I: Who is Bloodwynd?
Thirty years ago today, Justice League America #69 hit the newsstands. It was the second part of DC Comics’ crossover story “Doomsday!” which is better known as “The Death of Superman.” I was ten and had only just started reading comics for two years, first it was stuff like RoboCop and TMNT Adventures and Transformers and then some Marvel stuff but not much from DC. But I was so hooked on Batman Returns hype that I picked up some Batman comics but that’s as far as I went.
When DC’s plans to kill Superman became international news, I was excited. As a smart aleck kid, I thought Superman was a tired, goody-two-shoes who didn’t interest me. Good riddance! But hey, I’d sure like to see that story. So I picked up the storyline to see him taken down and I got hooked, becoming a loyal Superman reader for the next several years.
Justice League America #69 comes early in the story. The never-before seen monster Doomsday has emerged from his prison deep in the Earth and begun to rampage. The Justice League are the first heroes to encounter and lose to Doomsday before Superman gets involved. Doomsday beats him in the first round, after which Superman’s supporting cast each take a turn before Superman and the monster beat each other to death in the center of Metropolis. There’s a strong sense of motion and dread as the story marches to its tragic end. And along the way, a new reader meets a lot of characters. Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Ma & Pa Kent, Lex Luthor II, Supergirl, Cat Grant, Bibbo, Professor Emil Hamilton, Captain Maggie Sawyer, Lt. Dan Turpin, Guardian, the staff of Project Cadmus, Dubbilex, the UnderWorld, and the Justice League: Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Fire, Guy Gardner, Ice, Maxima and Bloodwynd.
I didn’t know any of these Justice League members when I picked up this comic. But their personalities were on full display in their actions, words and thoughts. There were conflicts and romance and friendship and mysteries. The comic is littered with images that I’ll always remember. Superman catching Booster Gold on the final page. Doomsday killing the deer. Doomsday destroying the team’s vehicle. Doomsday choking Guy. And Blue Beetle discovering Bloodwynd’s true identity.
Who was this character? Bloodwynd stood out to me in the comic not for this mystery of who he really was but because he seemed the coolest of the team because he had a great design. He’s a tall, stoic Black man in an all-white bodysuit with a high collared cape that’s black on the outside and red on the inside. That’s dressed up with black gloves and a trio of gold straps and a red jewel on his chest. It’s a simple palette of highly contrasting colors that make him stand out in the group and on the page. The name is silly but not unusual for the time and I was ten, I didn’t think it was out of place. Bloodwynd seemed interesting.
But while Doomsday! made me a regular reader of all four monthly Superman titles after this, I didn’t keep up with Justice League America. So I never saw how Bloodwynd’s mystery was resolved. I didn’t even notice that he stopped appearing with the Justice League in crossovers but it’s not unusual for a character to drift into limbo and only show up sporadically for group shots. Every now and then a crisis will occur that requires all heroes coming together and there he’ll be again.
A while back I wondered what his deal actually was and found a few online summaries that seemed confused and confusing. I set him aside and moved on. But every now and then, I’d think of him. And so, I sought out the comics that defined him and told his story and here’s what I’ve learned.
II: Who is Bloodwynd?
A new creative team primarily composed of Dan Jurgens and Rick Burchett took over Justice League America with issue #62 (following a one-shot special) and give their new character Bloodwynd a classic introduction. The JL has recently been knocked around and trying to rebuild in the wreckage but before they can, they get attacked by a new villain. Bloodwynd shows up in the process and helps rally resources to help them defeat their foe. And even though the team doesn’t know much about him, he’s rewarded with a spot on the team. His powers and skills demonstrate value in a fight and his personality provides subplot material.
But despite his potential, he doesn’t really do a lot. Prior to Doomsday!, he just stands around and then helps save the day using his powers that he attributes to “magic.” Given how magic is typically depicted in comics, this works. He can do whatever the situation requires. But magically he’s able to use telepathy, vanish, is super strong, has eye beams, and can appear as someone else. And despite Blue Beetle’s quest to learn more about Bloodwynd, he’s not doing anything suspicious, he’s just mysterious. There’s one time Bloodwynd mentions having regrets but he’s not gloomy. He isn’t skulking about the JLA Headquarters, he’s just floating, sitting cross-legged in his room.
He’s quiet and stoic which is not what you’d expect from a character with a name that evokes the edginess of the ‘90s. New characters of the era tended to have one of two types of names: 1) a short-random noun or adjective (e.g., Cable, Stryfe, Zealot, Grifter, Spawn, Shaft); or 2) a word implying gore/violence/darkness paired with a random noun (Darkhawk, Blackwulf, Warbuk, Shadowhawk, Warblade, Deathblow). Both types utilized misspellings to either sound cooler or be easier to trademark.
In his second issue, Bloodwynd goes to get help to rescue the team, and introduces himself to JLA team manager Maxwell Lord who makes fun of his name. Lord calls him “Deathwind or Bloodsky or whoever you are.” It suddenly occurred to me that Bloodwynd might be a parody character.
His outfit does resemble the look of the day. He’s got the unnecessary thigh strap. The high collar and cape. The head sock thing. That’s a lot of elements that match what Jim Lee and Rob Leifeld were doing on their X-Men and X-Force character redesigns from the previous year. Sometimes a parody is too close to the original that the joke isn’t obvious.
What is obvious is thankfully unremarked upon in the comics. In most issues, Bloodwynd is the only Black person in the comics. The team he joins are all white-presenting characters, including Fire, who is Brazilian. It’s worth noting that Bloodwynd is only the third Black JL member after John Stewart and Vixen. The action in these comics tends to be contained to their headquarters or some distant locale which means there aren’t even opportunities for diverse crowd shots. While the characters don’t mention this, readers did. A fan letter from Germany published in #67 says, “I hope this Bloodwynd character stays longer interesting enough than his former ‘brothers.’ No, seriously, comics writers seem always to have problems creating appealing black comic book heroes. Good luck with Bloodwynd–I leave him in such capable hands as Dan Jurgens.” To which the editor replies “Or do comics audiences have problems accepting them?” I think the answer is probably: both. It’s hard getting fans to iike new characters. And we’ve certainly seen in the last decade who entrenched and entitled bigotted “fans” can be. But there has to be a willingness to invent and nurture new characters so that they can find a place in the culture.
But this is moot because Bloodwynd isn’t Bloodwynd, right? There’s a twist coming.
Reading these comics again, #69 is still a nice, no, great issue. It’s got a solid structure, does some inventive things with the pacing and parallel stories of Superman giving an interview while the JLA get demolished in a way that Jurgen’s layouts with Burchett’s finishes come together to produce evocative and dynamic art. Everyone is made of clean lines with dramatic compositions. The expressions and posing sell the drama. Everyone has something to do and gets to show off their powers and personality. It’s the best issue of this run. And in addition to setting up Superman’s death, it leaves a lasting impact on all the team members. Bloodwynd’s story pivots here as, until now, only Blue Beetle had been investigating him. But pages after discovering Bloodwynd’s secret, Doomsday beats Beetle into a coma.
Two issues later, after mourning Superman, the Justice League enters another rebuilding and brings in new members so now it’s Black Condor who is suspicious about Bloodwynd (who is still the only non-white presenting member). The new team is immediately drawn into a battle a fascist version of an earlier Justice League. These duplicates are the creation of John “Dr. Destiny” Dee fresh from his stint in Sandman where he lost his magic ruby and back to torment his original foes. At the climax of this story, Blue Beetle emerges from his coma and Bloodwynd is exposed as J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, with a red gem stuck in his chest.
The next two issues explain ‘most everything. J’onn is as confused as everyone else but they discover the gem contains a pocket dimension. A few heroes go into the gem where they meet the real Bloodwynd and his foe Rott. These two tell a story that a group of enslaved Africans used magic to create the Blood Gem so they could murder the man who enslaved them. The gem had other unexplained magic powers and was passed down in the family to protect the gem which also could “draw the dark side of the wearer’s personality into it.” Eventually the person who became Bloodwynd got it only for Rott, an evil entity within the gem, possessed and paralyzed Bloodwynd. J’onn happened to fly by, see the stranger in distress and touch him, allowing Rott to take control of J’onn and shapeshift him to resemble Bloodwynd in a bid to find a way to free himself from the gem. The real Bloodwynd was pulled into the gem and imprisoned by Rott. Luckily, in the present, the heroes succeed and the real Bloodwynd emerges from the gem which is removed from J’onn.
This almost works. There are a few stumbling blocks. The first is the disappointingly cliché origin tying back to slavery and also dark magic. Second is the villain Rott. It would be easy to say that this monster is simply the spirit of the original slave owner, twisted by time in the Gem. But Bloodwynd makes it a point to say Rott is the slave owner “and the deepest darkest personalities of all my ancestors melded into this obscene parody of life.” Slavery doesn’t need to be both sided. The enslaver and those who violently fought back are not equally compromised. It’s not actually specified that it’s those particular ancestors who were sucked into the gem but they’re the only ones referred to in the text, so that’s the assumption I’ve made. It could certainly have been other people over the years who misused the gem but that’s never hinted at.
Third is that we’re left with a mystery of who the real Bloodwynd is. He exists but who is he? He is not given a real identity. He doesn’t mention his secret identity. He doesn’t do anything in his flashbacks other than get captured. It’s not even stated what his powers are as the characters note that everything “Bloodwynd” did were J’onn’s powers with the cover story about getting power from local spirits of the dead. All that we know is that the real Bloodwynd has a magic gem. There’s nothing to him but the name, the look and the gem’s origin. And the gem isn’t a character.
The fourth issue is J’onn J’onzz’s role in this story. J’onn has no memory of his time as Bloodwynd and Rott claims to have been controlling him the whole time. This makes Rott once more a slave owner which at least hints at a thematic connection but it’s more unpleasant to think about than the story takes the time to consider. Internally, this doesn’t make sense based on what happened in prior issues. Rott said he was impersonating “Bloodwynd” to a powerful energy source to free himself from the Gem but nothing like that happened in prior issues. Remember “Bloodwynd” wasn’t suspicious or malicious. He was just a blank slate who once felt regret. And he knew a lot about the JLA and their friends and enemies. This could have been that Rott had access to J’onn’s memories but it’s not stated. And since J’onn didn’t know this was happening, he has no memory of his time as “Bloodwynd” and so these events don’t contribute to his character’s history. This also means that Rott is the one who fought Doomsday. That Rott is the one who comforted Ice as they watched Superman breathe his last.
But the most troubling aspect is where I see this fitting in a larger trend. American media has always poorly represented the diversity of the American population with overwhelmingly white casts and casts of characters. This even extends into non-reality based content like sci-fi, fantasy and superheroes where diversity often appears as white humans and aliens. The original Justice League of America line-up was six white characters and the green Martian Manhunter. And this line-up was six white-presenting characters and Bloodwynd, no wait, he’s actually the green Martian Manhunter controlled by the ghost of a slave owner. It’s an uncomfortable bait and switch.
And with this, Jurgens and Burchett leave the book. Jurgens at least wrapped up this mystery even if it was unsatisfying. But I do admire him for putting away his toys and not leaving a mystery to be solved by the next creators. Someone once said that corporate-owned comics are a game of exquisite corpse played over decades. An individual comic book is made by pencilers, inkers, writers, colorists, letterers, editors. But the history of a comic book or character or universe is made by hundreds of those people each taking a turn. So now that the new, er, original, er, real Bloodwynd exists, who is going to do something with him?
III: Who is Bloodwynd?
That cristitunity would fall to writer Dan Vado (of Slave Labor Graphics) and artist Michael Collins beginning with issue #78 though Collins would be replaced by Kevin West and in turn Marc Campos. And their response is, not much.
Vado and Collins’ first issues have BW as a key member of the team on a new mission to intervene in a war-torn island nation. There the JLA encounter a team of supervillains and pair off to battle their opposite. Bloodwynd fights the magic user Dreamslayer who warns that the JLA will die soon but not by him and “You will join me someday, Bloodwynd… either that, or you will die!!!” These issues are drawn by Collins with clear composition but I find it less dynamic than what came before.
After that mission, Bloodwynd just doesn’t show up. He’s missing from issues #80-82. When he shows up again in #83, he’s standing in the background as though he’s been there the whole time. He appears in a total of five panels and has one expository line of dialog. In the back of that issue, two of the letters ask where Bloodwynd is and one gets the reply that he’s doing other stuff. You know, that other stuff that wasn’t necessary to mention and that he could wrap up in time and without explanation and no one missing him. He gets slightly more to do in #84 which is a big action sequence and thinks, “I find myself becoming conflicted. I owe my life to the JLA and I do not wish to betray them… yet if Dreamslayer is right, then my destiny and my best interests may not lie with them.” Which isn’t exactly what Dreamslayer said. After that, Bloodwynd fades beyond the background appearing in only three panels of #85 despite it being a direct continuation of the last issue’s fight. These issues are drawn by West and at the surface are the most stereotypical ‘90s art yet. Big muscles, long limbs, tiny feet, tinier ankles. But underneath that is straightforward structure and layouts.
Bloodwynd doesn’t appear in #86 but it does introduce the second Amazing Man, William Everet III so there is at least one non-white person in that comic. #86 also features the return of Dreamslayer so that means Bloodwynd needs to get involved so he returns in #87 for six panels. Marc Campos drew these issues which get even more 90s. Everything is exaggerated. Capes billow and engulf. Bodies twist and turn. Perspective shifts. Everyone grimaces or yells, with lines of spit between their teeth.
Given that it’s the climax of what could be called his subplot, Bloodwynd gets the cover of #88. Dreamslayer fights the team and again asks Bloodwynd to join him. The rest of the JLA are surprised the two have met before. Despite the fact that they all went on that mission nine issues ago and should have seen Dreamslayer. Bloodwynd then throws a fit and refuses to answer any questions. This prompts Blue Beetle to say, “I knew that guy couldn’t be trusted!” Only for Booster Gold to note, “The guy you didn’t trust was Martian Manhunter, remember?”
Dreamslayer asks Bloodwynd to join him, again, though it still isn’t clear why or to what end, and Bloodwynd steps up to the moment and heroically declares, “I will not join you Dreamslayer, nor will I turn against the League– but neither shall I fight against you.” What? So Dreamslayer tries to kill him and the League free him. And Dreamslayer asks Bloodwynd to join him, yet again. And Bloodwynd says no, yet again. And true to his very strange promise, doesn’t fight him, despite Dreamslayer having just tried to kill him. But thankfully Dreamslayer gets beaten by the civilians who freed him or powered him or whatever back in #86.
What’s frustrating about this storyline is its inconsistencies and vagueness. There’s no reason why Dreamslayer wants Bloodwynd or a temptation for Bloodwynd if he gives in. This was an opportunity to explore what motivates Bloodwynd but there’s nothing here. Whenever these two think or mention prior conversations they always add new information along the way and yet their conversations are so repetitive, revealing nothing new about either one. And Bloodwynd’s refusal to fight Dreamslayer, even as Dreamslayer is actively trying to kill him, comes off less like a principled stand than willful stupidity.
One note potentially about the inconsistent dialog, Vado noted years later that he “was unprepared for the writing-by-committee that they had going on at the time and would often see things changed from my original story without my input.”
The JLA he return to their headquarters where they ask Bloodwynd why he didn’t tell them about Dreamslayer and his answer is that he didn’t think the supervillain “was this dangerous.” When Wonder Woman tells him he’s responsible to the team, Bloodwynd yells “I am responsible to no one but myself! And you have no right to question me like a common criminal!” and then “If I cannot be trusted, perhaps I do not belong in the League!”
But there’s no time to address that because a long-time villain shows up to warn them that it’s time for a crossover with the other two Justice League titles. Well, a crossover at least provides lots of opportunities to stand around in the background of action scenes, right? Except he disappears. He shows up in the last two issues to stand with some villains who are observing and literally counting down until the story ends. His last line as he expects the Justice Leagues to fail and the Earth to die is “Is this it then? The fate that all of us could sense but none could prevent?” The heroes save the day of course but Bloodwynd just doesn’t appear in the book anymore. He’s just gone. It turns out he doesn’t belong in the League because he just isn’t.
The real Bloodwynd was a blank slate at the start of Vado’s run. He didn’t have a real name. A personality. A motivation. He didn’t even have specific powers. All these things could have been filled in. They weren’t. But he also wasn’t just cast off. There’s nothing wrong with not picking up a thread and continuing a story or a character’s journey. But it’s probably easier to just get it taken care of early on. In one of Jurgen’s first issues he has the character Fire complain about her previous outfit and start wearing a new one. It’s that easy. Of course, Fire could have just said she wanted a new outfit without saying the old one was ugly. In this case, Bloodwynd could have just left the team that he never actually joined so Vado wouldn’t need to try to remember him and find him a spot.
At this same time, Bloodwynd appears in three related books. There’s Justice League of America Annual #7 and Justice League Quarterly #15 where he’s just a minor member of the team to say some exposition and join in the fights. He’s there because these guest creators know he’s on the team.
The anthology comic Showcase ‘94 #5 contains the only Bloodwynd solo story. It’s written by Ruben Diaz, the Justice League editor at the time. Bloodwynd encounters a purse snatcher desperate to afford some drugs and shows him that a life of crime and drugs is empty. The tricky thing about this story is that it could have starred any hero and worked the same. In fact, given the anthology nature of the title and the lack of any real details about Bloodwynd, it’s hard to tell when the story is set, meaning that it could be Bloodwynd or the Martian Manhunter/Rott/Bloodwynd. What makes this story memorable, other than Bloodwynd’s name above the title, is the art. Artist Max Douglas (aka “Salgood Sam”) employs a sketchy style reminiscent of Bill Sinkevich that allows him and colorist David Hornung to play with the whites of the costume so he’s whiter than even the paper while taking the opposite tact and adding texture to the solid blacks of the cape by adding skulls to the fabric and making him creepier than ever before.
And that’s it for Bloodwynd. That’s the story that was told with him. He still shows up from time to time, whenever a story needed a group of magic users or an alternate reality that harkens back to the ‘90s. No one ever tried to write a story around him again.
IV: Why is Bloodwynd?
But why does he appear again at all? Why is he in those crowd shots or alternate realities? I think because he’s recognizable in two ways. He was in one of the biggest selling comics of all time. How many people have read Death of Superman in these thirty years? How many people encountered him like I did? And when people discover him what stands out? The outfit. It’s a clean and distinct design. It doesn’t take much to draw him into a crowd and he stands out.
Unfortunately there’s nothing else to him. He’s a blank slate that no one else wanted to sketch in. Maybe later creators just didn’t care about the character. Maybe the slavery in his origin scared them off. Though DC’s reset their continuity a few times since his run, it could be possible to reinvent the character with a new origin for the gem.
Whatever the reason he’s not used, he’s not completely forgotten. And there’s still potential for someone to take that design, that lingering bit of audience recognition, and build something from it. No one has yet but that doesn’t mean they can’t.
What stands out to me through all this is that creator Dan Jurgens didn’t need to make a real Bloodwynd. The story could have worked the same with just the evil entity trapped in the gem that took control of Martian Manhunter until he could free himself. But instead, Jurgens created a new character, with a few supporting characters and intended for this character to live beyond him.
Instead, that letter writer was right. Bloodwynd just went away. He remains a mystery.