Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic-book issue of significance. This week, it’s Bloodshot: Reborn #5. Written by Jeff Lemire (All-New Hawkeye, The Valiant) with art by Raúl Allén (Hawkeye, The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage), Patricia Martin (Rai, The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage), and Borja Pindado (Goof), this issue makes a big stylistic shift by taking Bloodshot into a cartoonish reality to deal with his personal baggage. (Warning: this review reveals major plot points.)
Valiant’s future rests on Bloodshot. The chalky white assassin with nanites in his blood and a big red circle on his chest is going to be the first Valiant hero to hit the big screen if Sony’s Bloodshot movie gets made (it’s currently slated for a 2017 release with John Wick directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski attached), and Valiant Comics has given Bloodshot’s ongoing series a major revamp as buzz for the film brings attention to the character. If he’s going to be leading Valiant’s charge into mainstream pop culture, his comic should be one of the publisher’s best, and bringing on writer Jeff Lemire, artist Mico Suayan, and colorist David Baron for Bloodshot: Reborn has made the tragic hero more captivating than ever.
The key word there is tragic, and the creative team has crafted a superhero horror story that focuses on the psychological devastation suffered by a man whose life was previously defined by violence and a desire to kill. After having the nanites removed from his body at the end of The Valiant miniseries (co-written by Lemire), the superpowered assassin known as Bloodshot is no more and all that’s left is Ray Garrison, a human trying to escape his overwhelming guilt with drugs and alcohol. The villain of Bloodshot: Reborn is the title character, and in the first arc, Ray is forced to return to his old lifestyle when he learns that the rogue nanites have found new hosts, turning them into chalky white killers who open fire in public areas.
Lemire’s story uses the superhero genre to subtly comment on the current epidemic of gun violence in the United States, taking Ray on a tour of mass murders that chips away at his mental state. Part of that degradation comes from his feelings of responsibility for the killings by not having the nanites in his body, but another part comes directly from the influence of the nanites, which re-enter his bloodstream after he takes out each new host. Ray creates a stronger threat inside himself by stopping these public menaces, and this week’s Bloodshot: Reborn #5 forces him to deal with the fact that eventually he will have to give up his humanity if he wants to stop the nanites from using others to satisfy their bloodlust.
The first four issues of Bloodshot: Reborn were intensely gritty and grounded in a more realistic worldview that was largely established by Suayan’s hyper-detailed linework, but this week’s issue #5 moves in a very different direction as it ventures into Ray’s head with artist Raúl Allén. Joined by Patricia Martin on art assists and Borja Pindado on additional colors, Allén brings a bold, flexible style to the book that is a notable shift from the rigidity of Suayan’s aesthetic, and he’s a perfect fit for a chapter that takes a more figurative approach to Ray’s struggle.
Allén does a lot of work as an illustrator for magazines, and the talent he’s sharpened in that field makes him an extremely versatile comic-book artist. Employing Allén as a cover artist has been one of Valiant’s smartest recent decisions, and he regularly creates cover images with strong graphic elements that help Valiant comics stand out in the sea of titles on stands. Bloodshot: Reborn #5 is his first full issue of interior artwork at Valiant, and the publisher recognizes how valuable Allén can be in its line-up of artists, attaching him to future issues of Ninjak and the new Wrath Of The Eternal Warrior series.
As promised by the cover, Bloodshot: Reborn #5 is a spotlight on Bloodsquirt, the cartoon hallucination that has been hounding Ray to embrace the killer within. Bloodsquirt takes full control of Ray’s mind during a moment of vulnerability and gives him a “reality transfusion,” pulling Ray and the reader into a heavily stylized world rendered in flat layers of color with minimal outlines. The opening pages before Bloodsquirt’s arrival ease the reader out of Suayan’s visual perspective and into Allén’s, maintaining the detail of Suayan’s art but using thick blocks of ink rather than fine cross-hatching, and applying a limited color palette that is dominated by the contrast between cool blue and warm red.
That contrast is amplified once Bloodsquirt is in charge of reality and Allén starts incorporating big chunks of solid colors, reflecting Ray’s disorientation through the dueling shades. When Ray and Bloodsquirt face off against pint-sized versions of Valiant heroes Ninjak (Nin-Squirt), Eternal Warrior (Eternal Squirt), and Livewire (Squirtwire), the color balance shifts toward hot red, pink, and orange to highlight Bloodsquirt’s fiery rage as he kills Ray’s Unity teammates, but there’s a wave of cooler tones when Ray finds himself back in his motel room after the cartoon massacre.
In that hotel room, Bloodsquirt partners with Ray’s recurring hallucination of Kay, the woman who removed the nanites from his blood as the final act before her death, to convince Ray to kill the young woman who has joined their party. The change in color scheme creates a sense of numbness, challenging Ray’s resolve against his nefarious influences. These hallucinations are Lemire’s way of making Ray’s internal conflict more dynamic, and while this scene brings up the question of whether Bloodsquirt and Kay are truly hallucinations or something more (this is a superhero comic, after all), that doesn’t diminish their effectiveness as agents of his inner fears and desires.
Bloodsquirt brings much-needed humor to Lemire’s very dark story, but there’s a lot of darkness underneath that cartoony surface. The character represents the popular culture that contributes to a culture of violence, appearing fairly innocuous but teaching very dangerous values. Superheroes are a part of that culture, and when Bloodsquirt tries to convince Ray to return to his old self, he does so by bringing him to a world where superhero conventions rule.
In Bloodsquirt’s reality, Bloodshot has a kid sidekick (Bloodsquirt), a super-pet (Bloodhound), a specialty car (The Bloodmobile), and a hidden base (The Blood Bank), traditional superhero elements that make Bloodshot a far less menacing entity. He’s not the creation of a top-secret organization that used him as an assassin for years, but a vigilante who is justified in his murderous mission. Bloodsquirt can be seen as a stand-in for a comic-book industry that glorifies violent characters like Bloodshot, and the creative team brings a lot of depth to this issue by contrasting the fantasy of Bloodshot the superhero with the reality of Bloodshot the mass murderer.
In Bloodsquirt’s world, everything is exaggerated and stylized to make the carnage look light and fun, but when Ray is back in his motel room being tempted to make a very real kill, the art is given dimension and texture that brings stark clarity to his situation. Murder isn’t fanciful. There’s nothing whimsical about shooting a young woman while she sleeps, and Ray is still strong enough to fight against Bloodsquirt’s influence, but for how long? That’s the question that haunts Ray moving forward, and prolonging its answer is the best thing for Bloodshot: Reborn. Lemire’s focus on the internal battle for Ray’s humanity has rejuvenated the character, and hopefully he won’t lose sight of that conflict as the nanite-powered spirit of Bloodshot inevitably takes control.