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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Know Your Suicide Squad: Bloodsport

There's a new Suicide Squad film being released this summer. This new team will include a character named Bloodsport (played by Idris Elba) whom I know nothing about except that he first appeared in a Superman comic from the 80s. Let's learn about him together.


This could almost be a panel from an Image comic. Panel from Superman v2 #4 (1987)
Pencilled by John Byrne, inked by Karl Kesel.


Flashback: 1987. It was a bold, exciting time in Superman comics -- after the mega-successful The Man Of Steel relaunch by John Byrne, interest in Superman was at an all-time high. A new Superman series (written and pencilled by Byrne, inked by Terry Austin) was launched immediately picking up where the The Man Of Steel mini concluded. At the same time, Superman v1 had been re-named to Adventures of Superman (written by Marv Wolman, pencilled by Jerry Ordway and inked by Mike Machlan) as of issue #424 to avoid confusion between the two titles. In short, it was a great time to be a Superman fan: DC understood that they had a captive audience and were delivering some of the best Superman work many of us would see in a long, long time.


Superman #4 (1987). A very attractive John Byrne cover. It screams ACTION!
Bloodsport blasting through the Superman logo is a really clever use of cover space.

Bloodsport first appears in Superman #4 (1987). It was still very early in the series, and Byrne was still building the rebooted/revamped Superman mythos (establishing characters and relationships, etc...). Bloodsport, created by John Byrne, is introduced when he makes an impromptu appearance at a dinner to shoot up the patrons and scream about civil liberties and Vietnam. That's right... Vietnam. This was 1987. The Vietnam war ended in the early to mid 1970s, so it sounds about right that a thirty-five to forty year-old man would be a Vietnam veteran. 

Bloodsport shoots up [Fred ?] Hembeck's restaurant. From Superman v2 #4 (1987).
Pencilled by John Byrne, inked by Karl Kesel.

The story pretty much progresses as you'd expect -- Superman pursues Bloodsport, they battle, Superman wins and Bloodsport is incarcerated. Other than the ability to delude himself that Americans eating at restaurants are taking for granted the sacrifices Vietnam vets made for their country, Bloodsport also has the ability to teleport in weapons that can actually HURT Superman (i.e., guns with kryptonite bullets). This pretty much implies that he was hired by Lex Luthor since, at the time, Luthor was the only DCU character who had access to kryptonite (as mentioned, Byrne was reconstructing the Superman mythos).

Bloodsport demonstrates his weapon teleportation powers. From Superman v2 #4 (1987).
Pencilled by John Byrne, inked by Karl Kesel.

This would be Bloodsport's last appearance for a long while. I have a feeling he was meant to be a one-and-done character. On it's own merits, this was a great issue -- a very well-written story, a villain that was actually a threat to Superman, dynamic John Byrne pencils inked by Karl Kesel, and lots of action sequences. To me, the Byrne reboot era of Superman from the mid-to-late 80s was Superman at it's peak... so I might be a little biased here.

How did readers react to Bloodsport? As a brand-new villain (rather than a re-imagining of a Superman legacy villain, like Metallo from issue #1), some readers felt a little bored with Bloodsport. The muscular, heavily-armed 'disillusioned ex-soldier' was an overused idea in the 1980s. Some readers wrote in to critique that it was a 'tired' concept by this point. They argued that it may have been a fresh concept in 1979, but was kind of 'been there, done that' by this point. Harsh. 

So, how significant was Bloodsport? Well, significant enough to get an entry in 1987's Who's Who Update issue #1, but not significant enough to get a trading card:



If you were an avid Superman reader in the early 1990s (post-Death of Superman), you may remember a different Bloodsport. This was a completely different character. He had similar abilities to the first Bloodsport (ability to teleport in weapons out of thin air) and that's pretty much where the similarities end.

Adventures of Superman #507 (1993). Cover by Barry Kitson.


This second Bloodsport, created by Karl Kesel and Barry Kitson, was a white supremacist who was primarily targeting African Americans. It was later revealed that he was a member of the Aryan Nation. Unlike the first Bloodsport introduced by Byrne in Superman #4 (whom you may have felt a little sympathy for), this 'new & improved' Bloodsport made you incredible angry with his senseless brutality and racism. Kesel and Kitson did a great job of making you really hate the character.

Panels from Adventures of Superman #507 (1993).
Pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Ray McCarthy.

So... you've got a mentally-unstable gun-toting African American terrorist named Bloodsport, and then you've got another white supremacist terrorist named Bloodsport who wants to eradicate African Americans. The only evitable outcome to this predicament is that these two are going to duke it out... and that's exactly what happens in Adventures of Superman #526 (1995):  

From Adventures of Superman #526 (1995) 
Pencilled by Rodolfo Damaggio, inked by Klaus Janson.

The warden of Stryker's Island prison decided that, in order to quell rising tensions in the prison, a boxing match between Bloodsport I and Bloodsport II would be arranged to get their aggressions out in a controlled manner. Superman would be the referee. I just want to point out that this is the kind of scheme that could only work in a comic book. Will this issue be entertaining? Hell yes. Realistic? No.

Of note: this issue was written by Karl Kesel -- who inked Superman v2 #4 (first appearance of Bloodsport I) and co-created Bloodsport II (in Adventures of Superman #507).

During the boxing match, Bloodsport II manages to teleport a gun into the ring and all hell breaks loose. The final fate of Bloodsport I (aka: Robert DuBois) is to be killed by guards while trying to escape prison during the commotion. Don't feel so bad -- Bloodsport II (aka: Alexander Trent) is murdered by his Aryan brothers for losing against DuBois in the ring.

Bloodsport ( tRobert DuBois) meets his end. From Adventures of Superman #526 (1995) 
Pencilled by Rodolfo Damaggio, inked by Klaus Janson.

...and that's everything about Bloodsport from the 80s and 90s. Neither of these versions of Bloodsport had been members of the Suicide Squad during this era. 

In the last two decades, with all the New52/ReBirth/Future States reboots it's possible that there was a version of Bloodsport who was re-introduced and joined the Suicide Squad... but we wouldn't know about that. This is DC in the 80s, after all. ;)


Other articles you may enjoy:

-Know Your Suicide Squad: Katana

-Know Your Suicide Squad: Killer Croc

-Know Your Suicide Squad: Enchantress

-The 'El Diablo' interview

-Reviewing the 1988 Peacemaker mini-series

-John Byrne's final Q&A from Toronto FanExpo 2018 (lots of stuff about his work on Superman in here)





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