As a total neophyte to the current incarnation of Valiant titles (save the dive into "X-O Manowar" #1), I was lured by the blurbs on the cover of "Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps" #14: "All-new title! All-new team! All-new mission!" If that's not an open invite to come in and sample the wares, I don't know what is.
While this issue does provide a reasonable amount of exposition targeting new readers, it leads off with an "Our Story So Far..." opening inside the front cover, which is three paragraphs filled with acronym explanations and plot developments. From there, Christos Gage and Joshua Dysart hit the ground running. The main bad guy (from a certain point of view) is introduced in the form of Toyo Harada. This leads to a clean recollection of what Bloodshot is and what he has done and the mustache-twirling plot Harada has for his most prized guinea pig. Gage and Dysart balance the weight of developments between Harada and Bloodshot nicely with the gathering of the new H.A.R.D. Corps at the Project Rising Spirit (P.R.S.) Research Facility and do so in a manner that fills the allotted twenty-two pages of story quite nicely.
Of course, it helps the cause of "Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps" #14 that Emanuela Lupacchino handles the art for this issue. With inker Guillermo Ortego enhancing shadows and adding depth through shading to her settings, Lupacchino brings art filled with expressive faces and varying physique. She doesn't have the luxury of distinguishing characters through costumes and Lupacchino doesn't need it. Her style is a healthy mix of Barry Kitson, Kevin Maguire and Chris Sprouse with tons of detail to make the world of the new H.A.R.D. Corps conceivable. Colorists Brian Reber and Ian Hannin add extra flavor to Lupacchino's artwork and sell the effects Lifeline triggers for H.A.R.D. Corps.
I vaguely remember the "Bloodshot" and "H.A.R.D. Corps" titles from the 1990s version of Valiant, but never invested any time or money in them. In my mind they quickly qualified themselves as "'90s concepts," and not necessarily in a good way. This interpretation of the properties is filled with action and intrigue and does a remarkable job of updating 1990s comic book concepts for a modern-day audience. With only one splash page in "Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps" #14, Gage, Dysart, Lupacchino and company deliver a packed comic book. This isn't a quick read; it's meaty and complex, filled with a compelling plot and diverse characters brought together around it. For the four bucks I spent on "Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps" #14, I feel like Valiant Entertainment has earned every penny. This issue has also convinced me that it's high time I check out the rest of line that has been receiving critical acclaim from comic book professionals and reviewers alike.