‘Blood Syndicate’, the ‘bastard child of comics’, is reborn

By Jevon Phillips | LA Times

“Blood Syndicate” is back, and Milestone Comics’ most hardcore and at times controversial series is pulling no punches in its updated revival of a group of gang-affiliated people who gain various superpowers and form a rough-edged alliance in order to protect their neighborhood from criminals.

“‘Blood Syndicate’ has always been the bastard child of comics. People were always afraid to touch that book,” said ChrisCross, artist on “Blood Syndicate” and one of the company’s originators during Milestone’s ’90s heyday.

“People like Static and Icon, but Blood Syndicate is its own thing — you cannot sidestep it. It’s basically like looking at some black hip-hop artists that people try to get away from, but they keep showing up with even better hits. It’s like, ‘I want to deal with this guy, but he’s just so rough. Just the tone of his voice.’”

Cross and writer Geoffrey Thorne have taken on the task of writing a book that was born amid the gang culture of the ’90s. It was a gritty storyline set in a gritty neighborhood of Dakota, and the original cover proudly exclaimed, “America eats its young.” The characters were steeped in violence, and there was often more internal strife than there were villains to fight. Blood Syndicate are no Justice League or Avengers, and their turf is Paris Island. Though they often don’t get along, they protect it ruthlessly against invaders and troublemakers.

“Paris Island. It’s the ‘f—-around-and-find-out’ island. Whether you’re a good guy or a bad guy, you don’t want any of this. That’s the one warning you get,” said Thorne. “We solve problems permanently on Paris Island. We’re not trying to take the Joker to jail.”

Both Cross and Thorne weren’t sure that the book would ever come back. Even as Reginald Hudlin and Denys Cowan talked for years about relaunching the Milestone brand, the current “Blood Syndicate” team did not know if, in this new superhero-heavy society, the group would be embraced.

“Remember back in the day when they had the Comics Code Authority? They had to constantly take it off of that book. It was just not working. They kept trying to do a PG version of ‘Blood Syndicate.’ There is no PG version of ‘Blood Syndicate.’ Come on. I drew Wise Son peeing on somebody. Tastefully. And people were dying like crazy in that book.”

Fade, from left, Wise Son and Tech-9 of the Blood Syndicate as drawn by ChrisCross.

The gang culture in the original book may have also changed since Blood Syndicate’s initial debut, but Thorne, who says he was deeply influenced by the book and told anyone he came across about it (“I was John the Baptist of the freaking Blood Syndicate!”), understands that it’s always been more “complex than just making everybody a bloodthirsty, drug-dealing, murderous thug.”

“Of course that is a component of that sort of criminality, and I’m not here to shy away from that. But I’m not promoting gang culture as a legit response to oppression because it’s not. This is a story about several powerful people figuring out what their response will be and if maintaining their affiliations is actually the best way to go.”

The second issue of “Blood Syndicate” hits stands next week. It’s early, but the creative team doesn’t plan on taking it easy in the new pages. Backed and distributed by DC Comics, the Milestone book could be a darker look at urban life than most products on the stands that are put out by more mainstream publishers. But Thorne is ready for the tough stories to come.

“Walking a straight line in this world isn’t anything close to easy. These are superpeople, for sure. But not everyone is or needs to be a hero. Life is way more complicated than black and white.”