By Jeff Lemire, Mico Suayan, and David Baron
One of, if not the most powerful force in the pop cultural landscape today is nostalgia. Comics are obviously not immune to this indomitable force of global taste making, in fact comics have actually been fairly ahead of the curve on nostalgia’s latest emphasis. While the 2000s were dominated by a renewed love for the trappings of the ‘80s, the 2010s are shaping up the era of ‘90s nostalgia. However, before films like Jurassic World or the upcoming Power Rangers movie appeared to ride this wave, comics were already well aboard it. There are a lot of different ways comics have approached nostalgia for the 1990s, especially given the general distaste for the wide range of driving trends of the era.
Some books like Marvel’s Moon Knight take previous ideas like the genre blending of cyberpunk, urban vigilante, and paranormal fantasy and perfect them, jettisoning a lot of the issues that hampered their previous implementation. Others, like the new Spawn run, simply revert to an early state, identical to how they were in the mid-90s at the height of reader interest. Bloodshot Reborn takes a much better and more nuanced approach: flipping a ‘90s core concept on its head while simultaneously incorporating it into modern aesthetics and ideas on storytelling.
The story is about the former human killing machine Bloodshot realizing that the nanobots that once empowered him are loose among the populace, turning people into the chalk white psycho-killers. Now, accompanied by the voices in his head, Bloodshot endeavors to reclaim the nanites. However, most of the issues aren’t very concerned with the possible action scenes to be had with the now mortal Bloodshot taking on various homegrown living weapons. Rather, the emphasis of the comic is on the interplay between Bloodshot and the voices in his head and the sinking question of whether he’s trying to reclaim the nanites to keep people safe or because he’s had so much humanity drained from him already, Bloodshot is the only thing he can actually be anymore.
From the outset this is a very clever inversion of the standard ‘living weapon’ stories that peppered a lot of ‘90s comics like Deathlok or Youngblood‘s Diehard. Usually there, the emphasis was on the hero’s struggle to embrace some latent aspect of his humanity whereas in Bloodshot Reborn the driving emphasis of the entire comic is the hero reconnecting to his inhumanity. More than that though, Bloodshot Reborn is very bold and engaging in the way it chooses to portray just how fractured and broken a character Bloodshot is. The various voices in his head have actually manifested into full-on hallucinations, both of his dead lover Kay and a cartoon version of himself named Bloodsquirt modeled after Batmite. The hallucinations are a fun addition very much in the vein of Batman RIP only with a greater emphasis on how much they really do skew Bloodshot’s sense of reality. In this issue in particular the character ends up nearly paralyzed as he loudly and openly argues with the voices in his head in a very tragic sequence. It reinforces the sense that we aren’t following a hero, not even an anti-hero but a broken man, putting the series on harmony with Black Hood in a lot of ways.
The other major parallel for Bloodshot Reborn is the issue of neglected veterans, a subtext that comes off very intentional. Bloodshot’s situation of being completely unable to reintegrate into civilian life and near complete mental breakdown due to non-existent coping skills is very reminiscent of this and runs much in the same vein as First Blood. There’s even a dialogue sequence where Bloodshot himself refuses to accept any label other than that of a soldier. It all comes together to make Bloodshot and his struggle infinitely more relatable. The problem with so many living weapon stories is that the conclusion often ends up foregone and the hero’s march to humanity is turned into more of a tedious slog, especially given how often it turns into matters of simply showing mercy. In Bloodshot, the story is harsher but also more honest, suggesting that not only does not everyone get to be human again, but maybe inhumanity really is the better option for some people. It also does a great job blurring the lines of reality and developing uncertainty about the main character, especially as his conscience begins to recede and he begins to feel increased guilt over his own lack of guilt rather than his brutal actions.
All of this darkly honest character driven storytelling is beautifully rendered in the Mico Suayan’s artwork and David Baron’s incredible coloring. Suayan has a very unique and engaging style that combines sleek and realistic people with grimy environments, sort of like a cross between Chris Burnham and Dale Eaglesham. Baron complements this with a great color palette that captures the muted and dingy tones of the series various low rent locales while also coloring things over in sharp neon highlights in the vein of an ultra violent low budget ‘80s film. Finally the page composition is just splendid, rarely following a straight up and down approach, preferring instead descending alignment with a lot of punctuating images free from panel constraints defining the page. It makes the entire series feel very dynamic and powerful, adding a sense of weight, surprise, and tension to a lot of key moments.
Bloodshot Reborn is another great example of ‘90s nostalgia implemented perfectly. It finds the exact right ways to take old and tired concepts that didn’t even really work during their heyday and invigorate them with a depth and force of purpose that’s deeply compelling and highly engaging. Best of all it’s able to stand tall simply on its own merits, acting as a great entry point into the Valiant comics universe and a thoroughly unique and gripping exploration of the values of inhumanity.