Hugo Reading Progress

2024 Hugo Awards Progress
29 items read/watched / 57 total (50.88%)
3215 / 7751 pages read (41.48%)
495 / 1360 minutes watched (36.40%)

17 April 2024

Elsa Bloodstone: Bequest by Cath Lauria

 Elsa Bloodstone: Bequest
by Cath Lauria

This is a prose novel about Elsa Bloodstone, part of a line of YA tie-in books about female Marvel characters. I read it to cap off my runthrough of Marvel's Bloodstone content. It seems to take place in the regular Marvel comics universe, if somewhat genericized.

Published: 2021
Read: February 2024

I was a bit surprised, then, at how deeply this book dove into Bloodstone lore. Most post-Nextwave takes on Elsa and her father haven't really used the details of the characters established in their original stories. Sure, we're always told Ulysses Bloodstone is an immortal monster hunter with a bloodstone shard embedded in his chest, but none of the other elements of the very complicated backstory John Wagner gave him in the 1970s (see item #1 below) ever come up; the 2001 miniseries (#2 below) gave us Elsa herself, but every other aspect of her from that series has pretty much been ignored.

But Bequest has multiple callbacks to the 1970s series, revisiting some of its locations as well as a forgotten member of its supporting cast, the journalist Samantha Eden. It also very much considers the 2001 miniseries to be in continuity, bringing back Adam, the Frankenstein caretaker of Bloodstone Manor (which is back in Boston for this story) and the vampire lawyer, as well as a genie's lamp that Elsa used to travel the world in that story. (There is no mention here of the "Mordred's Causeway" Elsa used to get around in Monsters Unleashed!) But as you can see on the cover, this is clearly the post-Nextwave Elsa, a hardcore redheaded monster killer (who was trained by her father, as we saw in flashbacks in Nextwave and Marvel Zombies: Battleworld), not a naïve blond one (who didn't even know her father, as we saw in the 2001 miniseries). Lauria doesn't spend a lot of time reconciling these discrepancies, but she does have Elsa briefly think to herself that she's not sure if her memories of her father training her are real or not! I appreciated the book's inclusive approach to continuity (though I imagine there wasn't much alternative, as if you jettison the 1970s stuff and the 2001 miniseries, the character ceases to have much of a history), and I liked this vague attempt to make it all stick together. Lauria says, it all counts, don't worry about the details.

Okay, okay, that's great to know about the continuity, but what about the book!? Well, I would describe it as... aggressively okay. It seems to me that the book has two main problems. The first is that the plot is very repetitive and very simple. Elsa discovers someone is out there ransacking old haunts of Ulysses Bloodstone, trying to collect bloodstone fragments, and she teams up with her newly discovered half-sister to find out who is doing this. (This is a totally different newly discovered half-sister to the one subsequently introduced in The Death of Doctor Strange.) So Elsa and the sister go to a place, fight some monsters, go to another place, fight some more monsters, and so on. There's no sense of advancement, they never learn anything in one particular place, they never accomplish anything. They just keep doing the same thing until at the very last place they found out who did it. (It is a very underwhelming reveal.)

The other issue is that nothing really seems to be a stake personally for Elsa. The power of a prose novel over comics is that it ought to be able to let you dive into interiority more, giving more depth to a character. But I don't think Elsa has a lot of depth here, and honestly she has less depth than in stories like Marvel Zombies and Death of Doctor Strange. Sure, she has a sister... but this doesn't seem to meaningfully change her conception of herself or her father or anything, there's no development of the character arc just like there was no development of the plot arc. In a secondary issue, Elsa very much comes across as a Brit-written-by-an-American rather than an actual Brit. A few too many "blokes," especially in the early parts of the novel. I'm sure I could not do better, but why not hire a UK author to write the book if it's going to be a first-person narrative? The Elsa stories by Warren Ellis, Simon Spurrier, and Tini Howard have been among the most successful ones for this obvious reason.

Outside of all that, it is a quick, easy, action-packed read; it's hard for me to imagine any reader wouldn't blaze through it as quickly as I did. Plus it does have some good jokes. So, worth you time because it won't take a lot of your time!

* * *

And that brings me to the end of my Elsa Bloodstone project! (At seven installments across four months, that was definitely a lot faster than my JSA one.) What did I think overall? Well, I think she is a fun character who has a weird continuity—but having a weird continuity is the kind of thing that makes a character intriguing to me! I feel that's she's been robbed. I know she recently turned up in (an animated Disney Plus film that's part of) the MCU, but it's surprising to me that she's mostly had guest appearances in her time since 2001; her only starring roles have been in Legion of Monsters and Marvel Zombies. Where's her ongoing? Or, at least, a miniseries solidly focused on her? C'mon, Marvel, give her a real chance at a real run!

My next project will be a big one again... Blackhawk!

This is the last post in a series about Elsa Bloodstone. Previous installments are listed below:

  1. Bloodstone & the Legion of Monsters (1975-2012)
  2. Bloodstone (2001-06) 
  3. Nextwave, Agents of H.A.T.E. (2006-07)
  4. Marvel Zombies: Battleworld (2006-15)
  5. Monsters Unleashed! (2017-18)
  6. Marvel Action: Chillers / The Death of Doctor Strange: Bloodstone (2020-22)

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