At a certain point, the term “sleeper hit” no longer applies, and Jeff Lemire is at that point — the guy puts out enough stellar comics it’s a no brainer to blindly buy everything he puts out. That includes his Black Hammer series at Dark Horse, and the latest tie-in series (of sorts), Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy. The first two issues were excellent in their ability to tell a visually arresting story thanks to Tonci Zonjic’s amazing layout work and the probing, well-paced story within his lines. The third issue is no different and it opens up the “and Skeleton Boy” part nicely.
If my last sentence didn’t hint you in on a big development of this issue, stop reading, as there are spoilers ahead. The issue opens with a bit of misdirection as we follow vigilante hero Crimson Fist as he attempts to take down Grimjim. The art is moody and straight out of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. The notepad captions and letters by Steve Wands draw you into the Crimson Fist’s personal drive to enact justice. Just as Crimson Fist is about to enact some justice we cut to 1996 where Grimjim is standing over the now elderly Crimson Fist. It’s a nice segue and plays well into the fact that justice doesn’t come for some.
Much of this issue plays with the idea of old heroes and the new guard. Skeleton Boy has been seen only training up until this point and the boy who lost his parents finally gets to let out some anger on some bad guys. Meanwhile, Skulldigger has always been a loner and we see him try to do it all himself here. These are themes we’ve seen before–notably in Batman of course–and it’s interesting to see them play out again here. One of the most notable elements of this series is the endearing quality of the bond the boy and Skulldigger are going through. Real work is being done on the page to make everything feel earned.
The art by Zonjic is incredible and possibly his coolest yet for the series. The opening flashback with Crimson Fist is cast in a subtle yellow or brown tone that helps set it apart from the main story. The Frank Miller inspiration runs deep in these scenes, and it’ll bring you back. Fight scenes are brutal and you feel the damage taken and delivered, further solidifying the fact that this is a bit more realistic of a superhero story. I continue to love Zonjic’s choice to not color characters here and there. It adds an extra punch to the page. There are a few double-page layouts that use the page beautifully too with long vertical panels stretching the page.
This continues to be one of the most absorbing superhero experiences every issue. The street-level vigilante hero is getting their due thanks to the well-paced story and visionary art on display.