Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artwork: Tonci Zonjic
Lettering: Steve Wands
Release Date: 15th January 2020
What would happen if, fresh from losing his parents, a young Bruce Wayne was taken under the wing of The Punisher and taught everything he needed to know about fighting crime? Well, while that is perhaps a bit of an oversimplification, it’s essentially what Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy, the latest addition to Jeff Lemire’s extensive Black Hammer world, is all about.
In the first issue we met a young boy (the “Bruce Wayne” in the above scenario), who witnessed his parents being gunned down in cold blood in front of him – right before their killer was summarily dispatched by the ultra-violent vigilante known as Skulldigger. Taken under the much-maligned anti-hero’s wing, this issue sees him undergoing the first steps in his training, while Spiral City Detective Amanda Reyes doubles down on her crusade to bring Skulldigger to justice.
The story is solid, and there are enough interesting plot points to keep the pages turning and to ensure that the reader will want to pick up the next issue once they’ve finished this one. For me though, it doesn’t have quite the same spark of character that has typified Lemire’s Black Hammer comics to this point. Don’t get me wrong, the characters themselves are interesting enough, but there’s no real connection with the reader as yet, and personally speaking, I’m more interested at this point in finding out a little more about grinning lunatic GrimJim than either of the two leads.
One thing this book definitely does have going for it in spades is the artwork of Tonci Zonjic, which packs the pages with an impressively stylized energy. The characters are well designed, and the whole thing has a pleasingly cinematic vibe to it while still staying true to its obvious comic book inspirations. The training montage with Skeleton Boy gradually improving is a real highlight.
A special nod should also be made to Zonjic’s colours, which add a real depth and emotion to the story as it progresses. More than that though, it’s the absence of colour that really helps to sell several key moments, with the appearance of several stark, black-and-white panels during the aforementioned montage having the same jarring impact as the brutal justice of Skulldigger in the first issue.
Ultimately then, while it’s clearly still ramping up its momentum, Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy is an exciting new addition to the Black Hammer universe. Zonjic and Lemire are telling an interesting story that once again plays with established comic book tropes in exciting ways, and once the story hits its full stride this has the potential to become something truly special.
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]