Blood Hunters #2 – A Mixed Bag of Vampiric Action

Blood Hunters #2 Main Cover Greg Land

With the Blood Hunt well underway and the Marvel universe plunged into darkness, it falls to the unlikeliest of heroes to push back against the vampiric hordes. Last month, Blood Hunters #1 took readers through three stories that checked in with various characters on the ground level of the event, and delivered three episodes of action because of it.

Now, with the release of Blood Hunters #2, readers are given another trio of anthological tales to bite into, this time focusing on Hulk and Kate Bishop, with the final story charting the next chapter of Dagger and Elsa Bloodstone’s ongoing efforts to win back the night.

Unfortunately, where the first issue of this tie-in utilised the format exceptionally well, telling novel and exciting stories that spotlighted underserved characters, this instalment stumbles slightly in its attempt at a follow up.

The Incredible Hulk in “End of the Well”

Kicking off this anthology is a Hulk story from Kaare Andrews and Alex Lins, and things set off from a strong position.

“End of the Well” sees Bruce Banner awaken in a vampire meat locker, far more alive than he should be but intimately close to death. What ensues is, on its surface, a fairly standard Hulk vs Gamma-vampires vignette, with Banner smashing his foes into a mound of blood and bones. However, Andrews and Lins elevate what is otherwise a boilerplate action-horror premise, infusing it with a light rumination on the nature of living, and how bound up that is in being willing to die.

‘You’d be surprised at what ya can do when yer backed up against it. And how easy it is to turn into a monster… when that’s all that will save you.’

Bruce Banner, “End of the Well” in Blood Hunters #2

Given the journey Hulk has been on as a character over the last 5-10 years, and how much more closely he’s been brought to his supernatural and philosophical roots, it’s encouraging to see that breeding ground for creativity extend even to his event tie-in appearances. The exploration of how monstrous someone has to be to survive, without sacrificing the very humanity they’re fighting to preserve, imbues the story with a tragic undercurrent. It also fits right in to the questions investigated by writers like Al Ewing and Phillip Kennedy Johnson, and even original author Stan Lee: ‘Is he man or monster or… is he both?’. It takes what should be a run-of-the-mill brawl and plays into the literary tradition of the character, forgoing another examination of whether the Hulk is some kind of curse and instead looking at him, and all our inner “monsters” as necessities.

For that, Andrews manages to find the space to excavate the humanity within the carnage of Blood Hunters #2, all while honouring the rich history of the character.

It also cannot be understated how important Alex Lins’ (and colourist KJ Diaz’s) contributions to this tale of horror and violence are. Lins has quickly been rising as a talent to watch over the last few years, whose work on New Mutants, Hellcat and Briar all demonstrates the range and depth with which his storytelling can achieve.

What’s especially impressive here is not just how closely Lins is able to evoke the stylistic language of current Incredible Hulk artist Nic Klein, allowing this tale to fit comfortably within the saga of that run, but also how adept he is at clearly and succinctly conveying emotion within such a short space of time. Lins is tasked with establishing and developing not one but two storylines here – one in the vampiric present, and another in the traumatic memories of Bruce Banner. Both times, Lins is able to conjure such a clear sense of place and emotional reality, knowing when to pull out wide for sense-shattering action and when to busy the pages with horrific memories of the abuse Banner suffered as a child, and the hardship he was forced to endure just to survive.

It says a lot that the most impressive page in Blood Hunters #2, for me, is not even the glorious splashes of action, but the quiet final few panels. A tearful child, a whimpering animal, a hollow man. What better way to summarise the story of Bruce Banner?

Kate Bishop, Hawkeye in “We Drink to Forget We Drink”

Unfortunately, after a brief check-in with the Hulk, things start to falter.

The second story in this issue comes from Ann Nocenti, David Baldeon and Java Tartaglia, and it centres on Kate Bishop, Hawkeye. Specifically, it drops us into events in media res, as Kate is working with a vampire named Dante to protect a pair of young girls (who are also ghosts?) while they true and cure their father of vampirism.

If these are plot threads from a previous story, then it’s something I’ve not read and am therefore entirely lost on. Also, if it is from a previous story, then there are zero editors notes or even a passage of expository dialogue to help acclimate readers who, like me, are coming in new to things.

On the flip side, if this is an entirely new setup for Kate, then why Nocenti takes no time to establish things, or even to do so after an opening bout of vampire killing action, totally eludes me.

One word kept ricocheting through my mind as I read this, and it was “confused”. And I don’t mean that I was confused (though I was) but that the script itself was riddled with confusion. Nocenti is an industry veteran, and I would have hoped that someone with her pedigree would be better at setting the table. I have no idea why Kate is in this position. I have no idea what her prior relationship with Dante is, or why she’s found herself in this predicament with ghost children. I also have no idea why the story thought it made things clearer to state that this occurs before Avengers #14, when the status quo it leaves Kate in is completely absent in that very issue. Everything about the structure of this story left me scratching my head, and it prevented me from investing emotionally. By the time our hero rides off into the sunset (or where the sunset would be, were the skies not blacked out) I was just glad to know I’d be reading adventures with Kate in the next issue of Avengers that actually made sense.

Props do have to be given where they’re due though – David Baldeon is working overtime to make the visual storytelling as enjoyable as possible. His trademark affinity for great depictions of expression and motion shine through, and his ability to compose a page remains ever effective. It’s lacking some of the truly inventive stuff he was doing with Leah Williams on the criminally short X-Factor, but given the page constraints and the (relatively) more grounded story, that is not surprising.

Baldeon’s Kate and Pizza Dog are a delight, and if Marvel ever want to greenlight a new Kate Bishop solo-series I’d be more than happy to see him in the credits.

Additionally, Java Tartaglia does a consummate job with the colour on most sections of this story, but I do have one gripe. Kate’s costume is almost entirely pink/purple and unfortunately so are most of the backgrounds in any scene set outside. I recognise that Tartaglia is limited due to the Darkforce dome that’s blocking out the Sun during the events of this series, but perhaps a different shade of night would have landed better. As it is, Kate often bleeds both into the background and into and vampire claws and bodies that are washed in purple in the foreground of certain pages. The result is action that, on the level of the line, works really well, but ultimately reads as a little cluttered.

Also, who’s idea was it do commission another Hawkeye story right after Clint’s story last month? Variety is the spice of an anthology, and I would’ve advised against giving readers something that felt even slightly like a retread – especially as all these stories essentially boil down to “superheroes kill vampires”.

Dagger and Elsa Bloodstone in “Once More Into Darkness”, Pt.2

Finally, we return to our throughline story in Blood Hunters #2 and the series as a whole – Dagger and Elsa Bloodstone teaming up to form the titular Blood Hunters, courtesy of Erica Schultz, Bernard Change and Marcelo Maiolo.

This lands in a strange place for me, as it lacks some of the thematic depth of “End of the Well”, but is exceptionally more well put together than the story that precedes it. In large part, this is due to it being something of an interstitial chapter in the four-part saga. Schultz and Chang are putting pieces in place and, despite having very little time to do it, are managing to deliver a story that’s both engaging and exciting even with all the housekeeping they have to do.

Dagger’s position as the emotional core of the story falls to the wayside somewhat as we learn how Elsa Bloodstone found her way into events, and we witness the introduction of our third protagonist (or is that antagonist?), the White Widow.

Chang and Maiolo prove why they’re a force to be reckoned with here, emerging as the clear highlights both of this chapter and Blood Hunters #2 as a whole. Chang’s eye for panel composition, pacing and figurework only gets better and better, and is complimented perfectly by Maiolo’s penchant for colour palettes that air on the side of evocative rather than realistic visuals. Panels get tighter and more claustrophobic as the pace of battle intensifies, and Maiolo knows just when to emphasise a moment of danger with a well-placed panel of red and white.

Furthermore, the art team uses lighting effects to great impact. In an event that plays so much with the idea of light and dark, hope and despair, the golden glow that adorns our heroes and the black silhouettes of their adversaries works so much better than they otherwise would at delineating between characters and establishing tone.

What that results in is a chapter that feels very much in-between, but entertaining nonetheless. Some of Elsa’s extensive use of slang doesn’t always land right on my ears (I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone actually say ‘shake a leg’) but I do appreciate the attempt at defining a sense of voice for the monster hunter, even if it’s not perfect. The plot has slowed somewhat as things move into place, but the character dynamics remain strong as ever and the introduction of Yelena promises to be an exciting development, and the action continues to be top-notch.

Closing Thoughts on Blood Hunters #2

Overall, Blood Hunters #2 feels like a step down from the first issue, but one that still shows a lot of promise.

Andrews and Lins’ Hulk story is an artistic feast that manages to take a simple premise and still deliver something worth thinking about after you’ve put it down. Kate Bishop’s chapter is, on the other hand, largely disappointing, with very little to write home about from a character, theme or plot perspective. And finally, the second chapter of “Once More Into Darkness” stumbles a little in its forward momentum, but makes up for it in just how damn good it looks.

Next month, the cast is switching up drastically, as Dr Doom and Hellcow (no, I’m not familiar with the infernal bovine either) take centre stage. Hopefully that gives Blood Hunters #3 the chance to really stretch itself in terms of tone and deliver something really different in the sea of other Blood Hunt titles.


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