Dark Horse Comics’ Black Hammer Universe has given its take on classic characters like Captain America and Martian Manhunter. Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy showed us the Black Hammer version of Batman and Robin. And with Dark Horse’s Black Hammer: Visions #5, we revisit that little corner of this universe to see what a Batman and Catwoman dynamic would look like in Spiral City. Writer Kelly Thompson, artist Leonardo Romero, colorist Jordie Bellaire, and letterer Nate Piekos tell a tale of fun and death.
Thompson gleefully shakes up the status quo. In fact, “glee” might be the perfect word for it. We see Skulldigger, living his life as he always has. He’s silent, violent, and filled with rage. But then Bijou comes on the scene. She’s the Catwoman of Spiral City, forever breaking the law and having fun doing it. And so much changes in Skulldigger’s life when he meets her. The writing goes from feeling demure to vibrant. This violent vigilante is having fun, despite himself. But, of course, this is Spiral City. Thompson reminds us that doom is around every corner here. She brings us to joyful heights, just so that the fall back down hurts all the more. It’s beautiful, tragic, and fantastically written.
Romero immediately shows us the life that Bijou brings into Skulldigger’s world. Our first glimpse of Skulldigger is a 9 panel grid where he’s washing his face. While the page is subtle and beautiful, it also feels ordered and lifeless. The very next page, we see a spread of Bijou jumping over rooftops. And from then on, the pages are playful and versatile. Some images work as a backdrop to other panels, some panels are dedicated to a single sound effect. All of it is fun. But as we end the issue, Romero brings us back to the original image. We see Skulldigger looking into the mirror, but it has new meaning to it now. As he opens the door to walk down the stairs, the light behind him casts a crooked silhouette on the wall next to him. It makes it feel as though his life was once ordered, now it’s all out of whack.
Bellaire uses an extremely minimalistic palette for each scene. When we first see Skulldigger, the whole page is blue. And when he chases Bijou into a museum, the page is colored in different shades of purple and yellow, and that’s it. It’s an interesting approach, because it both sets a mood for each scene and also makes the issue feel very colorful. Sure, individual moments are monochromatic: Bellaire shows entire scenes in green or pink or red. But together, like ribbons on the page, the issue feels vibrant and beautiful. It’s only when Bijou and Skulldigger briefly meet each other out of costume that the page feels colorless. Bellaire shows us that their late night escapades are like a drug to them. It brings color to their life, a color that changes how they see everything.
Piekos uses a uniform style in the lettering of this issue. The smash of a window is shown just like the boom of an explosion. The font looks tidy and retro. It makes us feel like these characters are living in some other world. Even the sounds of violence are neat and easy to digest. It’s only right at the end that Piekos adds the slightest variation. With one devastating sound, he adds an exclamation point and capitalizes the first letter. It stands apart from the other sounds of the scene, yet nearly blends together with the other noises of this world. Piekos seems to be showing how those innocuous sounds lead to big, devastating ones like this. And even when devastation happens, it’s hard to tell the difference from the status quo of their lives.
The Black Hammer Universe has always had plenty of fun. But, as a whole, it leans towards dark, philosophical storytelling. This creative team took the grittiest of Black Hammer‘s characters, Skulldigger, and filled his life with fun. It not only works well, this issue really is a lot of fun, but it sets us up for some devastating heartbreaks. Pick up Black Hammer: Visions #5, out from Dark Horse Comics June 9th, at a comic shop near you!