Welcome to the all-new Comicscape! Each week we'll be taking a look at a few of the week's new books in hopes of informing your comic shop purchases, or at the very least giving you 4-color thrills and chills. Enjoy!
Sledge-Hammer 44 #1 (of 2) (by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Jason Latour and Dave Stewart) The Hellboy universe is so connected to World War II that we often forget that Hellboy himself did not appear until the end of the war, and even then he was just a baby. There have been other inhabitants of the Hellboy-verse who have WWII stories to tell, but Mignola and Co. have something new in store. It's not actually new in the broad sense, as this character is clearly an homage to Marvel's Iron Man, but Sledgehammer, a metal suited man with strange electrical powers, is a new addition to Hellboy lore.
It's hard not to love a character who is literally dropped into battle inside a bomb. The USA has launched its top-secret "Project Epimetheus" upon the Germans, and a small outfit of soldiers are on hand to support this mechanical terror, and bear witness to its metallic might. Epimetheus may be named after a titan, but the nickname "Sledgehammer", given to him by a soldier, is probably more apt. What's so cool about this character is he (or she?) really is a wrecking ball. The electrical discharge from the armor (channeled through a tuning fork on his back) takes almost as much out of Sledgehammer as it does his enemies... almost. 'Hammer isn't perfect, he doesn't fly around dispatching foes with ease, he feels like an all-in, last ditch effort. An experiment getting its first field test. Despite not having the first clue what the person inside is like, we still get the feeling for how much a burden this suit, and it's '40's era tech, actually are.
Jason Latour is the key to the whole book. His art, even with a more cartoonish style, makes you feel like you are on the front lines of the war. From the flak cannons exploding in the night sky all around the bomber delivering Sledgehammer, to the torn sandbags and grisly aftermath of his electrical discharge, Latour's work is absolutely gorgeous. Sledge-Hammer is a short two part series, but hopefully this iron giant will be woven into Hellboy lore, and pop back up again sooner than later.
Batman and Robin #18 (by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleeson and Mick Gray) Last week Damian Wayne, AKA Robin, died in the pages of Batman Incorporated. In my review, I stated that his death was as worthy as a comic book death could be. This week, the bat-books are paying their respects to the departed boy wonder, the most notable being the all-silent Batman and Robin #18. A book which, like the fateful issue of Batman Inc., is worthy of the weight it carries.
Putting the nature of death in comic books aside, it's worth noting that Bruce Wayne didn't just lose his ward, he lost his son. Another member of his bloodline in the grave, and here Bruce sits, still alive, and helpless. How odd is it to read this book, titled Batman and Robin, when half of its namesake is dead? Obviously, DC ha a plan to christen a new Robin, but I would hope once that happens, this book would completely shift in tone. Damian brought a lot to the table, not the least of which was a unique feel to the Robin cowl. He will be missed.
This issue is a triumph of visual storytelling. Writers tend to forget that the comic book is a visual medium, but I can assure you Peter J. Tomasi is not one of them. There is a flow to the sorrow and head games that almost wouldn't be possible with words. There's also heartbreaking looks at who Damian was becoming as the shell of his upbringing was being shed. There is one instance of the written word in this issue, and suffice it to say, it says it all.
I can't heap enough praise on artists Patrick Gleeson, Mick Gray and John Kalisz. Every page is worth framing. The use of shadow is astounding, and the panel structure and layouts are second to none. This is one of those books you just need to buy a physical copy of. There's a trepidation when it comes to issues with no dialogue, people tend to think they are worth less because you will breeze through them in a minute or two, I think once you've "read" Batman and Robin #18 you will be paging through it again, and again and again...
Joel Rickenbach is a curator of cult cinema at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA, and can be heard every week talking film, TV and other geekery on the You’ve got GEEK podcast. Follow him onTwitter and hilarity will no doubt ensue.