Based on the acclaimed action role playing video game of the same name, Bloodborne: The Bleak Dominion throws the reader straight into the action as it opens in the final moments of an orgy of violence that sees our two heroes, Hunters Abraham and Gretchen, despatch the last of a series of vile creatures.
A regular player of the game will well recognise the atmosphere depicted in Bloodborne: The Bleak Dominion. This opening issue, written by writing machine Cullen Bunn and fantastically illustrated by Polish artist Piotr Kowalski, is visually striking. Inspired by the look of a decrepit Victorian London (think dungeon meets cesspool), with the vibes of Jules Verne in the steampunkish attire and weaponry, and lace in the foetid imagination of HP Lovecraft, and you definitely get the sense that the world of Bloodborne: The Bleak Dominion is most definitely bleak.
As a non gamer, I felt a little bit lost early in the issue, as Bunn makes only a cursory effort to situate the reader in the events they are reading. There’s clearly been a fight, because lots of dead, rather ugly looking monsters are piled around our heroes, but other than that, the reader is left to their own devices. Things do open up, however, with the introduction of Lucien, a young man who yearns to be a Hunter, but is being held back for his own safety by Abraham and Gretchen. His desire to be something he is clearly not ready for is a major factor in Bloodborne: The Bleak Dominion and will no doubt serve as a catalyst for the rest of the four part series.
I wasn’t a fan of the writing in Bloodborne: The Bleak Dominion. I thought the plot was thin, and what little characterisation we got – Lucien’s anger at Abraham and Gretchen – was obvious and seen before. Abraham and Gretchen are a little one note – grim and determined in the face of overwhelming odds, but the lack of shades of grey did make them, well, monotonous. That said, while Lucien is a character/trope we’ve seen before, in the context of the story, his motivations will be key to what unfolds, and are worth watching closely.
The true hero of this issue is artist Piotr Kowalski. While the colour palette is necessarily drab and dreary, given the catacombs and tunnels our protagonists move through, Kowalski’s artwork shines. The creature design is second to none. Burly mummified hunchbacks, gangly hairy werewolves with mouths full of far too many teeth, and a bloated old crone waiting at the end of issue 1 are very, very atmospheric and compelling to look at. His fight scenes are also dynamic, and make great use of the panels to move the action along at a steady clip.
Bloodborne: The Bleak Dominion is very much an opening issue, and readers new to the series and the game may feel lost in its initial pages. But, while the storytelling for some might be considered pedestrian, it will be the fine artwork that will keep readers reading. There’s a real sense of atmosphere and menace throughout, and there are definite hints of a larger story getting ready to unfold itself from the shadows and leap headlong towards the reader.