This was a surprise that I hadn’t been expected, as I hadn’t heard any information about it even being developed. This just showed up in the “New Releases” section of Comixology a couple of weeks ago. At first I thought it was just part of getting the original Image Comics/Extreme Studios catalog on Comixology (which really needs to happen), but I see that it’s actually a “remastering” of the original. Not in the sense of re-ordering pages and rewriting dialog, such as in the YOUNGBLOOD HARDCOVER, but I guess new coloring and better paper-stock. I had the original when it came out (as I bought everything Image published during those first few years), but no longer have it, so I couldn’t compare the two comics side-by-side. But re-reading this again was a nice trip down memory lane (it’s been 25 years since the first issue was published).
This issue was the first full appearance of BLOODSTIKE, this was a team of mostly super-powered covert operatives for the U.S. Government. In stark-contrast to the high-profile adventures of Youngblood, Bloodstrike worked in secret, doing the dirty work that the government didn’t want the public to know about. The big twist, which is revealed a couple of times in this issue, although not really highlighted, is that all of the members are dead.
As in completely dead. The government has a way to re-animate corpses, and that’s what’s done to the members of Bloodstrike. They’re essentially super-powered zombies, introduced about 20 years before Mark Millar introduced the idea at Marvel. Liefeld was ahead of the curve on that one. Of course, the major difference was that the members of Bloodstrike retained their full mental functions, and it would later be explained that they used various types of makeup to cover up any physical signs of decay that their bodies experienced.
In this first issue, we are introduced to the team. Cabbot is the leader, who is also the narrator of this issue. He doesn’t have any super-powers he’s a typical Rob Liefeld “Big Guy With Lots Of Guns” character. He is also the brother of Battlestone, the former Youngblood leader who now leads his own team called BRIGADE, which has already debuted before this. Tag is woman with the ability to “freeze” anyone she touches, for an undetermined amount of time. Fourplay is a woman with four arms. Deadlock is the resident “Vicious Man With Claws or Blades” character, that most super-teams had to have at least one of during the 90’s. He had already appeared, as a member of the super-villain group The Four, in the first issue of Youngblood. His membership in Bloodstrike wasn’t explained here, but it later became a plot-point as the character was revealed to have a split-personality. And Shogun, the “Iron Man” of the team, he had a high-tech flying suit of armor with lots of offensive weapons built-in. The suit’s also big enough to act as a transport for the team, although the mostly travel via teleportation.
In this issue, the team is assigned to infiltrate and destroy some remote scientific research facility operated by G.A.T.E. Industries. And that’s pretty much the story. Over the first 27 pages, we see the team in action, sneaking into the facility, and encountering various armed guards whom they have to take out. All the while, as Cabbot narrates the action for us, we get a chance to see each member in action, and learn what they can do, yet Cabbot finds himself strangely uneasy about this mission. And, in the end, when the team faces the man in charge of the facility, they do indeed learn that there is more to this mission than meets the end (no spoilers).
You know, many of these early Image Comics, particular the Extreme Studios books, had a reputation for being light on storytelling and overly-reliant on flashy art. But, despite the bare-bones plot, this book is very well-written, especially for a debut issue (but then Eric Stephenson was always sort of the Best Kept Secret at Extreme). Each team member is introduced properly, with an explanation and demonstration of their powers. And the story is a covert mission where even they don’t know the full motivations, which shows the typical conditions under which the team operates, and it’s self-contained. There is a cliffhanger, of sorts, but it’s to lead into the next story which is a crossover between Bloodstrike and Brigade, showcasing the inter-connectedness of the Extreme Studios section of the greater Image Comics universe.
And the artwork! Oh man, Dan Fraga was only 19 at the time, but he was already as talented as a seasoned pro. Each page is beautiful, he was one of the better finds of the early Image era. Altogether, this is a really great book, and a treasure for all Extreme fans. Here’s to 25 more years!