Dark Horse’s Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy #5, written by Jeff Lemire, with art by Tonci Zonjic, and letters by Steve Wands, brings a brilliant dose of chaos to this series. All of the characters, their plans down the drain, are scrambling to get what they want at any cost. Be warned of major spoilers ahead!
Lemire has brilliantly set up this issue to feel completely unpredictable. Even the characters don’t know what they’ll do next. As Detective Reyes drives away from the butcher shop with Skeleton Boy in tow, she’s trying to convince herself that she knows what she’s doing. It’s through her own self-assurance that Lemire shows us her fear. She’s consoling herself and trying to be strong all at once. As Skeleton Boy struggles against his chains, we begin to wonder, what on earth does he even want to get away from her for? Neither of them know what future they have. They’re both just pretty sure it isn’t looking bright for them.
In some ways, Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy #5 reads like a script that got away from itself. We no longer have the clear cause-and-effect of tidy storytelling. That’s a thing of the past, now. Instead, Lemire opts to tell a story that feels real. He allows the repercussions of past issues to land, and lets them take the script wherever it wants to go. The chaos of this issue brilliantly sets us up for a finale that’s going to be just as messy.
Zonjic reminds us of the moral ambiguity of this series. When someone finally catches up with Reyes and Skeleton Boy, we see Skulldigger’s mace hit the windshield. Zonjic deliberately omits any sign of who’s holding the chain, and in that moment we realize we’re worried no matter who it is. If Skulldigger has caught up with them, he may be as much a problem as GrimJim. After the windshield shatters, Zonjic makes the following pages look like shattered glass. The panels, like glass shards flying through the air, communicate the chaos of the scene by making the page as chaotic as the issue’s events.
Zonjic also brilliantly pushes against the emotion of each scene. Instead of filling Reyes’ and Skeleton Boy’s faces with dread and worry, he fills their faces with anger. But when Reyes steps out of the car to call her partner and explain what’s happening, we see her let her guard down suddenly. She looks worried and tired, for a brief moment while she thinks she isn’t being watched. Zonjic’s restraint, only giving us this moment of worry in the lead up, allows the emotion of the scene to stay bubbling beneath the surface.
Zonjic immediately hearkens back to Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy #4 with his use of red. As Reyes and Skeleton Boy drive away from the butcher shop, each panel is drenched in red. It’s the red of Skulldigger and Tex’s bloody lifestyle, the red that GrimJim brings with him everywhere he goes, and Reyes and Skeleton Boy have bought their way into this life of violence. But later, as Skulldigger gets up off the butcher shop floor, something is different. We see his red blood, smeared against the white tile, but when he goes into his basement, the coloring has changed. What once had a red glow is now blue and grey. It’s as though Tex and GrimJim’s influence on Skulldigger was bled out of him. He comes back from the brink of death as a new man, free of his past.
There seem to be a few typos in this script. “I can’t not yet,” Reyes says over the phone, instead of “I can’t. Not yet.” It’s unclear if this was deliberate on Wands’ part, but regardless, there’s something about it that actually works. Reyes and Skeleton Boy are frantic. The lack of punctuation makes it feel as though their sentences are running into each other, like they’re breathlessly trying to keep up.
Wands works his sound effects seamlessly into the art. The smash of the windshield is almost hard to see it fits in so naturally. It looks like a glare on the glass, with cracks through it from Skulldigger’s mace. And as Reyes careens off the road in her car, the screeching sound of her tires mimics the tumble of her car. Wands uses a simple style, white or black lettering (with the exception of GrimJim’s purple), but incorporates it into the page in such stylish ways it always seems fun.
Dark Horse’s Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy #5 is stylish, chaotic and emotional. It brings this series to a boiling point, setting it up for a brilliant final issue. Lemire, Zonjic, and Wands continue to deliver and this series continues to be a must-read. Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy #5 is out October 21st from Dark Horse. Pick it up at a comic book shop near you!