In a dark fantasy world where deities walk free and a mystical drug steals the memories of those who use it, a hitman for the gods must face his past while his conflicted son tries to save his future.

Bliss, an eight-issue miniseries from Image Comics, opens with the trial of Benton Ohara, whose life’s legacy is a trail of bodies and a crowd of grieving loved ones hungry for blood and vengeance. Benton’s lone defender is his son, Perry, who recounts his father’s life in a series of flashbacks set parallel to the current narrative. In a city full of suffering, Benton was a man without options. To save his sick son from death, he agreed to serve three lesser gods, buying his son’s life with the murder of countless others. Clinging to what remained of his soul, Benton wiped away the memories of his crimes with Bliss, a drug which steals painful memories from those who use it.

In the present day, Benton faces judgement for his crimes while Perry struggles to reconcile his father’s violence with memories of the man who sacrificed so much to protect him. And when the gods’ schemes emerge from the past to upend both Benton and Perry’s lives once more, loyalty, justice, and memory will collide in a struggle to face the truth and find a path toward the future.

Written by Sean Lewis, Bliss is a bold story that blends dark urban fantasy with gripping family drama. Weaving together dual narratives along with complex thematic and character work, this comic manages to pack a wealth of storytelling into its limited run. Setting a tone of desperation right from the start, Lewis does not shy away from the violence of Benton’s crimes or the tumultuous emotions of families torn apart by violence. Without settling for easy answers, Lewis allows each character to exist in their complexity, doing service to the subject matter in recognizing the humanity of its subjects. What does it mean to change, to forgive, to hate, to mourn—and what do we do when these feelings come crashing together?

Lewis situates this storytelling in a world familiar to our own. Gritty and uncertain, the main difference comes in the gods who move freely among humanity. Whether offering the sweet relief of Bliss from a bathhouse on the docks, or ruling in power from their divine domains, the magic of these gods pervades the more mundane lives of those they affect. It is the will of the gods that sets off the events of Bliss, with each scheme for power using Benton and those around him as pawns. Lewis brings all this to life with worldbuilding that is both strange and real, creating a world that is believable even in its darker corners where monsters roam free.

Bringing both world and characters to life, Caitlin Yarsky details the grime and magic of the world across each page. With dramatic and dynamic paneling, she brings the reader through seedy streets and violent confrontations. She also does incredible work spotlighting the emotional beats of the story—the sorrow and fury of the characters, as well as their moments of happiness. Fantasy and noir collide across each page of Yarsky’s artwork, cinematic in portrayal, mythic in scope, and achingly human at every turn.

And I would be remiss not to also include Ari Pluchinsky who serves as colorist for Bliss, imbuing each scene with a shifting palate of hues, from earth tones of the country to the dim shades of Feral City to the rose colors of Bliss itself which wash each memory in mournful urgency. With dramatic lighting and bold colors that serve each turn of the story, Yarsky and Pluchinsky create a visual experience that carries the writing and lingers in the reader’s mind.

Image rates Bliss T+ for older teen, and the story is indeed best suited for older teens and adults. With some strong violence and language—as well as its core themes around the clash of trauma with familial love—this comic will find plenty of readers with teens and adults alike. But for any reader of crime thrillers, fantasy comics, or thematic drama, Bliss has a great deal to offer. This is an ambitious story crafted at each turn by a skilled team using the comics form to great effect. From the gripping opening moments through the lone, lingering image of the final page—and beyond even that to the illustrated author’s note which follows—Bliss is harsh and hopeful. It is tragic and it is beautiful. It is one of those comics that entertains and leaves you pondering  long after it is over. In the end, Bliss is keenly human and unafraid of the deep, difficult uncertainty that comes from living, loving, and finding ourselves responsible to one another. It’s a remarkable comic, and well worth picking up for anyone willing to be taken on a journey by these expert storytellers.

Bliss
By Sean Lewis
Art by Caitlin Yarsky
Image, 2021
ISBN: 9781534318915

Publisher Age Rating: T+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Representation: Japanese-American,

  • Josh

    | he/him Technical Services Librarian

    Reviewer

    Josh Gauthier worked a technical services librarian in Maine before taking a detour into the tech field. He has a BA from the University of Southern Maine and an MFA from the Stonecoast creative writing program. Beyond his day job, Josh is also a fiction writer and playwright. You can find him discussing topics such as writing, comics, fiction, and pop culture on various social media platforms as @JG_Writer.

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