fraga. One of the enjoyable aspects of considering this comics was looking back through the reprint of “Bloodstrike” #1 and this issue. Fraga’s main operating principle in that issue appears to be figuring out how to make the most dynamic page possible and if that meant taking up two thirds of a page to make Shogun look absolutely massive, so be it. Fiffe doesn’t do big in that way, the closest thing to a double page splash in this issue is the first page of the comic.Continued below
Fiffe creates his dynamism through paneling. A technique he uses throughout the issue is connecting a series of panels through scenery and moving the characters into the fore or background. An early example of this is the first scene of Deadlock under Born Again care. Fiffe draws the sequence with 3 roughly half page vertical panels and places Deadlock’s bed cutting through the foreground in all of them. The background is similarly unified in appearance. The only thing that changes is the position of the doctors from panels two to three, as they move into the extreme background. The sequences tracks smoothly because back and foreground have a unified perspective, allowing for the figures to change position and create a real sense of movement on the page.
The issue will also use paneling to create more varied motion in a way Fraga’s dynamic, if linear, art did. Consider the time Deadlock overdosed on cocaine. The sequence uses paneling to create a literal death spiral for the character to go through, with panels progressively folding in on one another. A less literal example is the page when the team is taking out Katellan spies, the page is cut up into rough thirds with each third getting a progressively steeper tilt and pointing towards Fourplay slamming one of them into a brick wall. It’s a different way of creating that feeling within the reader but still feels within the visual language of these types of comics.
It’s interesting to consider how Fiffe uses figures in this issue. His style is more obviously cartoon in influence, but the varied line weights in the ink give his figures a surprisingly detailed appearance when necessary. He’ll also just plain go in for a gnarly close up with all the gory details. That shift towards more detail the closer you get to a figure helps create the feeling of rot running through the issue. Team Bloodstrike maybe a bunch of lovable, weirdos but there is something deeply wrong about them, besides the zombie stuff.
Final Verdict: 7.5 – “Bloodstrike” #0 is an idiosyncratic comic, it may not be for everyone, or even what they expected, but the technical aspects of how Fiffe put this book together makes it worth considering.