In an effort to give us just a little bit more “Black Hammer” before the return of “Age of Doom” in March, Lemire, Lenox, Stewart and Klein have seen fit to bestow upon us this one-shot, focusing on the breakout character Cthu-Louise. Does it live up to the standards of the Hammerverse? Read on intrepid adventurers to find out and be warned, there are spoilers ahead.
Written by Jeff Lemire
Illustrated by Emi Lenox
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Todd Klein
From the pages of Sherlock Frankenstein comes this horrific tale of Lovecraftian teenage angst.
Spawned by the emissary of a Cthulhu god, Cthu-Louise struggles and is teased at school due to her monstrous appearance. Finally fed up with the bullying and abuse, she decides she will do anything to make herself “normal.”
Emi Lenox’s return to the Black Hammer World!
Ties directly into the Eisner-Award winning Black Hammer comic books series and is written by Jeff Lemire.
The width and breadth of tones that the Hammerverse can elicit is its greatest strength. Each new mini-series, each digression and diversion, brings with it something new, something that fleshes out this universe and offers new insight into the characters. In this one-shot, we get the story of a girl who’s the daughter of a former C-list supervillain, if past representations are anything to go by. Her home is unwelcoming and at school, the only place we see her, she is a pariah and an outcast; there isn’t even the usual singular friend that will fight by her side.
The way Lenox draws the bullies’ maliciousness is unsettling in its simplicity. None of the classmates stand out visually, although they are all recognizably different, but there is a different form of malice behind their eyes. It’s the subtle attention to detail and the ability to convey these emotions that makes Lenox such a powerhouse, enhanced by Stewart’s range of coloring and Klein’s versatile lettering. Just take a look at page one and feel the power behind those words, behind the Kirby crackle and the neon Rubin spikes, behind the monster with the universe in its mouth.
Seamlessly integrating the absurd with the all-too-real, Lenox’s designs are inviting, with their big eyes and round faces, but carry a sharpness just waiting to be unleashed. By the mid-point of the issue, the “Cthu-Louise” team has painted a portrait of a girl haunted by the sins of her parents and by the giant creature that lives in the sewers but it feels incomplete, rushed.
The characterization of the mother is especially thin, with no interrogation as to why she’s so hostile to Louise. We know almost nothing about her and while this is a story about Louise, “Black Hammer” has always been anchored by its ability to wrestle with nuanced emotions in even the most minor of characters. Cthu-Lou gets a healthy amount of character during the few time Louise interacts with him, impressing on us his deadbeat nature and also his despondency.
It’s a small gesture that Lenox draws to convey this – the weight of his decisions dragging him into his chair, his eyes downcast and his tentacles drooping. It doesn’t engender sympathy, as this scene followed him hitting Louise for not making dinner, but it does transform him from a story and a joke to a person, with failings and troubles. What’s interesting about this moment is also that it is the only one not witnessed by Louise, meaning it isn’t being filtered through her perception of the world.
We knows these characters insofar as Louise does, that is the nature of a first person narrative, which can go a long way to explaining why these other characters are simplified to a . Louise feels alienated by her family and her world and because she is not exposed to kindness, she does not see it in anyone. She is also a kid and so she sees the world in starker relief than, say, Golden Gail does.
While reading “Black Hammer: Cthu-Louise” #1, I got the distinct feeling that this would have been better suited as a two-issue mini, allowing for longer scenes, more time for Lenox to portray Louise’s struggles and the ability to show more and tell less. Moreover, it would have given Lenox and Lemire the space to dive deeper into Louise’s home life and her dissatisfaction with her identity. When she leaves the note on her desk saying that she knows her family never loved her but she still loves them, it rings hollow simply because we don’t have enough context to know to what extent that was true.Continued below
We know her parents are not loving but what is the underlying reason for that? There are glimpses with Cthu-Lou, shown in the earlier scene I talked about, but again, there is not enough. Everything we know is told via backstory or relies on prior knowledge, which works for the universe as a whole but not this singular piece.
Were “Cthu-Louise” to have only focused on the terror of her school, the comic could have been strong enough to stand alone. It provides more than enough motivation for her acceptance of her “grandfather’s” calls and still allows for the best scene in the comic to occur. While not the powerful moment the comic hopes it is due to the brevity of the issue, Louise feeding her classmates to “grandfather” is still cathartic and Lenox manages to walk the fine line between gruesome and cartoony. And when she goes surreal, the kaleidoscopic images are clear and beautiful but terrifying all the same, as if Cthu-Louise is trapped in stained-glass, forever falling between dimensions, before arriving to a place she feels she is welcomed.
I hope that future stories explore the fallout of this event, both from Louise’s perspective and from the parent’s. There is a lot to be mined here, which is a testament to the power of the universe, but this one-shot doesn’t quite strike gold.
Final Score: 7.1 – Not the strongest Hammerverse title but only because the comic tried to do too much, in too few pages. The heart is there, the art is there, the story is almost, almost there.