In Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy #3 from Dark Horse Comics, the Crimson Fist returns as mayoral candidate Tex Reed, only to be attacked by Grimjim! Can the Skulldigger and his offsider Skeleton Boy thwart Grimhim’s dastardly plan? Find out in your Major Spoilers review!
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Tonci Zonjic
Letterer: Steve Wands
Editor: Daniel Chabon
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: February 18th, 2020
Previously in Skulldigger: Brutal vigilante Skulldigger’s pursuit of the criminal underclass focuses on half man, half immortal demon Grimjim. While he trains the future Skeleton Boy, Skulldigger plots and plans his revenge on the skull faced criminal. And while Detective Reyes comes to terms with her collapsing relationship, she also has to understand the city she has sworn to protect is a corrupt hellhole…
It might’ve been on a recent Major Spoilers Podcast that I heard a conversation that keys directly into my thoughts about Skulldigger #3. Possibly Matthew was talking about anti-heroes versus heroes, and made the smart observation that if your hero is an anti-hero, he isn’t really a hero at all. Skulldigger is a monster, Grimjim is only slightly worse, the boy who will become Skeleton Boy readily adopts the way of the vigilante, the chief of police is more bent than a pretzel, and the only good character, Detective Reyes, looks a lot like the Ady Dufrene from Shawshank Redemption, escaping Hell via 500 yards of stinking sewer pipe. All this is something to ponder when you’re reading this issue, because Jeff Lemire doesn’t resile from what his creation really is.
On that score, Skulldigger #3 certainly doesn’t take the easy route. Teeth fly, jaws are broken, vigilantes are stabbed, curse words are uttered and general mayhem ensues. If you’ve come for the nuance, you’re in the wrong place. A book about a skull mask wearing vigilante who kidnaps a child to shape in his own image isn’t a nice go we can valorise. Skulldigger, like the criminals he purports to fight, is a vicious, brutal thug.
In that regard, you have to admire writer Jeff Lemire’s willingness to go all the way. There’s no redeeming feature regarding the ostensible villain, Grimjim, nor the supposed hero, Skulldigger. It’s just two violent men taking shots at each other while the civilians around them are collateral damage in a war neither men can win.
PUNCHING UP THE ART
On the artistic side of Skulldigger #3, artist Tonci Zonjic pulls few punches. He’s willing to escape the confines of the panels, at times, as we see with the Skulldigger/Grimjim fight. His coloring is a standout – as Skeleton Boy creeps around Skulldigger’s apartment, the scenes are washed in red, no doubt signalling STOP to the boy, before he goes too far into his teacher’s insane world. Elsewhere, the coloring is dull, with very few highlights – indeed, some of the fight scenes are rendered starkly without color, making the violence all the more impactful.
A lot of smaller panels push the story forward at an accelerating rate, matching the pace of Lemire’s storytelling. Zonjic has a real eye for violence – stabbings, punches – he shows them in unflinching detail, and if our anti-hero and villain mostly shrug them off, the marks the wounds leave are there for all to see and ponder.
BOTTOM LINE: VIOLENCE IS THE ONLY WAY
Vigilante comic book heroes are a mainstay of the genre. Batman, the Punisher, Deathstroke – we’re talking about damaged people taking up arms, ostensibly to help the community, but really to work out their psychological problems with their fists or guns. Skulldigger is another in a long line of characters like this – on the one hand, if they really existed, society would begin to collapse into a morass of vengeance, Old Testament style. On the other hand, there is an undeniable attraction (mostly if you’re a guy, I have to sadly confess) to characters like this. Anti-heroes have been the central figures in genre fiction for a good long while, and have helped writers as diverse as GRR Martin gold plate his eventual tomb on the proceeds. In a world that seems increasingly circling around the drain, where the old virtues of moderation and conciliation are being shoved out the door, the antics of Skulldigger are frighteningly attractive.
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If you go into Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy #3 prepared for a pretty dark vision of humanity, with most of the police corrupt, a bit of Stockholm Syndrome with the boy Skulldigger has taken in, and a police detective who is so wedded to the job its destroying her actual relationship, then you’ll probably enjoy it. I know I did.