Published by Dark Horse Comics
Mike Mignola story and cover
John Arcudi story
Jason Latour art
Dave Stewart colours and cover
Hailed as Mike Mignola’s Iron Man, Sledgehammer 44 is about a troop of American soldiers in France in 1944 responsible for ‘project Epimetheus’. Quickly dubbed ‘Sledgehammer’, the project is in fact a seemingly robotic weapon of unknown origin deployed in the fight against the Nazis.
I would like to for a moment consider the beautifully drawn but horrific cover of the torn Stars and Stripes with Sledgehammer standing defiantly above a sea of burning swastika-clad soldiers. We all know that in most popular comics German soldiers are considered the same as fully fledged Nazis and are there merely as plot devices or stereotypical bad guys; the Dr. Evil’s henchmen of sequential art….and the India Jones franchise. We know this mostly because of the amount of time spent coming up with names such as Baroness Blitzkrieg, Baron Gestapo, Captain Nazi and Captain Swastika is evidently very little. (OK these are all D.C. but there are many more).
Sledgehammer certainly isn’t supposed to be historically accurate in regards to narrative and keeps with Mignola’s continuity. I guess in some ways it’s more like the propaganda filled Captain America comic of the early 40’s than Iron Man. Sledgehammer stands as this patriotic figure of American power and force. He is born out of a bomb for a start.
I think that although this story is in accordance with the fictional reality in which it is set, the history upon which it is based gets overlooked. As much as Mignola and Arcudi are asking the reader to invest in the US troops as being real, frightened, brave, determined ordinary men with a cause, they are also asking them to forget that the Swastika was the symbol of an actual historical party that conscripted ordinary German men into its army. That those men were also real, frightened, brave and determined. The main characters in the story are certainly very human; “This is nuts! Some guy in a Flash Gordon getup is leading us into battle against those savages?” So although it is a juxtaposition to bring the reader into a extraordinary story and then use characters to which they relate to bring them back down to Earth – this contrast works to somehow overcome the less plausible aspects of the plot. It is nice to see a 2013 book set in 1944 but writing-wise this achieves the feel of a 1944 book set in 1944.
It is interesting to note that the original concept came from John Severin who wanted to do a WWII story and so Mignola and Arcudi came up with this but had to make it fit in with the mythology of Hellboy who appeared after the end of the war. Unfortunately Severin never got to work on the project but we are shown one of his original and very detailed panels in Hellmail. Needless to say this might have turned out to be a very different book.
There are some nice moments amongst the pages where you see a glimpse of humanity from the big metal guy and you really do feel for him. His balloons and lettering are the same as the other men so I’m assuming his voice isn’t very robotic, in my mind it is more muffled.
The threat is real as in most war stories and the pace is ideal, leading to a quite scary cliff-hanger. It leaves a generous dose of curiosity in the readers mind and if the next issue is as promised, it should make for a nicely contained two part miniseries.
Dave Stewart’s colours really set the tone. He has used a limited palette of sepias for a nostalgic feel. The explosions are done in a steely blue which almost slows them down and adds to the supernatural element. Use of texture in the digital colouring is something this book couldn’t do without, as are the sound effects: both small but essential ingredients and executed perfectly.
In summary: powerful cover, slight ‘Nazi bashing’ feel, brilliant use of textures, good pace and exciting plot. The colouring and the panel arrangement are the only things that let on this is a modern book.
A big thank you to A Place In Space for supplying the book.