Bloodshot Reborn – Lemire’s VALIANT Inherent Vice

bloodshot reborn

Really was anticipating Bloodshot Reborn #1 from VALIANT since reading all of the high drama that occurred in The VALIANT #4, which was amazing. I think Matt Kindt successfully relaunched Ninjak recently and I was excited to see how the other half of The VALIANT writing team, one Jeff Lemire, would do with Bloodshot, who probably walked away from the occurrences of the mini more changed then any other character. I recently read Lemire’s Descender and in the middle of a write-up on that, and it’s icy.

Bloodshot is one of my favorite characters, and going to get the first issue of his first series is one of those childhood comic book memories that stick out.

I’m also a fan of Lemire in general. I’m not in love with Bloodshot Reborn though.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t see a misstep, there wasn’t a plot hole I couldn’t get around, there wasn’t something so out of character that I didn’t recognize someone but what we have here parallels a couple of characters that are among my favorites who then become something that wasn’t. Let me explain.

I like comics books. I liked Punisher when he was sharing pages with Spider-Man and frickin’ Nightcrawler, when he would walking around with a Bazooka in a crowded city, maybe pointing it at Jack O’ Lantern or The Rose. I liked Wolverine. I like Wolverine kicking ass, smoking cigars, running around with Jubilee, getting his skeleton ripped out, catching the Shiva scenario. Every now and then he goes all Samurai. I like Punisher War Journal with Wolverine on the cover. I liked Hearts of Darkness with Wolverine, Punisher, and the only real Ghost Rider. I mention these two characters because in many ways throughout the history of Bloodshot he has shared various similarities to both characters. I don’t really care for other depictions of them that are more grounded, mostly because I just don’t believe characters like that can live in a world that grounded, and secondly because I really enjoy the spontaneity and craziness of what occurs in comics. I live life, I don’t need a slice of it. For example, something as lauded as Garth Ennis on Punisher isn’t my thing. I know it’s good, it may even be revolutionary, but what I appreciate about that character and creator are lost there. It’s instead a nonpareil example of something that just doesn’t interest me. On the other hand, I LOVE Ennis on Hitman. I do think there’s a lot here for readers who dig in seeing real world interaction with a super fictional character and we open Bloodshot Reborn succeeds as a launch point for new readers who would flock to a combo of a new #1 issue and a new Jeff Lemire project. We get a concise catch-up for new readers to get the the gist of what happened while welcoming them to a new beginning that they are on the ground floor of. If they need more, just going to get the 4-issue The VALIANT run is a great primer in its own right. We understand what he was, what he has become, and I guess what will be a journey toward rebirth that I’m tries not to go all the way where he was, to try to find a balance, and to find a union of purpose and control. In this process he has spent 6 months drinking, snorting up, and being a general loser living out of a dive motel. I like awesome characters being awesome.

Mico Suayan is a good artist. I know for some people the art is going to be perfect but for me Suayan’s strengths aren’t my wheelhouse, even though they serve this story well. In fact, for this book he’s rather optimal because you need an artist where detail and reality is important because we have to set the Bloodshot we once knew firmly in the real world. This has to be mundane, the background and tools of utility are given and rendered with care. Bloodshot works, drinks, and watches the news. Suayan delivers real life with ferocity, perhaps even more, that he did the initial pages showing the violent action packed Bloodshot of the past. Before Bloodshot can be reborn, Ray Garrison must die. Or is it the other way around? There is a panel of an alley with Bloodshot simply taking out the trash that for me was very reminiscent of the classic Amazing Spider-Man #50 scene where Peter throws his costume in the trash. Bloodshot No More.

While Ray is definitely taking in the substances I think his afflictions are inherent vices, and this reads a lot like many crime novels where we see a protagonist down on his luck, lost his wife, and on a prolonged bender. The unique aspect of this is that all of Bloodshot’s memories are nightmares, ones that he is the star of, a monster, except a single time in his life, which unfortunately ended with the death of the person he held most dear; the woman who saw the person in him. There’s a kid in the issue, Toby, who wouldn’t surprise me if he showed up 10 years from now in a VALIANT comic as some psychopath, but Bloodshot, a guy who relives nightmare daily, says the kid gives him the creeps, and he appears a few times. I’d keep my eye on him for something beyond representing a generation that thinks old Bloodshot is cool AF. I’m part of that. The reason why I go back to an older generation is that if you look at the game system he is using, that doesn’t look new, looks like a Super Nintendo, a system of the exact era of the original VALIANT universe. Or they could just be broke as hell.

I really liked the oddity of Bloodsquirt, which I’m guessing was drawn by Lemire, but I felt like its inclusion revealed a self awareness by Lemire that the book needed levity, even one in the form of something crazy. I’m not sure if there is a nanite remnant or even regrowth that may be trying to sway Bloodshot toward his original programming that manifested as Kay, or whether or not some part of Kay was able to survive in the human she restored, or if it’s just the drugs and alcohol, but what I do know that in the next issue it looks like the next step is to confront, and maybe even figuratively kill himself. Bloodshot vs Bloodshot.

I do like how Bloodshot looks though. He’s looks like a normal ripped dude, because while I love Paolo Rivera and he can draw any comic I read anytime he wants to, I didn’t know what was going on with Bloodshot’s hair game. Personally, I think the coolest Bloodshot this side of Barry Windsor Smith and Rafael Grampa was afro Bloodshot. Mico, thanks for the cut. It was really bugging me out. He’s looking Frank Castle dangerous now. Literally. The guy put a dot on his shirt. The costume is back.

I may have to reevaluate how I fundamentally perceive Blodoshot. Lemire seems to want to build off of layers created by what has happened. Bloodshot, for me, has always carried the blood of the future. The blood of heroes. People are going to like this issue. And they should because it does what they like well beyond competently well. I think VALIANT and the creators executed exactly what they wanted, and I’m totally on board for the next issue issue, but I don’t know if this is a top of the stack book because I tend to most enjoy my comics universes from the vantage of some amount of levity, some amount of joy, and barring those, then wonder (which something like Divinity delivers). In short, my brand of fun. I don’t really bask in past personal demons and reflection, though I’m fine with it as an ingredient, not so much the menu. I know too many people like that, and they don’t interest me, but VALIANT too quietly has a murder’s row of writers in their stable, so I give everything a chance.

I like the first issue of Bloodshot Reborn but I can’t love it. Not just yet. Bloodshot has another book though, but for the first time, as much as I did like Duane’s first issue, he seems to now have his own new VALIANT path. I’ve been walking it with him in his own book with Bloodshot since 1993, the same day Superman died.

I’m not getting off anytime soon.

Bloodshot #2

I guess this is going to be some kind of trial for Ray. He’s going to be able to take on nanites in moderation, quest by quest, and through that exert control of them, making them the tool. Not only that, he’s going to have to CHOOSE to do so even as he is led and guided by them. The nanites being around, I’m not sure if that’s a real thing or something in Bloodshot’s head, but it reminds me a bit of a show that just got cancelled, Revolution (I guess spoilers — btw that show started off TERRIBLE but got good late). In that show a character, their creator, also was seeing manifestations of nanites driving his plot. We need this journey because we’ve pretty much seen that Ray without his nanites pretty much defaults to a loser, and while that may be realistic it really isn’t very interesting.

At least to me.

What is compelling about this character is that he is a man in many ways, even to maybe especially to old fans of VALIANT, the future. The blood we see he fights for and with is the blood of champions. He’s a breathing and walking potential Diamond Age in a current world he’s traversing in a pick-up truck and axing people at mountain cabins.

What we’ve seen thus far is that these are killers, so Ray is confronting the part of himself he hated. He will probably, if he ever becomes interesting, will come to accept and master it. He’s being followed now, by Diane Festival + team. I’m not sure if Festival is a psiot or just really good at her job. Not sure if she’s a weirdo as well, or if it’s the Suayan face thing.

I do think there is something really admirable that we are totally accepting of Kay and Bloodsquirt in what is a very, from better or worse, hyper-detailed world conveyed by Suayan. Kay has some really weird expressions that would make me want to run from her, but the deep contrast between Suayan and Lemire’s Bloodsquirt is effective. In fact, it might be why Suayan was given this first arc.

Have you ever heard a creator, usually an author, say they are writing what they themselves would want to read? I’ve interviewed a lot of writers and it’s kind of a go to phrase that makes you feel good even if doesn’t really say anything. I’m a big fan of Lemire but right now I look at these first two issues, and they feel like books I might have wanted to write but maybe not want so much to read. This may be because of condition. For me, Bloodshot is a flagship character. The guy who debuted kicking in doors, followed by being in one of most memorable single comics ever, and then later on a cover with a bazooka, and later ushering in an age like a boss sculpted out of chromium by Barry Windsor Smith. It’s interesting, in that way where I’m staring at a box for fireworks on a pick up truck, but I’m not sure it’s fun, and Bloodshot has always been fun to me. I’m not sure if we are being led that way or if we are more into an examination of character, what Ray is made of. I’m a reader, have been all of my life. Even if just talking speculative fiction, I’ve read Gene Wolfe’s Severian, Ishiguro’s Ryder, or the works of Auster and the like, and because of this I’ve always struggled enjoying these examinations of characters in a shorter medium which has visuals at its disposal. I think one example that has worked is what Brandon Graham has done with Robert Liefeld’s Prophet, taking a very successful hot for a minute selling character of the ’90s and creating this crazy epic SF adventure out of him. Even Alan Moore, who is a bit of and perhaps THE savant of the medium, doesn’t reach me specifically by means of character examination. I actually think Dysart does much the same but while he is doing it, he’s doing it across multiple characters and shit is still going on. COMIC BOOK shit that I love. I do think Lemire is doing exactly what he wants, and he’s knocking it out of the park, but it’s still something that instead of enjoying in the moment really has to eventually pay off for me in some big way — something the mural image in the FCBD story may will be promising. Because here’s the thing… I don’t care about Ray. I want Bloodshot. If you read Lemire’s catalog, his chief strength may in fact be making you care, so I have some optimism but I’d only warn that Wolverine — who was no less than the 2nd most popular character in the medium when I was growing up — started to become really lame around the time we were finding out he was James Howlett.

It’s well executed it’s just not my wheelhouse. People who like this type of story have reason to really like it. Right now Bloodshot is a depowered dude suffering from PTSD, in a pickup trying to find himself and killing lames who stole his mojo. There’s probably a manga like this that’s kinetic and badass as hell but it’s kind of in the exact lane to be in with a specific character that I love that keeps it off my jams list. Even if you are cutting its head off with an ax, it’s still a bit too slicing of life for me and maybe even too hillbilly.

What’s really bothering me is that I’m sure the fireworks mean something, and I’m someone who would usually wait until it came to me before putting up a review, I just can’t put it together and it was irritating me. They are bought by Bloodsquirt and are being examined by Diane Festival later. I figure there has to be some relevance there and I’m going to be mad when it comes to me.

Let’s light some of them, Jeff.

Bloodshot #3

It may not seem likely but I don’t mean it as a pejorative after reading Bloodshot Reborn #3 in asking if Jeff Lemire likes Bloodshot because I think we are watching his process of attempting too.

This actually isn’t the first time I raised this in my mind as you can probably see the question bubbling between the lines since I started reading the beginning of Lemire’s run on Bloodshot. I think its a fair question because Lemire and Suayan’s run thus far, its very premise, seems to be in search of what Bloodshot is, what might be interesting about him, trying to find the substance that makes him interesting or what will make him Bloodshot interesting as if maybe he didn’t think he was to begin with.

I think conflict as a reader can be advantageous to the experience. Comfort is often derided by hipster commentary but I view comfort as can being part of self-awareness, a trait that isn’t a strong point for many. For this reason while the person in me that already liked Bloodshot, whether from Swiercynski’s first issue of the current VALIANT universe or, even more, going back to Vanhook and Perlin, is at odds with the necessity of this Bloodshot self evaluation and quest for self worth and identity.

I can appreciate a well told story that isn’t in my wheelhouse. I’ve mentioned this before though, characters that I loved and still have an everlasting affection for like Wolverine and Cable but are no longer characters I follow because at some point mystery becomes layers to peel, and at least for me some characters lose something when that occurs. I always thought what made Bloodshot so intriguing was never the past or the man before, but the legacy of his blood thousands of years later. That’s what always made what Bloodshot was now, what he would be the next issue and beyond, interesting.

So what happens is that the sideshow becomes the story. We get a cop story, a man hunt, with a side of either insanity or gonzo nanite intervention. I’m not sure if it’s my interest in Bloodshot and not them that makes me focus in on and believe it is the nanites that want to survive and perhaps are setting Bloodshot on a path to do just that. His heroism will be his curse, and while compelling and offering some gravitas, I’m not sure how much fun this is for me to read. Typically the thing to say is that journey is more worthwhile than the destination, but I find myself wanting to get to where we are going already, where, hopefully, Bloodshot is already awesome and not fighting himself and lesser doppelgangers. After reading that FCBD story I pointed out how western it was, and I was hoping for more swashbuckle, less this crime vibe that’s already prevalent even in the most mainstream of comics. That said, there is some Sam and Twitch here, and I like that and I have been clamoring for my Fred Bender, P.I. pitch to be heard, VALIANT!

Lemire does give us some things to chew on though. The creepy kid that I was sure in my review from issue #1 would return is back, and I wonder if any of the odd stuff they found back in the motel was his doing. It’s also revealed that there are five more nanite charged targets, that’s seven sins that Bloodshot has to confront — a lot like in Kindt’s Ninjak where apparently he has a number of bosses he has to confront to level up. I also wonder if we might see the Harbinger kids, something I’ve been missing. While Dysart is the absolute new age godfather of Harbinger, a potential Lemire take is something that excites me because I think a team concept gives Lemire something to express everything he wants to on a page — which is why he will probably kill on X-Men.

Bloodshot Reborn #3 is my favorite of the first three issues, not including the Bloodshot FCBD short story by Lemire and Guice, which presented an intriguing map that included X-O and Shadowman, but I think we are starting to see Lemire revel more in the psychosis and those chasing Bloodshot than Bloodshot himself, as if he’s trying to chart and circle a way and universe where Bloodshot interests him. The fun is following him, indeed he literally named the person chasing him Festival. It’s not too much different than Bloodshot as presented, turning again to narcotics, mundane crutches of losers that a page or chance away are instead party recreation of fun, awesome people. Brandon Graham did this really cool thing turning a character symbolic of the ’90s — big, gun totting badass -in Liefeld’s Prophet, and recently flipped it into something bigger, an epic science fiction sprawl, that at times is uncomfortable and wonderous. Lemire has chosen to go smaller, internal, and came up with this crime/serial killer story. I’ve always thought Lemire chose the town of Red River Colorado to echo Green River, and choosing Red for the obvious association with Bloodshot. For this reason though I can see perfectly why this may be a lot of people’s favorite Bloodshot take. It’s hyper-dramatic and Suayan’s very detailed work, as I’ve mentioned before, keeps Bloodshot grounded and in the real world. For several years crime writers or enthusiasts have been given the reigns in comics and that influence has become part of this super-distilled mainstream comics language — Bendis, Brubaker, Rucka, the aforementioned Swierczynski etc etc — so this books definitely fits the mold a lot of people would enjoy and a target VALIANT would want to hit. Personally though? While I like a lot of the work of those aforementioned writers, I do so in moderation. I love the hell out of Descender, though.

I like confident, put your toy away, ’90s Rockstar Bloodshot, and while a fan of Lemire, Bloodshot Reborn thus far remains a book that I have very little problem liking, but one that I cannot love.

Yet.

Bloodshot #4

I wanted to get back to Bloodshot Reborn #4 briefly after reading the wonderful Book of Death: The Fall of Bloodshot, one of best Bloodshot or VALIANT stories I’ve ever read, because I wanted to take a look at the introduction of Magic again, whom Bloodshot references in The Fall of Bloodshot.

I was at peace for the first time… the first time since her. Since Magic.

Is what Bloodshot says about Magic while living with Eskimos. In Bloodshot Reborn #4 he says this of her speaking from the past tense:

and bringing Magic with me, that was the biggest mistake of all… that was the beginning of the end.

Jeff Lemire drops Magic on us, who makes her introduction into the VALIANT universe blasting a crazy redneck, which is something I approve of, and beyond her odd name we see that she’s a good looking kid who probably has led a somewhat unfortunate life. I also went back to The Book of the Death #1 and I wondered if was saw Magic in the background.

Lemire simply using the name Magic would make her a character on our radar. Bloodshot tells us he would come to love her and that she would represent or at least mark some kind of future reckoning.

In reading the issue I also found that I really just don’t like Mico Suayan art. It’s obvious that the man can draw, and draw well, but it’s just not in my wheelhouse and I’ve been trying to shake it since Bloodshot Reborn #1. I’m sure many will view this over detailed delivery as exactly what they want but I find it always jarring how much refreshing I find Bloodshot comics he doesn’t draw, like the aforementioned The Fall of Bloodshot or even the FCBD Bloodshot story drawn by Guice. I do understand that Suayan’s hyper detailed pencils sets a ground that divergences like Bloodsquirt play off of and also aids the idea of that the former superhuman Bloodshot is now a normal man in a normal world. He’s Ray. In some boring crime story. The art is just stale to me though it does perfectly match Lemire’s subdued story where we spend quite a bit of time with cops and what feels like off the road places who are on Bloodshot’s trail. Any of these nanite pretenders not live in a shit hole? I would be in though if a PI was in on the case too, a PI named Bender.

None of these antagonists means anything, we don’t even remember their names. What we do know is that Bloodshot’s two tagalongs really want Magic killed. “Kay” especially. We also know Magic is a real entity because Festival senses her having been there (I’m assuming her talent is extra in nature, even though I’m sure it would be easy for traditional police work to decipher there was another person there). At the very least, looks like Ray is going to get to smash something. She seems like his type, and the art I do like by Suayan in this issue is at end with Magic.

I also can’t help but think that we’ve pretty quickly and with little effort seen Bloodshot regain his nanites, which for me lessens the impact of Kay’s sacrifice in The VALIANT #4 and has done so for a pretty bland story thus far. I’ve mentioned this before in my reviews of issues in the series, but it’s as if Lemire is looking for something interesting in the character and I think he found it all, at least what I found interesting, in The Fall of Bloodshot. I want to read those stories.

Every one one of those future vignettes were more enticing to me than this depowered but still beating the hell out of scrubs Bloodshot crime story. BUT Magic interests me even if simply by association of a name drop in a good comic, and I’m always up for more female players in the VALIANT universe.

I just find myself ready for this nanite reclamation arc to be over with, a new artist, and if the world is good, a Bloodshot and Armstrong: The Pirate Years on-going.

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check out my thoughts on the first 4 issues of VALIANT’s Divinity.