After a young boy’s parents were murdered in front of him, he went into shock, barely speaking. Skulldigger, the vigilante who killed the murdered, also right in front of him, had pity on the kid and took him in. At least, that’s what it looks like from his perspective. To Detective Reyes, he kidnapped the boy, but that’s not how the rest of the police force sees it. Meanwhile, Tex Reed is surging in the polls after revealing he was once known as the costumed crime fighter the Crimson Fist. How do these two elements go together in the latest adventure in the Black Hammer Universe?
There’s a pretty clear line between Tex Reed and Skulldigger based on one small tidbit a newscaster brings up about halfway through this issue. This seems a little obvious, but it would certainly work well in the history of both characters. Writer Jeff Lemire has a tendency to subvert tropes and cliches of the super hero genre, so there’s a good chance my theory is wrong and this possible connection is a red herring. We’ll see as this story progresses.
The dynamic between Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy is a sadistic take on the relationship between Batman and Robin. It’s impossible to read this book without making a comparison to the Dynamic Duo. Where this comic deviates is how cold and heartless the interactions are. Skulldigger took in this kid against his better judgment, perhaps because he saw something of himself in the boy. That doesn’t mean that this is suddenly a father / son setup. Instead, it’s more like a drill sergeant and a new recruit. The boy (who is not named as far as I can tell), is put through the wringer in training to make sure he can hold his own in the field.
Now that he’s in a safe spot, the boy is opening up a bit more. He’s not having heart-to-heart conversations with his kidnapper / trainer, but he is definitely way more talkative than the first issue. He questions Skulldigger about a lot of things, not unlike how a peppy Dick Grayson did the same for Batman years ago. The difference here is the narration from Skeleton Boy revealing how this relationship will end. It hangs over every piece of dialogue between the two characters like a dark cloud.
Artist Tonci Zonjic adds to this with some great use of color. The dinner conversation with Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy would have had an entirely different tone if the colors were brighter. Instead, we get an ominous red with the only real light coming from a TV in the distance. This further shades the violent nature of this relationship.
Letterer Steve Wands guides us through this chat, making it flow quickly, yet pausing at just the right moments to let certain elements sink in. At times it’s more what is not said than what is, allowing us to fill in the gaps as to why that weird silence popped up.
By not giving either Skulldigger or Skeleton Boy a name, Lemire makes them almost like non-identities. Their real lives have been forgotten by society, allowing them to embrace their new selves. It’s an interesting choice and yes, it makes it a little difficult to refer to them in a review like this.
Zonjic perfectly captures the youthful innocence of the kid and the cold, emotionless quality of the vigilante. I’m willing to bet Skulldigger has forgotten how to smile. His experiences in the world have beat that out of him. This attention is paid to the other characters as well. Tex Reed’s smile seems forced, like he’s faking it. Meanwhile, Reyes is all determination, leaving behind those that love her in favor of chasing the case.
As interesting as the vigilante and his sidekick are, Reyes is just as intriguing. We get a look at her home life and see how her job has negatively impacted it. I’m very curious to see why she’s so gung-ho about taking down Skulldigger as this series continues.
Just when you think you’ve seen it all in super hero comics, Black Hammer comes in with another riveting story. Skulldigger & Skeleton Boy may have started with a riff on a well-known origin, but it quickly defined itself as something altogether different and incredible. Although we’re only two issues into this series, it feels like I’ve known these characters for decades. There’s so much to explore here and we’re just scraping the surface.