Skulldigger & Skeleton Boy: From the World of Black Hammer #1 – Jeff Lemire, Tonci Zonjic & Steve Wands (Dark Horse Comics)

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Being the master of your own Universe, having carte blanche to play in a cosmos that you’ve created and having the power to twist it to your will and every whim might tempt some writers to drown themselves in delusions of grandeur. But Jeff Lemire isn’t just some writer; he’s the founding father and architect of the World of Black Hammer and Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy is his ode to the mythology and legend of Batman. It’s his homage to the birth of the Dark Knight and liberally plays with the story of the Bat’s beginning, turning it on its head in order to channel his tale in an even more sombre and tenebrous direction than that of the fable that it mirrors.

Having seen his parents murdered, a young boy is saved from their killer by a vicious vigilante whose ruthless modus operandi has brought him to the attention of the local police department. Alone, confused and left mute by being forced to witness the slaying of his parents and then wilfully watching their murderer executed by his saviour, the juvenile, thanks to the various whims of fate, ends the worst chapter of his life by becoming the ward of the man to whom he owes his life.

Told against a backdrop of a political struggle in the mayoral race that introduces an arch villain and the cop who will inevitably help shape the fates of both of Lemire’s newest “heroes” Skulldigger & Skeleton Boy is at once instantly familiar and incredibly different. Lemire reshapes something that’s part and parcel of every comic fan’s genetic make-up into an original, instantly intriguing story that thanks to its jaw dropping final line of prose not only has a finite life, but is also destined to end poorly for all of the players entangled in its brutal sphere of influence.

Tonici Zonjic’s brooding, noir flavoured art and faded, stygian colours allow Lemire’s story to immediately find its feet and catapult the reader headlong, without missing or skipping a beat, into a plot driven by its complicated and broken characters.  The World of Black Hammer’s long, dark night has arrived, so strap yourselves in and hold on tight. It’s going to be a turbulent, fascinating ride… Tim Cundle

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