If you are familiar with Hellboy, you know that he was brought into the world toward the end of WWII and then spent the next 60 years punching ghosts and demons. The thing is, there isn’t much of a focus on the war. Also, in the Hellboy universe is Lobster Johnson, who was a vigilante who fought Nazis and thugs in the ’30s, but he died in 1939. There really hasn’t been a comic in the Hellboyverse that tackled the war for real. Until now. (Ed. – That was the most anti-climactic “Until now” I have ever seen.)
Sledgehammer 44 is a real war comic, albeit with a gigantic suit of lightning-generating armor. There are two stories in this trade, and they are both great. The first, simply called “Sledgehammer 44,” is a simple story about a squad of GIs who are tasked with supporting the man in the suit. Things don’t go exactly to plan, and the group find themselves trapped in France, surrounded by the Germans. The second story, “Lightning War,” is a rescue mission with a cool twist or three. This comic feels like a WWII story with fantasy elements, not like a fantasy story that happens to be set in WWII.
The thing that really impressed me with this story was how human everything seemed. Sure, it is a comic about a giant suit of armor with crazy lightning powers, but the focus is on the people who are caught in the middle of the whole thing. This keeps the story from devolving into a superpowered slugfest, even when it comes down to superpowered fights. That is how you keep a story relevant.
The writing and dialogue are as solid as I have seen. The characters all feel three dimensional, even (surprisingly) the black-flaming, skull-headed flying Nazi. The story doesn’t ever feel like it is about the MacGuffin that will turn the tide of the war, even when it actually is about the MacGuffin that could turn the tide of the war. It still feels like it is about humans and human stakes.
The art in this comic is also pretty spectacular. The first story felt like Archie goes to war, and it was incredible. The second was much darker and looser. The sketchy style perfectly fits the story’s tone. I can’t say enough about how good the art is in this comic.
Like everything from the Hellboyverse, this is a complex story that is one part horror and one part something else. In this case, the war story is absolutely strong enough to carry the comic. Go and pick this one up.
Five Flaming Skull-Headed Nazis out of Five