There’s some irony to be had in the fact that, despite all of the issues he wrote within the New 52’s “take” on Mary Shelley’s most famous creature, it’s actually Jeff Lemire’s recent run on Valiant Entertainment’s Bloodshot Reborn that bears the closest resemblance to the Victorian-era monstrosity. Nowhere is this more evident than in Book of Death: Fall of Bloodshot, the first of four tie-ins to Valiant’s summer event, Book of Death. It’s a masterpiece of an issue that wisely mines Lemire’s knack for emotionally-fueled narratives, especially those chock full of loneliness and loss. It won’t have you draining that Kleenex box to the extent that Animal Man #29 did (and it did, you and I both know it), but it’ll make you feel for nanite-infused albino killing machines in ways you didn’t think were possible.

Jeff Lemire has a bit of a handle on borderline immortal man-made monstrosities.

Jeff Lemire has a bit of a handle on borderline immortal man-made monstrosities.

But before I get ahead of myself, allow me to offer up a (hopefully) brief primer on just where this stands in the grand scheme of the “Valiantverse,” as I’ve come to call it. As the title suggests, Fall of Bloodshot has its roots in the Book of Death event going on presently, but that in turn is anchored in the fallout stemming from The Valiant, a miniseries/jump-on point that ran in the early months of the year. That, in turn, builds on the world that Valiant has meticulously built since its revival more than three years ago…I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

Let’s just boil it down to this: The Valiant wrapped with Geomancer Kay McHenry dying at the hands of The Immortal Enemy, an act that has been shown to usher in an age of darkness. However, in the future, Eternal Warrior sends back Tama, the Geomancer of his day, to the present. Armed with the knowledge of the future, as well as that prophesied in The Book of the Geomancer, Gilad Anni-Padda (Eternal Warrior) hopes to prevent this future from ever taking place. That is, provided he can keep Tama from all of the parties interested in her demise or death…which is the premise upon which Book of Death opens.

This is Tama.  And if she dies, it's gonna, well, you know...usher in an age of darkness the likes of which we've never seen.  Unless, of course, you're the Eternal Warrior.

This is Tama. And if she dies, it’s gonna, well, you know…usher in an age of darkness the likes of which we’ve never seen. Unless, of course, you’re the Eternal Warrior.

As for Fall of Bloodshot, it (and the three other one-shots that play into Book of Death) is based on the prophesies/tales from The Book of the Geomancer: a future that may or may not be preventable. How approachable is it though? If you’ve been keeping up on Bloodshot Reborn, the only major difference is that Bloodshot has seemingly recovered all of the runaway nanites that jumped ship when Kay extracted them from his bloodstream at the end of The Valiant. Otherwise, even a cursory knowledge of Bloodshot will more than suffice.

Canonical housekeeping aside, Jeff Lemire’s penned a tale of an outsider who decides to amble the globe in a post-apocalyptic setting. If that sounds a wee bit like his past work Sweet Tooth, or even a little like his current Image series Descender, that’s because this narrative yarn is in Lemire’s wheelhouse. That’s not to say that Fall of Bloodshot is a retread of any sorts, for the character motivations of Bloodshot follow a different arc than Gus or TIM-21. He’s not a naïve, innocent youngster attempting to hold on to said beliefs in a world totally devoid of any reason to possess them. That’s because Bloodshot is more than aware of the darker side of the human experience; he’s been the one pulling the trigger on a fair amount of it. He has no illusions about what humanity is capable of.

Nor does he have any lofty ideas for his own future; “I always knew things wouldn’t end quietly. I was born in pain and death and that’s how I’ll end,” he narrates at the opening of the issue. Sure, it comes across like someone’s been powering their way through Alkaline Trio’s discography, but he makes a valid point: it is difficult to picture Bloodshot living out his final years playing shuffleboard at an all-inclusive resort in Miami. Yet…a guns-a-blazin’ “showdown to end all showdowns” would be more in line with the ‘90’s version of Bloodshot that Lemire’s attempted to deconstruct in recent months. But if there’s any writer than can tow the line between defying and embracing reader expectations, it’s Lemire.

bloodshotwalking

This is the scene in question that seems to share some similarities with one fleetingly portrayed in Book of Death.

Right out of the gate, Lemire and artist Doug Braithwaite waste no time in giving Book of Death the lip service it deserves, as they depict Bloodshot continuously walking forward through the “dark years” highlighted in the event book. His involvement is not specified (though potentially implied), but the image of a dismembered H.A.R.D. Corps member harkens back to a splash page of their prophesied massacre in Book of Death. The mystery surrounding the revisiting of this scene is deepened by the fact that Braithwaite drew both of them. Still, this is what I absolutely love about how Valiant interweaves their books: narratives pick up where others drop off, sometimes there’s a brief handoff moment between the two, but there’s never a feeling of rampant redundancy where six or seven pages are wasted retreading the same information.

Yet in the last of these four “walking” panels Bloodshot takes a step outside the panel’s borders, and seemingly, extricates himself from the main events of Book of Death altogether. Apparently Bloodshot wanted “nothing to do with the X-O Army or the Vine Executions” (two events given tantalizingly brief mentions, which I suspect we’ll learn of in subsequent issues), and opts for the life of a pirate. When you sport a terrifying visage and are nigh invulnerable you generally find yourself at the top of the applicant pile. It’s a fun little romp that offers a nod or two to Kevin Costner’s seafaring clunker and allows for a first appearance of a classic Bloodshot villain within the rebooted universe, but he ultimately determines that “the life of the sea lost its glamour.” Like all disenfranchised man-moulded monstrosities are wont to do, Bloodshot lumbers off to the Arctic.

The cryptic allusions to events such as the one in bold is enough to drive hardcore fans bonkers.

The cryptic allusions to events such as the one in bold is enough to drive hardcore fans bonkers.

In a way, Lemire’s Bloodshot comes across as a fickle drifter, one who vacillates between adhering and abhorring the company of others, and isn’t easily pulled or swayed by the drives and emotions that nag at the everyday man. He has no angry villagers to flee from, nor a less-than-benevolent creator to chase after. At least, not anymore. Time flows onward, and merely pulls him along for the ride.

And it’s time that’s really at the crux of the whole issue. For those of us that make a (potentially unhealthy) habit critically dissecting our comics, attempting to piece together timelines, or test the sturdiness of a series’ canon, an issue like this is bound to give people fits. And that’s a good thing. See, Fall of Boodshot’s narrative constantly evades any concrete discussion of time. There is nothing as overt as the mentioning of any specific year, and Lemire very carefully constructs his scenes and backgrounds in a manner that doesn’t leave them feeling sparse or withholding, but doesn’t layer them with context clues from which such would be extrapolated.

To elaborate, the swashbucking scenario offers up a mishmash of clothing styles and weaponry that run the gamut between a slightly removed present and a far-flung future. The baddie introduced has never appeared in the rebooted universe until now, and yet we are given the notion that he’s an established adversary at the point we encounter him. Not to mention, having open waters that stretch in all directions, leaves little to be learned from the setting. Furthermore, the only familiar face amongst his motley crew? Why, it’s the immortal Armstrong, which only adds to this inability to glean anything about the era. For Bloodshot, time is a possession to which only mortals can stake a claim or call their own. We as readers are meant to be frustrated by this ambiguity, this constant inability to place these experiences within a quantified framework of man’s construction.

No need to take a match to the beard, people have other reasons to fear Bloodshot.

No need to take a match to the beard, people have other reasons to fear Bloodshot.

Of course, it’s easy to get caught up in Bloodshot’s road trip of a lifetime, one that encompasses everything from telling campfire stories about a certain laser-wielding goat to Inuit children, to his conscription into the Robot Wars, and his belated return to an Earth that isn’t exactly 100% dinosaur-free. It’s wild and colorful and makes the most of this issue’s “what-if” conceit. At first glance, the narrative comes across almost as wish-fulfillment, that perhaps true agency has finally been bequeathed on Project Rising Spirit’s pale progeny. Despite this apparent cause for celebration, Bloodshot’s not exactly all carpe diem about the whole thing.

Perhaps that’s because Lemire has constructed a tale in which the spectre of PRS looms, a largely invisible force that remains constant, no matter the distance Bloodshot travels. Then again, how does one escape that which courses through one’s veins? In Bloodshot, PRS created an object, a tool, an instrument, if you will…not a person. Long after they’ve come and gone, they’ve made it near impossible for Bloodshot to “exit stage right” himself. In addition, they’ve made him a perpetual target for with designs for harnessing his abilities, be it Unity, PRS, or those that beamed him up during the duration of this issue. “There were other things. More years. More decades. More wars. But do they really matter now?” he ponders. After all, what good is eternity, if it’s forever spent in the service of ultimately transient causes?

Attentive readers will hopefully catch the reference here to recent events in Bloodshot Reborn.

Attentive readers will hopefully catch the reference here to recent events in Bloodshot Reborn.

It’s ponderous stuff that wouldn’t carry the same heft in the hands of the wrong artist. Thankfully, Doug Braithwaite is the right guy for the job. Initially, I was concerned that Valiant didn’t pair Lemire with one of his past collaborators, and was wondering how Braithwaite was juggling this issue alongside his contributions to Book of Death itself. After all, his shading-heavy art style has never struck me as being minimalist or possessing a quick turnaround time. Thankfully, neither of these would pose a problem.

Admittedly, in recent years, Bloodshot has had more of clean, crisp animated look that catered to crazy shootouts and the darkly comical aspects of Bloodshot’s regenerative properties; it’s most prevalent in Manuel Garcia and Barry Kitson’s art during the first two arcs. Only with the “semiboot” of Bloodshot Reborn did the series take on a more “real world” visual aesthetic. Whether it was Valiant or Lemire’s doing, opting for Braithwaite to follow Mico Suayan’s work on the first arc was a smart choice. They’re by no means indistinguishable from one another, but they do share the same slower, grounded tone.

Perhaps the most important thing Braithwaite expertly nailed is the rendering of Bloodshot’s aging. Much like John Constantine’s whole demon blood scenario, the regenerative properties of the nanites in Bloodshot’s system afford him a decelerated aging process. Yet, even from the outset of the issue, Bloodshot is depicted with shading lines on his face that, while part and parcel of Braithwaite’s style, give the appearance of a character that is seemingly capable of aging for the first time. One can initially explain it away as cultivating a privateer persona sans setting beard alight, but as one turns the pages, his hairline recedes and grays, the furrowing on his brow becomes more and more pronounced, and his facial expressions take on a weary tone. He might be a man fueled by microscopic machines…but machines can break down too.

Not exactly the sort of thing that the Colorado Tourism Board will be featuring anytime soon.

Not exactly the sort of thing that the Colorado Tourism Board will be featuring anytime soon.

Beyond that, Braithwaite’s ability to draw a huge spectrum of people, places, and things with equal aplomb is undeniably impressive. Spaceships, arctic tundra, seafaring Anni-Padda brothers, T-rexes, and futuristic cityscapes, to name a few. We’ve all read issues where the art shifts outside of the artist’s comfort zone (be it chronologically, tonally, character-based, or for some other reason) and we’re forced to see them gut it out (to varying degrees of success) or have another artist brought on board. But for Braithwaite, this is a non-issue. All of these seemingly disparate elements are filtered through his artistic lens into a cohesive look that works.

There’s a reason that this guy was on pencils when Unity and Imperium launched, and absolutely killed it on Armor Hunters event book last summer; he sports a style that’s approachable, without being derivative, and is equally capable at a narrative’s slower beats, as he is with action sequences. But all of that wouldn’t quite register the same impression on readers if it weren’t for Brian Reber’s ubiquitous color work. For starters, carrying over Reber from his role as the colorist of Book of Death, as well as Imperium and X-O Manowar provides some consistency in tones, and a general sense of cohesiveness between works. Fall of Bloodshot, however, requires a wider-ranging color palette, one suited to the amber sands of desolate deserts and the frigid blues of icebergs, and Reber keeps pace with Lemire’s chronologically jetsetting script.

Reber's color work is understatedly effective, without being busy.  You can tell his experience working with Braithwaite in the past has paid off.

Reber’s color work is understatedly effective, without being busy. You can tell his experience working with Braithwaite in the past has paid off.

Now, there will inevitably be those that are disappointed with the conclusion of the issue, and will miss the point in decrying that Bloodshot went out “not with a bang, but a whimper.” I suspect that those that will arrive at said conclusion have either not read Lemire’s recent run (and are merely snatching this up for its association with Book of Death), or have somehow glossed over the less-than-subtle running themes of man vs. machine, and the oddly dwindling agency that comes from transcending humanity, that are present in Reborn.

That aside, it is absolutely pound-for-pound, the best ending of any issue I’ve read this year; a bittersweet conclusion that manages to subvert reader expectations without skirting the premise upon which the issue is couched. It does not end with bloodshed. It does not end with hails of gunfire. It does not end with explosions or violence or terror. It ends with a conversation, a taut back-and-forth that is neither preachy nor self-indulgent scenery chewing, but Lemire’s uncanny knack for injecting emotional beats into organic, everyday dialogue. And it’s one that Braithwaite and Reber capture perfectly. Fall of Bloodshot stands as irrefutable proof that the one-shot can effectively straddle the line between the relevancy of canon-building and the freedom of the self-contained narrative, without becoming a half-baked cash grab that fails to do either.

Overall Score
96 %

Jeff Lemire, Doug Braithwaite, and Brian Reber set the bar for future Book of Death tie-ins at a perilous height, the likes of which cannot be reached without several sherpas and the assistance of oxygen.

Writing 97%
Pencils 95%
Colors 95%

About The Author

Growing up, Nick White dreamed of a career with the Chicago Bulls. This is because he was young and stupid, and his parents were of the "you can do ANYTHING" mentality.

When he was older, and probably not a whole lot smarter, Nick purchased Alan Moore's From Hell on a whim (that in itself probably says a lot). He was astounded to find that comics were as bizarre and twisted as his beloved Twin Peaks. After that he bought Batman: The Black Mirror strictly on the cover's aesthetics (Who the hell is Scott Snyder?" he said) and hasn't looked back since. Except, of course, in situations that necessitate such.

When he's not "busy" playing Castlevania or harassing Zander about what he ought to be reading, Nick continues to work on his makeshift shrine to Jeff Lemire.

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