After seeing Johann slip even further from his humanity in “Nowhere, Nothing, Never,” we are given a look at the (potential) next step in his evolution: inhabitant of the Vril energy, aka Sledgehammer, suit. Be warned, there are some spoilers discussed as we get into this issue.
Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Illustrated by Julian Totino Tedesco
Johann’s fascination with the Sledgehammer armor leads to a strange journey into the past and the origin of Project Epimetheus.
Mark Tweedale: So this issue is following up from two stories, “Nowhere, Nothing, Never,” the previous arc of “B.P.R.D.,” and the “Sledgehammer 44” stories. I must admit, I was a little surprised here. While I always suspected there was more Sledgehammer stories to tell, I thought the last arc, “Lightning War,” had wrapped up the 1940s stuff. But on page one we’re in 1945. Uncharted territory.
Brian Salvatore: Yeah, I had always presumed that the next time we saw the Vril suit, it would be sometime in the future—maybe the 50’s, maybe Vietnam—but not so close to our prior time period. This issue, essentially, acted as Cliff’s Notes for folks who didn’t read the first two “Sledgehammer” series, and while I appreciate the need to get ‘main’ book readers caught up, I was enjoying all the new stuff so much. I couldn’t help but be a little bummed that a 1/3 of the issue was spent recreating scenes that Jason Latour and Laurence Campbell had done so beautifully a few years ago.
Mark: I suppose that was unavoidable. While this is essentially the next part of Sledgehammer’s story, it’s still “B.P.R.D.” first. That said, it’s also been a while, over a year since the last issue of Sledghammer, so I didn’t mind the racap too much. And it was important to be refamiliarised with the name “Glesham.”
Brian: That’s true—I couldn’t have pulled that name from the ether for a million dollars.
So, the story, more or less, begins with Johann trying to convince Kate that it is worth his time to rebuild the Vrill suit. Johann probably has about as much information about the suit as we, the readers, do, but he is convinced that he can both get the suit to work again, and control it. While I don’t really have reason to doubt Johann, I’m not exactly sure he can just slide his protoplasm into the suit and be in control. You’ve done far more research into the Vril suit—what do you think?
Mark: Actually, Johann’s been researching the suit since he found the notes on it back in “B.P.R.D. Garden of Souls” in the “Plague of Frogs” cycle and he’s been obsessing over them ever since. If there was any ambiguity about what Johann might do after “Nowhere, Nothing, Never,” this issue quickly spells it out. He’s upgrading suits. However, by the sounds of it the Sledgehammer armour is not just his next suit, but his final suit. He’ll never get out of it again.
The main thing I’m concerned about is the way Vril changes people. It changed James Sacks in “Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus,” and Captain Ledro Frields and Private Redding in “Sledgehammer.” Except for Redding, whose fate is still unknown, the others all let go of Earth and faded away.
I don’t think it will happen immediately, but if Johann takes on the Sledgehammer suit, it will start him on a path that I think will ultimately lead to his spirit passing on.
Brian: Isn’t that exactly what Johann wants, though? We’ve seen him a few times now, either outwardly, or through his body language, seem frustrated at the inability for him to die in the traditional sense. Everyone he loved as a man is gone, and most of those that he loved in his current form have either died or disappeared. He’s a man for whom death has lost its sting, but he is also a man for whom peace is a foreign thought.
Let’s talk about how you think the suit might change him. We’ve already seen him play fast and loose with the pleasantries of society—doing things like reanimating dead bodies and being blunter than most in conversations—so where do you think the suit pushes him? Does he become a completely pragmatic machine of destruction, and lose all tether to the man he once was? Or, is it possible, that the suit can bring him back to something closer to his human state?Continued below
Mark: Johann has been steadily losing touch with humanity since he became an ectoplasmic man. It’s not that he doesn’t care, it’s just human experience is not his day to day life anymore. That connection is fading.
And I think it’s Redding, not the suit, that can reawaken that in him. Redding is a guy who refuses to become the detached creature that Captain Fields did. He stubbornly holds onto his humanity, even though it hurts him to do so. That more than anything could perhaps wake up Johann.
As for the suit, he’ll be tethered to it. It won’t just be a suit. It will be as close to a body as he’ll likely ever have again.
Of course, this is from the writer of “A god Somewhere.” This power could take Johann to a very dark place too.
Brian: Before we delve into the final sequence, let’s discuss Julian Totino Tedesco, who is making his second Mignolaverse appearance here. He doesn’t have the easiest task in front of him here, having to tell his own story, while referencing what Campbell and Latour did before. Personally, I thought he did a fantastic job—the flashback sequences were clearly tilted towards the style of the folks who originally did them, but this wasn’t exactly just aping their work.
In particular, the sequences from the first “Sledgehammer” series really stood out as nailing Latour’s feel, without trying to draw like Latour (who, for his part, was sort of trying to draw like John Severin).
Mark: Yeah, Tedesco really evoked Latour’s Redding. I think there’s a real art to drawing someone else’s character in your own style, but making it feel like there’s the same soul behind those eyes. He’s taken cues from the way Latour drew Redding’s body language, so it’s not just about his appearance, but his performance too. A good artist has to be an actor. And in a series like this with so many artists working on it, to really be effective they have to be able to live in someone else’s skin.
By the way, what did you think of that double-page spread in the middle?
Brian: I thought it was a really interesting move to just plop that spread in the middle with little or no explanation, and then to simply go back to the ‘main’ story, without really touching on it at all. It reminded me a bit of of something like “Infinite Crisis,” where there are folks observing the world from some sort of detached perch, until some event brings them into the world that they are observing.
With “B.P.R.D.,” one of the joys is how they take these supernatural stories and add such a background and various ‘scientific’ explanations, that it feels more grounded than many other books with similarly out there origins. And so, this scene felt like an outlier, but one I’m interested to see more of—what did you think?
Mark: It’s classic Mignola. He’s always had these realms where characters sit outside of the physical world, but able to observe and affect it still, such as the Fairy realm, the Baba Yaga’s Russia, the Yggdrasil Tree, and this place… which I think is ‘the roof of Hyperborea’s tomb,’ if indeed this is the same place. It looks like it. It’s appeared a few times, always as this cosmic snowfield.
But I think Tedesco’s version is my favourite. It’s just so epic. Actually, it seems each artist tries to one-up the other when they draw this place. Laurence Campbell’s take on it was pretty stunning too.
Brian: Yeah, this was definitely the most stunning rendition thus far. I had actually forgotten that Campbell had dealt with it too, but I just pulled the issues out of my longbox and, yeah—I think Tedesco’s version trumps it, just on its sheer scope.
So, let’s get to that last scene. Be warned, folks, that spoilers follow.
Mark: Yeah. Johann in 1945. I’m not sure what’s going on there. Is Johann seeing the past through Redding’s eyes? Has he merged with his spirit? Or something else?
Brian: It all depends on whether or not we are seeing what the soldiers are seeing, or something different. If our POV is theirs, then Johann has somehow time traveled to 1945. However, I think that it is more of him merging with his spirit, and so is able to see through his eyes/share his experiences as his own.Continued below
Mark: That’s what I’d towards too. Especially since Johann spent most of the issue muttering ‘Glesham’ without knowing why.
Brian: Anything else you want to discuss before we throw a grade on this?
Mark: I just wanted to point out for no good reason that while Dr. Gallaragas is trying to wake up Sledgehammer, somewhere in a church in East Bromwich, Hellboy is appearing on Earth for the first time. December 24, 1944 was a busy night.
So, how would you rate this one?
Brian: Wow, what a night!
I’d grade this as a 8.0 – as much as I appreciate the need for recap, I do with that the issue had a little more new content in it. What about you?
Mark: I think the recap was necessary, but I totally agree on that grade. This is an 8.0. That said, with the recap out of the way, I think the next issue is going to be nuts.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – A solid re-introduction to the Sledgehammer suit.