by Brendan Hodgdon. For those who are less than familiar with early-90s Image, the original Bloodstrike series is a mostly-forgotten title that nevertheless serves as an ideal microcosm of the company’s books from that period. Following a team of undead, super-powered black-ops agents, it was Image co-founder Rob Liefeld’s first Image title following Youngblood. It also had an odd publication history: it ran for 22 issues, skipping to issue #25 as part of a gimmicky flash-forward initiative, and was then briefly revitalized a few years ago without acknowledging the missing issues #23 & #24. It was a product of its time.
Writer/artist Michel Fiffe has proven with original works like Copra to be a definitive indie comics talent whose output has served as a deconstruction of titles like Bloodstrike. He combined a rugged drawing style with narrative components one might expect from late 80s/early 90s action comics to create a distinct and atypical sort of superhero comic, which then led to his writing the more high-profile All-New Ultimates at Marvel.
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I dove into Bloodstrike: Brutalists, a new volume which combines these two creative threads, but I absolutely loved what I got. Unlike his work at Marvel, Fiffe’s latest spin with an established property allows him to fully retain the stylistic identity he established with Copra, which has effectively broke the Bloodstrike team out of the 90’s-era stylistic box that it was stuck with even during the previous reboot. The resulting friction between style and premise allows this Image title to fill in the gaps of the original Bloodstrike series in exciting and atypical fashion.
Bloodstrike: Brutalists TP
Story, Art, Colors, Letters & Edits by Michel Fiffe.
What’s Old Is New. The choice of Fiffe to complete the Bloodstrike saga might have been an out-of-left-field choice, but that doesn’t mean his approach has sacrificed any of the original series’ core identity. Indeed, Fiffe has stayed true to so many classic, 90s-era hallmarks throughout the entire book. The paranoid cyberpunk components, the inherent distrust and badassery of government black-ops, and the overall conceptual absurdity are all alive and well in this volume, which provides a handhold for readers who might not be familiar with Fiffe or Bloodstrike.
Beyond the general era-appropriate components, Fiffe’s story works very well as a primer for the world of the series. The opening chapter, meant to be a lost issue #0, shows us how vampiric Wolverine knock-off Deadlock became a member of Bloodstrike, looping us into the specifics of this team and their world, giving us an idea of what Bloodstrike is all about. While I’m sure a longtime reader of the series might better appreciate certain details, Fiffe does a great job of making it accessible for newbies.
Deconstruction Mambo. But even as Fiffe lays down the parameters of what a usual Bloodstrike adventure might be, he is digging for something much more interesting and subversive. Even in the opening #0, the ridiculous cycles of death, rebirth, mission, escape, and death again that Deadlock goes through are almost Kafkaesque in description. Fiffe doesn’t miss the chance to embrace the ugly sadness at the heart of Bloodstrike‘s insanity, and he only goes deeper from there. In the second chapter, Fiffe explores the ripple effects that the existence of the character Tag has on the world at large. The third and final chapter, focusing on the lead character Cabot, sees him hunting down his old teammates.
These stories emphasize a dark and bitter tone, a vicious examination of the hollow circumstances of these characters’ adventures and how they relate to each other. Fiffe pulls apart the premise of the series and examines what has been done to these people, what they do in return, and how that affects the world around them. The results are rarely pretty, but always compelling. In a lot of ways, it is not only subversive of the original Image series and its contemporaries, it fulfills the supposedly-subversive mentality that guided many of those early Image titles in the first place.
Independent Style. Fiffe’s style is simultaneously appropriate and atypical for this kind of story. His character designs are big and chunky and exaggerated, and recall old-school Frank Miller as much as they do Liefeld. Fiffe’s approach allows him to go big and brassy during the action segments, but they also give him the leeway to shift quickly into more off-putting stylistic territory. When he embraces the undead angle of the series and slips into moments of body horror, the grossness of design and darkness of color fit right at home with everything else on the page.
And it’s in the coloring and lettering that you can truly see Fiffe’s indie roots. Fiffe often goes with a washed-out, almost watercolor-like palette for his coloring, which contributes to the morose tone of the book. It also allows for truly stunning, almost hypnotic sequences where he drenches entire panels in subtle blends of color, which, combined with the vignette-y nature of the book overall, almost makes the story feel like you’re following the characters through an extended fugue state. Fiffe’s rough-and-ready lettering also contributes to this; in handwritten style, the text drives home the jittery, damaged nature of these characters, and how they’ve long been stretched to their limits. These subtle details reinforce the deconstructive nature of the story overall by running counter to the glossy flash of the original Liefeld creation.
While you might be forgiven for expecting otherwise, combining the artistic voice of Fiffe with the product-of-its-time premise of Bloodstrike has paid off handsomely in Brutalists. With these issues Fiffe has struck a balance between working with established characters and making use of his own indie instincts, delivering an eccentric, random, and thoroughly readable book. And in the process, he sold me on the concept of Bloodstrike in a way that the other versions of the series never did.
9 out of 10
Check out this five-page preview of ‘Bloodstrike: Brutalists’ TP, courtesy of Image Comics!