We’ve met Abraham Slam and Sherlock Frankenstein, but now we head into the darker sections of Spiral City. That’s where Skulldigger operates, dealing out his own brand of vigilante justice. When a young boy witnesses his parents murder in a dingy alley (hey, does that sound familiar?), he goes into shock that’s only amplified when he sees Skulldigger brutalize the killer. Can hope be found in this unlikely place?
It’s more than a little obvious that Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy is an homage to Batman and Robin. Under other circumstances, this might be seen as cheesy, however writer Jeff Lemire has done some phenomenal work playing with super hero tropes in Black Hammer and this is no different. He takes the core concept of Batman’s origin and turns it on its ear, exploring how trauma can affect and warp a young man’s senses, making someone as brutal as Skulldigger look like a saint when the reality is far more grim.
There’s also a definite Punisher vibe to Skulldigger and not just because of his penchant for skulls. The guy moves like a military man, with efficiency and skill. Plus, he literally murders people, so there’s that. Despite this gruff exterior, something about this kid’s experience reaches through to the vigilante. Maybe he sees something of himself in the boy or recognizes how this horrific event could send him down a terrible path, but he intervenes.
To the outside world, it would look like Skulldigger is kidnapping a young boy, but to seasoned super hero comic readers, we see it as an origin of a sidekick. Where Lemire takes this idea to new places is in the jaw-dropping final words of this issue, narrated by the kid. They present a startling twist that works as an undeniable hook that I cannot wait to see explored. Letterer Steve Wands uses a simplified font for this narration that works well with the boy’s perspective. It’s also presented on its own, not in caption boxes, giving it more of an omniscient feel.
Artist Tonci Zonjic makes a welcome return to the Black Hammer Universe. His style works perfectly with the aesthetic of Spiral City, creating a sense of nostalgia tinged with a modern vibe. This comes into play with the design of the characters and the locale.
There is some expert art direction at work in Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy. Zonjic controls the pacing incredibly well, increasing the intensity of the more action-packed scenes and slowing things down for the stoic, shocking sequences. A great example of the latter is when the boy (who I don’t believe is named) is at the police station after the murders. We start with an extreme close up of his eyes and then pan out to show him alone in an interrogation room with harsh fluorescent lighting coloring him an eerie pale white. This really drives home just how alone and isolated the poor kid is.
Where other instances of Black Hammer and Spiral City have had some semblance of hope, it is non-existent in Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy. This is the dark, shadowy part of town where heroes don’t fly through the air, they lurk through the alleyways looking for trouble. Black Hammer continues to breathe new life into the super hero genre and Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy is a shining example.