Bloodstrike: Brutalists #0 and #23
Written by Michel Fiffe
Art by Michel Fiffe
Lettering by Michel Fiffe
Published by Image Comics
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
“Look, everyone’s in on the same joke, the same racket,” quips one of the characters in the second issue of the revived Bloodstrike. “Everyone except us.” This is an apt description of the reading experience of these two issues, the first Michael Fiffe’s reworkings of Rob Liefeld’s cult favorite team. If you never stopped thinking about the huge pecs and bigger guns of the early 1990s, you may slip straight into the retro series. The rest of us have some catching up to do.
The release is split into a trio of issues, and the first two are designed to plug in some of the gaps in Bloodstrike’s complicated publishing history. Taking us back to 1988 in issue #0, Fiffe is given free rein to explore the origins of these characters. We knew that the team was an elite group of government operatives killed in action and resurrected by science, and Fiffe has a ball showing it all in its bloody glory.
It’s this kind of retro fun where Fiffe loves to play. Anyone who has had the pleasure of the cult-favorite COPRA will know the writer/artist’s penchant for playing with barely disguised versions of heroes from the Big Two. Patient 10, for example, bares more than a passing resemblance to a certain Weapon X. The only problem is that it’s incredibly difficult to follow. Characters and their story arcs are barely connected or explained, instead being linked together with a loose string of enthusiastic fandom.?
This stylistic choice follows Bloodstrike: Brutalists into Part 2, labelled issue #23. You see, sometime after issue #10 of the original run, the publisher ran an "Images of Tomorrow" event that flashed forward to issue #25.However, the series only wound up running for 22 issues, and Fiffe is taking the opportunity to go back and finally give audiences the “missing” issues #23 and #24. Coming in “around the time we were in Los Angeles,” the primary story seems to involve Tag having passed on some kind of metahuman STI to a slow-decaying civilian.
?The rock star here is Fiffe’s highly identifiable art. A stylistic continuation of his COPRA work, Fiffe’s devil-may-care attitude to pencil art showing through the color brings his indie sensibilities to a more visible title. It’s like a fan-created zine in the best possible sense, and even if you don’t get down with the free-flowing storyline, it’s difficult not to appreciate the singular commitment to his own style amid the frenzied fandom. The muted color choices reinforce this aesthetic, a mixed media of sorts blending watercolor and digital flats that feel handcrafted. It’s like you can almost see Fiffe’s fingerprints embedded in the pages.
Strangely enough, Fiffe’s penchant for panel-breaking layouts is curiously conservative here. Yet even within this more traditional structure, Fiffe’s idiosyncratic style shines through. From the opening page of Part 1, Fiffe presents us with what can only be described as a mental train of thought. If Fiffe’s collage style feels like a fan trying to fit in all of his thoughts at once, it’s because Fiffe’s art is the ultimate expression of affection for a genre. At other times, figures are shown in isolation against a stark background, so when a Katellan does burst out of the panels, you might be forgiven for thinking it has ripped through the faded pages themselves.
If you are going to pick up these books for any reason, it’s for Fiffe’s art. It’s a shame then that what we’re left with is an art-led project that’s made for a very specific audience. It’s terrific that this even exists for fans, for this is what the book ultimately is: an unabashed action book fueled by the pure excitement of Michel Fiffe. However, much of its appeal is going to depend on how invested you are in the world of Bloodstrike and your familiarity with the characters.