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Sledgehammer 44 Vol. 1

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  • Sledgehammer 44 Vol. 1

    Released by: Dark Horse Comics
    Released on: May 28, 2014
    Purchase From Amazon

    This trade collects Sledgehammer 44 #1-2 and Lightning War #1-3. Sledgehammer 44 refers to another “monster” of immense power in the keeping of Professor Bruttenholm and the B.P.R.D.

    The first chapter opens with a squad of U.S. soldiers in France during WWII, on a secret mission to raid a Nazi armory. One particularly annoying member named Redding serves as the narrative vehicle here, constantly asking questions regarding it all and getting snapped at in response. It's made clear to him that they are just there for support for the attack that night that begins right after a massive shell is dropped from a plane above them and out pops an enormous, metallic soldier.

    The soldiers watch in awe as Sledgehammer fries Nazis and bashes his way into the armory. The answer to their question about why such a creature would need backup gets comes pretty quickly in the form of Sledgehammer getting thrown out of the building by a huge Nazi robot. The soldiers shoot at it but are told to run by the downed Sledgehammer. He's then able to cause a massive explosion to destroy the enemy robot but it knocks him out, too. The soldiers know he's the key to their mission, though, so they manage to get him into a wheelbarrow and, after some rest, set out to return to their camp.

    They're still not sure if it's a real person or what, exactly, is inside that suit and debate it some. They're soon joined by some other wayward soldiers who, it turns out, lead them into a Nazi trap to capture the tech they're hauling around. Some quick reactions get the U.S. soldiers to turn the tables and escape but not without fatally wounding Redding. They manage to get to a nearby farm and make their stand in the barn there. Redding calls out for help but is answered by Shields, the being inside the armor, who shows him what the inevitable outcome of this standoff will be: Redding's friends will die, the Nazis will take the armored suit and learn its secrets (of its “Vril Power”), allowing them to create a whole fleet of such soldiers that will destroy the Allies.

    Shields keeps saying that this outcome, though, is not their concern, that it belongs to the world of the living. Shields says that the Vril did something to him, pushed his existence into another plane, to explore the infinite, and he offers the same option to Redding. But the soldier isn't convinced and doesn't want to die so, as his spirit returns it goes instead into the armor rather than his own dying form. Thus with a new consciousness Sledgehammer is back in action and able to slaughter the Nazis outside the barn.

    This activity allows the Allies and the B.P.R.D. (the Professor and Dr. Gallaragas) to locate them afterward. This was apparently the first deployment for Sledgehammer so the scientists are eager to take readings and debrief. They're also quite shocked when they realized that the being inside isn't Shields anymore…

    As the Lightning War portion opens, Sledgehammer's apparently reticent beyond measure, not even speaking to anyone anymore, much less taking on any missions.

    The Professor is worried about his humanity but Dr. Gallaragas, more like his caseworker, is convinced that Fields/Redding is still present, still with them and still concerned with helping. However, in a grisly flashback, it's clear he's still haunted by what happened back outside that barn in France...

    But it's not that destructive power that's eating at him. Rather, it's the potential pointlessness of it, of not altering or truly saving anything, as his soul is adrift in powerful metal armor. He dreams of the infinite, yet realizes he's very firmly grounded on Earth and is confused by that.

    Meanwhile, in Nazi Germany, Hitler gains the services of another monster, a skeletal near-apparition that commands an impressive set of powers such as flying and discharging deadly blasts from his bare hands. The B.P.R.D. discover this monster's existence after a top-secret Allied plane is stolen by the monster mid-air and an on-board photographer manages to escape with evidence of the theft.

    So, Dr. Gallaragas offers Sledgehammer 44 another mission: To save the brave young captain of that secret plane who's now been captured and enduring probably torture at the hands of the Nazis. She spares nothing in an attempt to appeal to Sledgehammer 44's humanity, wanting to prove not just to Bruttenholm but also to Sledge' himself that he is still indeed human and can have a positive impact on the world around him. Whatever she says works because, surprisingly, he accepts the mission. But the mission proves to be short-lived as Nazi spies find their ways to sabotage it and hand him over to their overlords, by the hands of this new monster.

    The next chapter picks right up where the previous left off, with Sledgehammer finally returning to action to rescue a pilot captured by the Nazis. However, he's apprehended by their superhero, The Black Flame.

    The U.S. pilot, Elroy, has been captured with the experimental Flying Wing, the Allies' latest secret weapon. So the Nazis are torturing the pilot, to spill all the machine's secrets. Meanwhile, the Black Flame discovers that Sledgehammer is not as easy to take out as he initially thought. He tries attacking the man inside the armor but that's where the series shines in that Sledgehammer is regaining his humanity, becoming even stronger inside the armor and out.

    While their superhero battle rages Elroy manages to send an S.O.S. out, giving away his location but unknown to his captors. Soon, then, a mock-up fleet of Allied planes are on their way, relying more on the element of surprise. Fortunately, that coincides with Sledgehammer's arrival and they're able to rescue Elroy and their secret weapon. They're able to escape but the hero remains behind, promising a final showdown with The Black Flame.

    The Nazis are able to take off in the secret wing plane, though, turning to offense instead of defense. The Allied pilots are trying to take it down but are beset by the Luftwaffe. On the ground, the Black Flame only wants Sledgehammer's surrender - if he gives him that, then the attack will be called off and he can save those pilots. The Black Flame fights to prevent Sledgehammer from interfering in the skies above but still the hero fights back, refusing to believe for even one second the villain's promise.

    This gives Sledgehammer the upper hand to at least destroy the secret plane while removing its large pilot. But the Black Flame appears, frying that pilot, reinvigorated and seemingly able to now destroy Sledgehammer. He goes further by taunting the Allied hero, stating that he'll tell the other Allies how they could've been saved but that Sledgehammer chose death instead. The Black Flame finally manages to crack open the armored suit but, instead of victory, something far more powerful is unleashed, leaving behind a charred, incomplete skeleton of the villain. And, some seven weeks later, the armored suit is found on the Allied landing field, seemingly empty, something Dr. Gallaragas doesn't believe is the case. Redding for his part is out tripping in that infinite, continuing to argue with what-was-Shields, who tries to tell Redding that happiness isn't the point of it all. But the soldier, experiencing while out-of-body the return of that pilot he rescued to his family and friends, proving to Redding that he's doing the right thing.

    Mignola and Arcudi get a whole new character to work into their 'verse and do an outstanding job of it, creating someone fresh, while exploring motivations and morality and human connectivity. The humanity of Redding is never lost inside the suit and that's a precious feat narratively to accomplish. Likewise, the artwork from Jason Latour and Laurence Campbell is consistent to the world of the B.P.R.D. but also full of the massive, “cosmic” power and potential the hero embodies and explores. This one is very much worth picking up in its entirety here.
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