By Courtney Ryan
Michel Fiffe’s work is an act of solitary ingenuity. Since 2014, his name has bounced around comic circles in the wake of his self-published indie masterpiece, Copra, a psychedelic ode to ’80s grit à la John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad run.
Fiffe writes, draws, colors, letters, publishes, and distributes the single issues himself, with Bergen Street Comics handling distribution of the trade. This stag work ethic, however, squares off against what he says engenders him to write the stories he adores.
“I'm really into teamwork,” Fiffe says. “Opposing personalities trying to function together. I'm into that.”
Though contradictory to his one-man DIY history, Fiffe’s desire to promote teamwork flows through his narratives. Not just in Copra, but also in his recent outing, Bloodstrike: Brutalists—which is neither a reboot, nor an extension of Image co-founder Rob Liefeld’s benchmark comic about an undead government taskforce.
Liefeld’s original Bloodstrike narrative ran for 22 issues beginning in 1993. However, during the middle of its run, the comic took part in the “Images of Tomorrow” event that teased where a number of Image series were headed with an advance release of issue 25. The series never made it to issue 23, though, leaving a two-issue gap in the narrative for 25 years. As a collector and fan, Fiffe was intrigued by the prospect of resurrecting the story and its characters to complete their linear journey.
“When I noticed some of the story threads were just left open, I took it upon myself to make this hypothetical situation. Like, ‘What if I had this story and what would I do with it?’” Fiffe explains. “Once I had that initial thought, it just spiraled. For better or worse, once I set my sight on something, I can’t stop.”
Fiffe describes Liefeld as “not a complete stranger,” and was emboldened to shoot the project over to him, where it was warmly received. Thus, Bloodstrike: Brutalists consists of three self-contained issues, effectively completing issues 0, 23, and 24 from the original run. Fiffe emphasizes that Brutalists isn’t just for fans of the original series.
“I didn’t want to do something 100 percent inside baseball,” he says. “I’m working with the same canonical narrative, but with a story that works on its own. I think an old-school reader is going to enjoy a different take on the classic—if you know the material, you can find the easter eggs, and you’ll be fulfilled because now the story’s complete. But I wanted to create what I look for in a comic book, and I don’t need everything explained to me: I like that air of mystery that all comics have. So if you’re a newbie, the whole story is there, too. You don’t have to go back and look for anything. However, hopefully you’ll be compelled to go back and read old issues and enjoy it both ways.”
Presenting characters to a new audience while wrapping up a story for diehard fans was no easy feat, and Fiffe admits it was an adjustment.
“Normally the pace I go with my Copra title is lightning fast, but I can do that because they’re my characters. In Bloodstrike, these aren’t my characters, so I have to develop them a little more carefully,” Fiffe says. “But I hope the results show the amount of fun I’ve had.”
The Bloodstrike task force consists of six government assassins who were killed in action and repeatedly resurrected by military scientists as part of Project: Born Again. Over the course of their many reanimated lives, the squad is sent on violent suicide missions, which serve as extreme examples of the dark and exploitative labor practices that often propel all societies forward.
“It’s a big point in our culture to recycle and sort of re-contextualize… so I thought that a story about undead government agents beating the shit out of one another would be perfect for exploring that,” Fiffe says. “Above everything, I want insane-looking characters, but the underlying thread is that these are disposable commodities. They’re characters that you love, and they’re disposable.”
Fans of Liefeld’s Youngblood, one of the first comics released by Image, might be familiar with Bloodstrike’s leader, Cabbot Stone, whose brother is Youngblood’s Battlestone. Though Cabbot is probably the most prominent character in the original Bloodstrike run, Fiffe chooses to introduce readers to the Bloodstrike task force and Project: Born Again through a lesser-known character—a miscreant named Deadlock.
“Deadlock’s past was a mystery, and there’s a contradiction of who he was and what he’s done,” Fiffe explains. “For example, the format for the first issue is based on a single panel in an old issue of Bloodstrike where Cabbot is looking over Deadlock’s past and specific dates, and he’s trying to figure out the history, but it doesn’t make sense. So you still get a lot of Cabbot and every other character, but I thought exploring this through the lens of Deadlock, who has never had a focus on him, would be the way to go.”
In addition to the opportunity to fill in missing issues, Fiffe naturally gravitated to Liefeld’s grizzled, hyperbolic ’90s creations. “If you were to line up all the classic Image characters, there's something about the Bloodstrike team that resonates with me,” he says. “Maybe it's a primal thing, like those specific costumes next to one another that really does it for me.”
In his classic Bloodstrike run, Liefeld channeled his signature knack for arming his protagonists with gargantuan muscles, gunship artillery, and pounds of pouches—a decidedly ’90s aesthetic that enriched the discussion taking place in a rapidly evolving medium. For Fiffe, the extreme characters of the era are well suited to his style, which often features frenzied pastiches of post-modern superheroes caught in action.
“I had to readjust my drawing approach a tiny bit, only because it's a new cast for me. I had to get used to them. I also wanted to get them right. I wanted to respect the spirit of the team,” Fiffe says, though he acknowledges these characters were still very much in his wheelhouse. “There was an extra level of care, but it's still me. Drawing the Extreme-verse in my style was a natural fit, I found. I've been slowly going in that direction anyway, and this project let me take it all the way.”
Ultimately, Bloodstrike: Brutalists crystallizes through Fiffe’s ability to convey his own delight in sharing the story. And despite the solitary effort that produces Fiffe’s work, that delight, he says, comes from teamwork.
“With comics, there's so much you can visually play with... the rhythm of words and pictures that comics have, it's a very specific advantage,” Fiffe says. “Having a bunch of characters to play gives me more opportunities to use that rhythm to tell a story. Whether it’s Copra or Bloodstrike, I like the interactions that a team book promises. If they're buff and colorful, even better.”
Watch the First Look trailer for the forthcoming SyFy TV adaptation of DEADLY CLASS
May 14, 2018