Available this week, writer and artist David Lopez’ opus Blackhand & Ironhead adapts a Watchmen-esque story for the modern era. Published initially through Brian K. Vaughan’s Panel Syndicate website, script tutor David Munoz and translator Stephen Blanford helped bring this story to life for Image Comics, with a logo by Cris Castan and colors by Nayoung Kim.
Blackhand & Ironhead imagines a future in which a corporate elite has capitalized on battles between superheroes and villains. Much like Watchmen, it deconstructs the superhero mythos, but through the fresh perspectives of two naive young heroines who struggle with a complicated inheritance. Lopez’s keen character writing, combined with his expressive art, make for a fun, thought-provoking book.
The final page of part one, entitled “Family,” is an excellent example of Lopez streamlined, almost cinematic storytelling. It shows us the funeral of Alexia’s (one of the heroines) father, Charles a. k. a. Ironhead, the corporate CEO of Lessep’s. His foundation created televised “cage matches” between heroes and villains, the profits of which covered costs of damages caused by the fights.
The wide page is composed of rectangular and triangular panels, like pieces of shattered glass. From close-up to extreme close-up to bird’s eye view, the page communicates emotionally how Alexia’s life has now changed; her image of her father shattered. When the daughter of the notorious villainess Blackhand crashes the funeral to deliver the news that Ironhead was also her father, Alexia reacts stubbornly and violently. Living up to her new inherited name, Ironhead Alexia headbutts Amy, the new Blackhand.
And it’s this interaction that sets up the sister’s dynamic throughout the book. Their reluctant partnership provides a balance of fun and serious reflection, carrying the narrative from moments of social commentary to scenes of classic comic book action. Like a buddy comedy, the sisters banter and ultimately learn how to work together to find out hard truths about their father, Lessep’s, and themselves.
Given Lopez’s choice of heroines, one might see the book as a love letter to the new generation of young twenty-somethings shouldering the burden of cleaning up their parents’ mess and leading the way into a better future. Blackhand & Ironhead’s outlook seems at once hopeful and wary.
It ends with Alexia looking back at the foundation as it burns, having uncovered her father’s many dirty secrets sold as good deeds. She holds up half of a fifty dollar bill Amy gave her as symbolic of the dangers of corporate greed; in Amy’s words, “So both of us remember that money is the only thing that matters in this world.” By juxtaposing the burning foundation with Alexia’s consideration of the torn fifty, Lopez is ostensibly saying that we have the power to dismantle corrupt systems but the greed which created them remains.
Or something like that. Blackhand & Ironhead isn’t exactly preachy after all. Ultimately, Lopez created a work intentionally as fun as it is timely and meaningful. It’s a must-read to close out 2020.