By Duane Swiercynski, Manuel Garcia, Arturo Lozzi, Matthew Clark, and Ian Hannin
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Pro-tip: Do not let Project Rising Spirit babysit under any circumstance. When the superior guardian is a biologically engineered murder machine referred to by children as “the boogeyman”, then you can begin to get a sense of just how abhorrent their services must be. In this second volume of Bloodshot, titled The Rise and the Fall, Swiercynski and Garcia greatly expand this ensanguined corner of the Valiant universe and amp up the drama built in their first arc. They also introduce an unnerving brick-house of a nanny that could replace the entirety of the Chicago Bears starting o-line.
Bloodshot stages a raid on his former puppet-masters’ nigh-impregnable headquarters, the Vault, with the goal of unearthing truths about his past and crippling their ability to riddle him with bullets constantly. Unsurprisingly, he falls bone-breakingly short of achieving either despite infiltrating the darkest depths of the Vault and uncovering Project Rising Spirit’s most treasured assets. He also, obviously, plows down a horde of enemies in brutal fashion because, you know, the whole murder machine thing. Along the way a bevy of new characters are introduced and a hearty amount of back-story is explored. It was clear that the first volume was tossing out a plethora of ideas rapid-fire because everything was leading into a larger, more entwined world. Bloodshot is much more firmly placed in the grander Valiant landscape with The Rise and the Fall beginning to establish the titular character as a hero and sympathetic figure.
Swiercynski manages to cram a good deal of character work without ever taking his foot of the action pedal. It’s a much greater harmony between plot and limb severing than the first arc, but still unrelenting in its world building. Bloodshot’s frenzied psyche is in sharp contrast to his methodical aptitude and determination to accomplish the mission, and an early meditation scene with the child avatar of his nanite consciousness further demonstrates his sympathetic plight. Swiercynski cleverly paints him as Frankenstein’s monster, a being literally made by the hands and will of another whose action’s and appearance make him a societal castaway to the children who understandably dub him a boogeyman. For now the reiteration of his memories of loved ones, his motivating force, were all a lie and his past life of being exploited in the name of another’s agenda remains compelling, but too much focus on this each issue could get stale down the line.
Issue seven is a flashback interlude in this volume, with a different art team, and brilliantly serves to add gravitas to the present-day situation unfolding around Project Rising Spirit. It’s a fantastic story beat at just the right time, revealing information regarding psiots and Bloodshot’s own role in their imprisonment that deftly sets the stage for this arc’s conclusion. It also manages to introduce what will hopefully be a new supporting cast of empowered companions to the title. Without getting into specifics, a few slots may have opened up in that department.
While the plot chugs along like a jet engine equipped tank, there are some questionably convenient aspects to character’s action, specifically Kara’s lack of utter confusion, horror and moral introspection. She all too easily goes along with an undeniably dangerous plan, which requires getting herself captured and needing her to have her blood spilled and entered into the Vault’s plumbing. It just requires Kara to have far more faith than Swiercynski has shown her to have for a former EMS technician who only recently was brought into this violent, super-powered espionage world. She’s still very likeable and it is within character to stay cool under pressure, so it’s a minor nitpick. Melissa, on the other hand, is appropriately tough as nails and is thrust into reliving past traumas in a wholeheartedly refreshing manner. Swiercynski continues to add new ingredients to the stew by introducing a very Reavers-esque squad of cyber marines, led by an terrifying quadriplegic and a whole nursery of resilient youths. And then there’s Gamma. Holy fuck, there’s Gamma. Adding this wonderful tinge of genuine horror, Gamma gets to bend the genre just enough while still representing a legitimate physical threat. She’s a great character who is handled disturbingly well and steals the show every time her monstrous frame and eerie dialogue grace the page.
Visually, Manuel Garcia continues to render gory military action in beastly fashion. His attention to detail is magnificent and really shines in facial close-ups, especially when you don’t want him to, as is the case with the plump and wrinkled Gamma. Shudder. While Garcia is as on-point as ever, keeping the flow of the storytelling smooth and engaging, the inking of Matt Ryan seems far too heavy for his style, most notably on the musculature of Bloodshot himself. Garcia’s line can be hyper detailed, so it feels like it gets lost amongst the shadows more than once. This isn’t to say Ryan lacks skill, just that their styles aren’t as complementary as maybe they could be. Ian Hannin’s colors continue to add a wonderful polish to every scene, and really excel at creating the ideal ambiance for this particular underground military installation rife with grotesque inhabitants. The glow emanating from monitors, the sparks of gunfire, the texture of spinal entrails and the slimy creases of Gamma’s face are all colored to perfection.
The flashback issue is handled by penciller Matthew Clark, inker Stefano Gaudiano and colorists Moose Baumann and Chris Sotomayor, and it is an absolute artistic delight for you eyes. Clark has a thinner line than Garcia and a more angular style, but it’s not so far removed that it looks out of place smack in the middle of this book. Gaudiano’s inks impressively add tons of detail and texture to the larger set pieces while remaining perfectly restrained on Clark’s expressive characters. Really adding to the flashback nature of the events, the colors are just the right degree of flat and washed out. This is an art team that blends perfectly with the tone of the series and one that would be welcomed back in its future.
Simultaneously self-contained and world-expanding, Bloodshot’s sophomore effort is a thrilling ride. Paving the way for Harbinger Wars, but allowing for rich development of its own cast of characters, Swiercynski and co. refuse to allow this title to be a Punisher story, instead craftily incorporating both horror and sci-fi elements into what was already an entertaining espionage experience. Do what Gamma says and take your medicine, go check out this solid collection.
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