By Jeff Lemire, Ray Fawkes, Michel Fiffe, Benjamin Marra, Kano, Joe Bennett, Belardino Brabo, Jay Fabares, Pete Pantazis & Jose Villarrubia
Bloodshot has never been one of Valiant’s more lighthearted characters. He is a ruthless killer, who in the past has often possessed more firearms than personality. Recently, however, the character has been deepening. This shift has largely due to writer Jeff Lemire, first in The Valiant (co-written with Matt Kindt), then in the current ongoing series Bloodshot Reborn. For Reborn, Lemire has plunged Bloodshot into full angst mood, as he debates whether he is fated to live a savagely violent life. Along the way, Lemire has tossed in some lighthearted asides, particularly in #5’s Bloodsquirt centric issue. For the most part though, the mood has remained solemn. That ambiance (mostly) shifts for the annual, however, as Lemire and his collaborators fully embrace their wacky side. The result are some fun stories which offer fans something different while not altering the essential nature of the character.
The most successful of these balancing acts is the lead tale “The Silver Lake Slasher” by Lemire and Kano. As the title suggests, the framework is a homage to the Friday The 13th summer camp stalking serial killer plotline. The story opens, naturally, with a pair of horny teens sneaking off for some illicit lovin’ where the foreplay includes necking and discussing the local slasher, Jacob. Soon Bloodshot is smashing through their cabin in search of Jacob. Lemire and Kano play this sequence very tongue-in-cheek as Jacob easily tosses Bloodshot around, maiming him in all sorts of cartoonish brutal manners (hey, kids, a Knightfall reference). This tone continues in the next scene after Bloodshot has healed. Two campers in a boat, literally fish him out of the water. Throughout these sections Kano’s art does a terrific art of highlighting the absurdist slapstick of the situations.
The twist comes when Bloodshot finally gets close enough to Jacob that his nanites pick up on something familiar from Jacob. What is impressive here is how smoothly Lemire and Kano transition their styles from high camp to tragedy. “The Silver Lake Slasher” began as an affectionate satire of slasher movies, yet, it ends as a variation on the tradition of the misunderstood monster. In the process, Lemire offers Jacob as reflection on Bloodshot’s own troubled history with his creators at Project Rising Sun.
Later in the annual, Ray Fawkes returns to Jacob. Fawkes’ story, simply entitled “Jacob” is the most somber of the issue. Jacob is alone in the wilderness trying to fend for himself. His experience as a soldier, then medical experiment has left him repulsed at the thought of killing, even for his own survival. Yet, the nanites still flow in his system, creating voices which urge him to kill deer for sustenance. Instead, he digs up potatoes while trying to hold on to the voice of his wife. It is a compelling character sketch which is strengthen by Fawkes’ moody, atmospheric art. It looks like nothing else in the annual but still blends naturally with the other tales.
In-between “Silver Lake” and “Jacob” is the zaniest entry: “Secret Convergence War of Infinite Squirts.” Written by The Original Writer (guess Lemire was in a crabby mood that day), it is a full on parody of Events. Beginning with portentous (pretentious?) cosmic narration, it explodes into an all-out battle between the heroes of the Valiant Universe and The Anti-Beyonditor. Unlike “Silver Lake”, “Secret Convergence” is simply straight up silliness as the Valiant heroes struggle for survival. (Quantum’s last words are “Don’t forget to feed the goat”). Coming to their rescue is Bloodsquirt and a trinket called The Infinitude Contrivance. Needless to say, this story is a lot of fun, a vibe echoed by the art of Joe Bennett, Belardino & Jay Fabares (all those art assists, just like a real Event). This is not a Bloodshot tale, but does dovetail nicely with the impish spirit Bloodsquirt sprinkled throughout the early issues of Bloodshot Reborn.
The final chapter of the annual “Hellcloud Awaits,” returns the focus to Bloodshot, yet heads off in an entirely different direction. Bloodshot was investigating a rogue Rising Sun agent L%RD (formerly Krimins), when he was taken captive. L%RD has gone over to a mysterious cult that wants to harvest Bloodshot’s nanites in order to release something the cult is really keen on, even though it probably means the end of life as we know it, etc., etc. Michel Fiffe’s plot is a little muddled, but the feeling comes across clearly, especially when illustrated by Benjamin Marra’s surrealist art. Marra’s trippy contributions are reminiscent of Alexis Ziritt’s work for Space Riders and is really the star of this tale. Yet, within all this chaos Bloodshot remains Bloodshot. Even if nothing makes sense, even if some idiot keeps slicing off his limps, he keeps on fighting. This relentless, unstoppable spirit makes a good match for the outrageous storytelling, allowing Fiffe and Marra to really kick things into overdrive.
All in all, these four stories reflect different facets of the work Lemire has done with Bloodshot. Separately they are each distinct, however, taken together they flow naturally as a series of riffs. In such a way, Bloodshot Annual 2016 is able to offer readers a variety of tales, in different styles, each satisfying in their own way.
And really, what else could you ask from an annual?
Disclosure: Publisher Valiant provided an advance review copy of this comic to Nothing But Comics without any payment between the site and publisher or agreement on the review’s content.