“Bleed Them Dry” #1 introduces us to a cyber-noir future in which vampires and humans co-exist, and Detective Harper Halloway has to unravel a troubling series of murders before the delicate balance between them tilts for good.
There’s also ninjas.
Creator: Hiroshi Koizumi
Script: Eliot Rahal
Art: Dike Ruan
Colors: Miquel Muerto
Publisher: Vault Comics
While “Bleed Them Dry” boasts a premise that’s not unfamiliar to fans of Blade and the like, the book’s smaller moments do a lot of work to show us that the book’s not banking on a cool factor to get us through. At least, not yet.
Ruan’s attention to detail is front and center, though the creative team gels well throughout. The first page is an excellent example of what works well, with the top strip featuring Harper in a contemplative moment at a crime scene framed by two close-up panels of her hand. There’s a nice little white gutter around her that draws our eye, and the hand-written lettering has a narrative prompt for existing that’s delivered by the visual of her hand picking up the pen. The whole moment works well to tell us something about our protagonist and set the scene before everything pops off a moment later.
Comics are primarily a visual medium. A given, yes? Unfortunately, visual storytelling can be hard to come by in current mainstream comics and big indies. We’re edging back into narration blocks and expository dialogue more and more often, which doesn’t give the art any room to do what it needs to do. When a comic chooses to do most of its world-building through its art, it’s a treat. “Bleed Them Dry” relies on oppressive cityscapes smeared with Muerto’s good nighttime palettes, and on smaller interior moments, like the two cups juxtaposed on the diner table as Halloway and Black mull over their case. Ruan also plays with panel structure in key moments, like the slash of Black’s sword bisecting the page as Halloway’s rushed by our mysterious closet lurker. These key spots balance out what is in other places a dialogue-heavy issue, and without them the book would suffer.
Rahal does a good job building Halloway as a sympathetic protagonist by showing how she’s hemmed in by the authoritarian forces around her, and how she resists them by demanding more than an easy answer in her work. She’s often framed by Black or Captain Chase on the page or by the vast cityscape behind her. We get a few introspective moments to showcase her weariness, but they also build her resilience and give her a personal stake in justice. There’s even one moment of perfect cuteness rendered lovingly by Ruan before a high-energy plot twist. In cyber-noir and in a world of badass women with swords, these moments matter when they’re done well. And by done well, I mean without infantilizing, fetishizing or sexualizing the character. Halloway has a moment of pure enjoyment, and the moment functions as the perfect narrative beat before the plot kicks up, the perfect visual pause on the page (mirrored by her alarmed expression two panels below,) and the perfect moment to build more of a bond between the comic’s main character and its audience.
Ruan knows when to lay on the action lines and when to stretch a moment of tension throughout multiple panels, and Muerto does an excellent job building mood with a layered palette. The transition from blue to red as Halloway descends into the final setpiece of issue #1 is done well, down to the blue narrative boxes trailing into the stained hallway. Black’s monstrous transformation is accompanied by exaggerated fangs, shadows and blood-red pupils that contrast his perfectly coiffed, light-drenched persona earlier in the book. There’s one sound effect that’s partially occluded by an inset reaction panel – a strange choice designed perhaps to drive home the split-second cut between Halloway’s reaction and the explosion – but overall the sound effects and lettering are clear, and the font is a space-saver in some of the talkier scenes. A smidge of padding at each side of the balloons creates a bit of breath, too.
Overall, “Bleed Them Dry” could’ve been a slog, plain and simple. There are plenty of cool horror and cyberpunk books out there that race through plot and world-building while denying us key character growth and tension. With “Bleed Them Dry,” the team is creating something with a lot of potential and enough attention paid to what makes visual storytelling meaningful to keep us reading.
The Verdict: 8/10 – “Bleed Them Dry” is not overly concerned with clout. Instead, it builds a sympathetic protagonist, a believable world and enough mystery into its first issue to give its slick setting some intrigue.