Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Tonči Zonjić
Letterer: Steve Wands
Cover Artist: Tonči Zonjić
Editor: Daniel Chabon
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

There’s a reoccurring theme in comics where creators try to either reinvent the wheel or slap some shiny-ass rims on it and say it spins differently. 

Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy #1 is not that.

Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy #1 is building a whole new vehicle that levitates because it’s grown beyond the need for wheels.

And that’s the brilliance of it. Using the framework of what was and charging into what will be.

Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy starts with a murder. A common enough trope. A mugging gone wrong leaves a young boy kneeling over the corpses of his parents. The boy is a heartbeat away from joining them until a mysterious man in a skull costume with a skull attached at the end of a chain shows up. The story unfolds from there, showcasing a detective with a connection to the mysterious skull man and the aforementioned boy who remains almost entirely silent following his parents’ death.

Written by the always amazing Jeff Lemire with art by the equally talented Tonči Zonjić, Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy #1 is a dark and intriguing tale that challenges the overall feel of the Black Hammer universe. Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy has a different look, a different tone, and a different purpose than the exploratory series that have come before it. It’s quiet and personal, often allowing the reader to feel the gravity of the quick but practical decisions the characters (especially Skulldigger) make.

In a few spots, Lemire employs a seldom-used but very effective narrative style that places the narration next to the art panels instead of inside them, basically separating what’s being told to the reader from what’s being shown to the reader. This creates a disjointed parallel that works to tell the story in a manner that’s both haunting and like a dream, as if the story is being retold instead of actively happening. It’s an incredible tool that Lemire uses to maximum effect in order to draw the reader in and create a sense of mystery around what’s happening. It’s all very good and surprisingly fresh.

Skulldigger’s a sympathetic character who has a tragic tinge to him. He could be construed as having a Punisher-meets-Batman vibe but with a kinder demeanor than the Punisher and more pragmatic approach than Batman. He’s an intriguing character who projects a “doing the right thing in the wrong way” vibe. We’re given glimpses into his backstory, but they’re cut short before any substantial details are revealed. Learning more about him and how his story will unfold is one of the bigger selling points of the series. 

The art only further elevates this book. Zonjić has a simplistic approach that matches the speed of the story. His art is intimate yet brutal when it needs to be. Every panel is gorgeous and rendered expertly to squeeze the most emotional impact possible out of a scene. Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy also chooses its colors carefully and employs a more matte look that works wonderfully with the art. Combined, the art and colors have a grainy quality to them that enhances the dirty feel of the book and compliments the no-nonsense dialogue in an incredible way.

Black Hammer is one of the most refreshing properties in comics. Which is ironic considering that every character, city, and world within Black Hammer is meant to mirror a popular property at one of the big two publishers. Jeff Lemire’s incredible writing and clever perspective have transformed what could have been an expected and obvious mockery of 80 years of comic book history into a concise and introspective look at the more human elements of superheroes. The Black Hammer world has produced gut-wrenching tales of loss and horror and triumphant mythologies that entice the reader to view a well-tread journey with fresh eyes. This book organically fleshes out the more underground and gritty parts of that universe. There’s a bit of an “in the know” learning curve intrinsic to the story since it resides within the larger world of Black Hammer. But it weaves itself into the larger Black Hammer tapestry so seamlessly that if you had never heard of Spiral City before, you wouldn’t have any problem deciphering the meaning of all the details.

Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy #1 is a worthwhile addition to the Black Hammer mythos and one that explores a darker and more sinister corner of Spiral City.

Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy #1

9.3

STORY

9.5/10

ART

9.5/10

COLORS

10.0/10

CREEPINESS OF SKULLDIGGER

8.0/10

CREEPINESS OF SKELETON BOY

9.5/10

Pros

  • Incredible use of negative space.
  • Refreshing take on familiar story.
  • Fantastic addition to the Black Hammer universe.

Cons

  • Story feels decompressed at times.
  • Jarring few pages in the middle
Aaron Roberts
taaronroberts@gmail.com

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