Advance Review – Black Hammer: Cthu-Louise (one-shot) (Dark Horse Comics)

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artwork: Emi Lenox
Colours: Dave Stewart
Release Date: 12th December 2018

In addition to its Eisner Award-winning (and recently optioned for television and movies) main series, Black Hammer has been churning out some absolutely spectacular spin-offs in recent months, from Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil to Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows.  And Cthu-Louise, a new one-shot on sale next month from Dark Horse comics, sees them doing something a little different – a spin-off from a spin-off.  It’s spin-ception, baby!

This self-contained story from Jeff Lemire and Emi Lenox takes a look at Cthu-Louise, the daughter of Cthu-Lou, a member of the aforementioned Legion of Evil.  With Lou having long since retired from his rather uninspired run at being a super-villain, his daughter – whose tentacle-clad face is a sad reminder of her father’s run-in with her Lovecraftian “Grandpa” in the sewers beneath Spiral City – is struggling to fit in at school, finding herself the target of some fairly vicious bullying.

All Louise wants is to look like everyone else, and it’s this desire that helps push the remarkably well-crafted narrative forward.  I’m always impressed when writers can tell and entire story with a beginning, middle and end in just a single issue, and that’s exactly what Lemire does here, enabling us to become instantly invested in Louise’s situation all the way to its smile-raising conclusion.  And yes, this is slightly longer than your usual comic at 28 pages, but it’s still impressive to me, dammit!

It also doesn’t hurt that Lenox is pretty much the perfect choice to illustrate a story like this, with a grace and charm to her pencils and inks that really helps Louise’s story to resonate, hitting all the key emotional and narrative beats along the way.  Without much in the way of action or movement (save for one shockingly violent moment near the end) to use as shortcuts, Lenox uses her gift for fluid pacing to draw us into Louise’s world, and packing an impressive amount of expression into her four-eyed, tentacle-clad face.   Dave Stewart also does a typically stellar job with the soft, gentle palette here, leaving the book colourful without ever becoming too garish.

Also possibly working in this book’s favour (depending on which way you look at it) is the fact that perhaps more than any other Black Hammer tie-in, a knowledge of the main storyline isn’t required at all here.  The focus falls squarely on Louise and her high school struggles with only the briefest of nods to Lemire’s larger universe, and while it would have been great to see a little more interconnectivity, the constraints of the page count and the tightness of the story means that the narrative definitely doesn’t suffer from its standalone status.

While it’s far from essential reading for fans of the main Black Hammer story, this one-shot still comes highly recommended, telling a touching story of Lovecraftian teenage angst and introducing us to a young girl lost in the shadows of the relentless, larger-than-life heroes versus villains conflict.

Rating: 4/5.

ceejThe writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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