I was incredibly impressed with the layout design in the first issue of Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy and also deeply interested how this story would diverge from the tropes we’ve seen in superhero tales before. Given Jeff Lemire said this is his “love letter to Frank Miller,” the tropes are very much on purpose. A commentary on superhero comics, Frank Miller in particular, with an artist in Tonci Zonjic to stretch our imaginations within this crime-alley inspired narrative? It sounds like a winning formula.
The issue opens with Skulldigger watching the news, likely to find the next crime committed so he can kill the perpetrator until he’s interrupted by the little boy asking to be released. Lemire has an interesting situation on his hands here as Skulldigger has essentially locked up an orphan and is training him in some pretty scary conditions. Soon the boy is claiming he wants Skulldigger dead and that sets in motion his training. Good parenting, eh? Soon the boy is fighting Skulldigger and this “hero” is fighting back. The boy is beaten and it’s a classic trial by fire situation.
As the training commences, Detective Reyes continues her search to take down Skulldigger. Unfortunately for her, the police department sees Skulldigger as a hero since he kills the bad guys, but Reyes doesn’t agree. She’s soon on the case to find the missing boy and things are starting to align so that she might track down the hero and his new sidekick in training. Lemire does a good job characterizing Reyes and Zonjic backs that up with some excellent body language and close-ups. She means business and you can practically read her mind thanks to the art. I simply adore her chief of police who is like a chubby potato who turns red when angered.
Visually, the training scenes continue to show how creative Zonjic gets utilizing color and layout. At one point the panels are devoid of color as if in the moment the boy is breathless, but when he’s punched in the gut he sees red. The next page features a double page layout of diagonally placed slashing panels, moving the art and story forward nicely. A key scene with the boy and Skulldigger feature close-ups of both in four panels in a row all equal in size. The panels keep the flow and pace even-keeled which matches up well with the boy’s lack of fear of Skulldigger or his situation.
That’s the rub, and why this series is working so well. The boy is being beaten up by Skulldigger so he can learn to fight, but he has no better place to be — at least in his mind — and wants to learn so badly he’s willing to live in this cold solitary place. Much like Bruce Wayne, he lost his parents and he’s using the energy and anger to get his revenge or at the very least start a new life-fighting crime.
There are other incredibly well-crafted scenes — one with Reyes and her girlfriend, another with a politician spouting lies to the masses — that all build on each other as tensions rise to the cliffhanger. There’s a crossroads coming and I can’t wait to see how all these characters will come out when their stories converge.
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