Sledgehammer 44 – Mike Mignola and John Arcudi

3 out of 5

I don’t always get the Mignola-verse, but I love it.  No, I haven’t been there since the start.  I followed the path of probably many and jumped on after the H-Boy flicks, which, also probably similar to many, only grabbed me (initially) because of del Toro’s involvement.  But I’ve since tried to do my work to catch up – buying the new books as they come out, getting trades to fill the backstory.  There are certainly a few long-running series with a sense of consistent ‘history’ to them, but they’re not of the same literary polish as Hellboy and crew… thinking of Savage Dragon, or Spawn, or whatever.  Image crap, y’know?  And no disrespect to Larsen (maybe some to McFarlane), but it’s just not the same – there’s this feeling of depth the the Hellboy Universe that these other series will never be able to offer.

But despite my readings, I still don’t always get it.  Every book is of such impressive quality in terms of art and the patience with the story structure and dialogue, and just the amount of work Mignola touches is jaw-dropping, but god damn there’s so much jumping around in time and such a wealth of capital-E Events in the books that I’m not always sure who did what when where why is Hellboy alive and working for the government I have no fucking clue.  But to the immense credit of the Dark Horsers who concoct this stuff, even though there are almost always obvious ties to previous series or happenings, whether it’s a one-shot or a mini, whatever you’re reading is generally fundamentally understandable and enjoyable.  Even now with the ongoing numbering system, there’s this crazy balance to the writing that allows you to jump in and get the gist… but it’s still heavy stuff, and rewarding when you put the pieces together.  (I hope, since once I get all the B.P.R.D. trades I’m gonna’ go for a massive reread of the whole shebang….)

So there have been a few spin-offs – Witchfinder, Lobster Johnson – and they are such amazing slabs of pulp and they work so well on their own, it’s just like an extra treat when they tie in.  BUT… this two-issue initial Sledgehammer series (since we are promised more at some future date) didn’t really do much for me.  In it, a super-soldier encased in a suit of armor powered by mystic Vril energy (totes important in H-Boy land) helps some soldiers beat up some Nazis.  It has the quick-tongued charm of all of Mike’s stuff, but this really felt like a side-story, something that could’ve been shuttled down to a Dark  Horse Presents mini.  I didn’t really feel much connection to the soldiers, and I didn’t get a sense of power from the suit… like, you know it’s this massive weapon, but something about its presentation in story didn’t sell it to me.  But I’m forgiving of the extra space allotted because the book looks delicious.  Jason Latour’s sketchy art, dashed in this gorgeous, faded wartime palette of greens and browns, slots right into the everyone-should-be-jealous stable of Hellboy artists, who work with the series patchy format of blocky shapes and negative space but always manage to give it their own spin.  And Latour spins it to the perfect degree for the story.  The timing of it feels right; I believe this to be happening during the war.  And although I’m critical of the need for 2 issues for a fairly empty story – like this was only justified as an origin for the character, there’s really no other meat here – that doesn’t change the fact that Mignola and Arcudi know how to properly space things out for the two issues so that it’s never too slow, never too rushed.

So the book itself… probably 2 stars.  But an extra star for just lookin’ so damn fine.  And now with the origin out of the way, I’m hopeful for some pulpy goodness in the next Sledge mini.

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