Review – Bloodshot: Setting the World on Fire

Bloodshot: Setting the World on Fire updates Valiant’s cyborg soldier for a new era of comics storytelling with a surprisingly smart, thoroughly engaging action book. B+

Bloodshot Vol 01 Setting the World on Fire SC

I admit it, Bloodshot: Setting the World on Fire was the book I was looking least forward to reading. The cover, though strikingly designed by Arturo Lozzi (he, David Aja and Esad Ribic have done fantastic cover work for Valiant, and he also contributes interiors to this book) with a great use of color and an evocative image, just set my “Ugh, the 90s” alarm off. And while Bloodshot, a book about a seemingly invincible renegade soldier betrayed by his country, is very much a child of the 90s, it is (like the other Valiant books I’ve read) at least an uncommonly smart child. Bloodshot writer Duane Swiercyznski knows exactly what you expect from a book like this… and he knows how to use the tropes and imagery of such stories in fresh, sometimes even exciting ways.

Bloodshot: Setting the World on Fire follows the titular hero as he… well, he pretty definitively doesn’t set the world on fire, that’s for sure. In fact, it’s quite possible we’re seeing our hero at his lowest point in this volume, as he finds out the tragic secret behind his past and makes enemies of his creators, all without knowing precisely who they are or what he’s done for them. Bloodshot is a very passive character through much of this, and, refreshingly, what few choices he makes – rather than actions he’s forced into, which drive much of the plot – are more passive. Sure, he kills a lot of people, but that’s mostly when he’s forced to fight; when he has time to think and make his own decisions, he goes looking for people he remembers and tries, by and large, not to hold grudges. It’s a refreshing twist in a genre that rarely prizes introspection, and I’m glad Swiercyznski found time to work it into a story that is otherwise incredibly propulsive.

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Review – Archer & Armstrong: The Michelangelo Code

Fred Van Lente’s Archer & Armstrong, part of the inordinately strong Valiant relaunch, might just be the best of a very good bunch.

A and A

As someone who has been reviewing comics for five years now, I’ve always hated one response that I seem to get regularly when I criticize certain fan-favorite writers for slack storytelling skills. Essentially, “You’re just overthinking it. Can’t you just turn your brain off and have fun?” It’s just never seemed like a good reason to excuse bad work – I love turning my brain off and enjoying something like Crank 2: High Voltage or Zoolander, movies that are exceptionally well-made bits of fluff, that know exactly what they want to do or say and dedicate every resource they have to achieving precisely that effect.  It’s what separates, say, Blazing Saddles from Epic Movie – both may be in the same genre, neither requires too much thought to enjoy, but one (Blazing Saddles) clearly loves and understands the genre and tropes it’s parodying, while the other coasts off of recognizing obvious references. There’s no joke, just the thrill of being ‘in’ on it, whatever it is. Just because your job is to get me to relax and have a good time doesn’t mean I should forgive you for being bad at it.

All of which is to say that Archer & Armstrong: The Michelangelo Code is simple, turn-off-your-brain escapist entertainment – and it is very, very good at doing what it sets out to do. Like with many of the classic Mel Brooks or Zucker-Abrams-Zucker spoofs, it absolutely errs on the side of broadness at times, of throwing too many gags at the wall and hoping some will stick, but as you read, you can also feel just how much fun writer Fred Van Lente and his crew are having. In his excellent run on The Incredible Hercules, Van Lente showed that he knew how to make a mismatched pair of friends bounce off one another in entertaining, endlessly readable ways, but he really seems to kick things up a notch here. Divorced from Marvel continuity, Archer & Armstrong gets weird – and fun! – in ways The Incredible Hercules never could.

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Review – Harbinger: Omega Rising

Joshua Dysart’s reboot of Valiant’s popular Harbinger series has a brain, but may lack a heart. But while the book is uneven, I’d still say it’s worth checking out for anyone interested in a smart new take on the grim ‘n gritty anti-hero tropes.

A fairly nondescript cover for a surprisingly dark title.

A fairly nondescript cover for a surprisingly dark title.

A year ago, I had never heard of Valiant. I suspect that’s true of plenty of current comic readers. But after a high-profile launch last year that came complete with solid sales and rave reviews, I suspect there are very few regular readers who haven’t heard of Valiant now. With a couple high-profile storylines finally hitting (X-O Manowar’s “Planet Death” and theHarbinger Wars crossover) in the coming weeks, I thought now would be a good time to check out what’s going on with Valiant.

From its broad description – superpowered-but-emotionally-tortured teen on the run is found and mentored by a mysterious but powerful older man – Joshua Dysart’s Harbinger sounded like the most traditional offerings on Valiant’s slate, and while Dysart takes the ‘emotionally tortured’ part of that sentence a little bit more seriously than most modern gritty reboots, I’d say it still qualifies, in the broad strokes, as a fairly typical super-hero story. Collecting the first 5 issues of the series, Harbinger: Omega Rising follows an immature super-powered teen who slowly comes to realize that, say it with me, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

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