Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews — now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘Black Hammer: Cthu-Louise’, out December 12 from Dark Horse Comics.
THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘BLACK HAMMER: CTHU-LOUISE’ CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. In a universe founded on homage, theme riffs, and original creations, one of my favorite Black Hammer characters is Cthu-Lou. The name alone warrants an affection blamed on a few experiences with the Call of Cthulhu RPG system. The mythos itself contains favorite reads, but when playing monster-hunters a more Buffy or Army of Darkness approach appeals. Heroes who manage to survive without much prevailing, only to slowly go mad from prolonged exposure to Great Old Ones influences and one-day passes to R’lyeh, aren’t characters I want to invest a lot of time playing.
Lou Kaminski channels a slightly less upbeat Ash Williams approach. He didn’t ask to be turned into an elder god sock puppet, he was doing a plumbing job. He took a pass on the murderous agenda his ‘benefactor’ set forth, and even learned to ignore its constant psychic suggestions and directives. Cthu-Lou did turn to non-violent crime but given his new tentacled appearance hindering employment as a plumber, one can forgive that. Mostly, Lou looked into his master’s multiple-eyed visage, considered improving his own lot by acting as a proxy while it razed humanity, and answered the Call with, “Nah.” Then he retired, shifting his life into Neutral.
But he also has a kid, and we got to meet that beautiful little girl in Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil #2. Actually, Louise is hideous. But Cthu-Louise, as she likes being called, is possessed of an angelic, innocent soul despite her appearance. Her beauty isn’t tentacled skin deep, she’s lovely on the inside. Now she returns in a Dark Horse Comics one-shot, Black Hammer: Cthu-Louise, slated for a December 12th release. Writer Jeff Lemire and artist Emi Lenox are joined by colorist Dave Stewart and letterer Todd Klein for this addition to the Hammerverse, and they’re not blazing any new trails here. The empathy they build, however, speaks to us. If you’ve ever been the odd kid out, the one voted Most Likely to Get Bullied After Graduation, the one the world treated like a stinky gym sock no laundering could fix, you’ll feel a shared kinship with Cthu-Louise.
She’s older than in our first encounter, childhood quickly giving way to teen years and yearnings. Her father may not have caved to the insidious evils of the Many Angled One, but he’s not much of a parent, either. Idly watching television and drinking are Lou’s daily routine, interrupted only by screaming matches with wife Elaine who feels put out working a menial job and raising their daughter. While she comes off as a harridan of the first order, it’s also hard to blame Elaine for being the way she is. Her plumber husband was turned into an unemployed, squid-headed layabout. His attempts at crime were not lucrative. Their daughter has a similar Cephalopodic appearance. Still, it’s a miracle Lou didn’t serve her up as a sacrifice to his Master long ago.
Home isn’t a place of refuge for Cthu-Louise. Her parents pawn every duty they can onto her, and neither spare much affection for the child. Lou may have the most compassion, sharing a common deformity, but he’s also determined not to be soft on his kid. The world is harsh and brutal and ugly, the way he sees it, and candy-coating things will make Louise too weak to survive. It’s a convenient way to self-excuse his absentee parenting and abuse.
School offers even less refuge. Cthu-Louise is an easy target for every snide remark, every low prank, and no one’s above taking a cheap shot at every opportunity. Her otherworldliness even keeps teachers at bay, making her story reminiscent of Joseph Merrick’s real life tribulations, but devoid of the positive influence of a Dr. Treves. One voice calls to Cthu-Louise in her dreams: The Master, whom she considers her grandpa after a fashion. The world may have no use for her, but the sinister Old One lurking beneath the city does.
What follows is a moss-green smoothie mix of Twilight Zone, Carrie, Monster’s Ball, and Matilda (hold the humor) served in a Miskatonic U mug. Along the way, Cthu-Louise’s story harks back to her conversation with Lucy Weber in Sherlock Frankenstein #2. On finding out that Lucy’s dad was a superhero and knowing that her own father is a former supervillain, the little tentacled girl innocently comments to Lucy, “Maybe that means we’re gonna be archenemies someday.” It’s a sweet moment, because neither Lucy or the reader can fathom a future where this harmless little child could ever be a villain. Makes you wonder how many other villains began the same way: Benign, if unusual, little kids seeking love and acceptance, denied both. Like the lowest form of vandal, humanity in force excels at taking a masterpiece of unique and divergent beauty, one that doesn’t somehow measure up to their standards, and defacing it. Smearing it with offal. Belittling it with words that sting and scar.
Lemire keeps a decidedly heavy hand on the darkness throttle for Cthu-Louise, and I wish he had more than the single issue to work with. We might have seen additional elements of the protagonist’s life, less sullen, some secret joys that help Louise maintain hope. Though undoubtedly and eventually also sullied by the callous world around them, other outcasts, or friends, or refuges, would have added depth to the narrative. Lenox’s art dovetails nicely with the style of Cthu-Louise’s original appearance, and then transcends. There needs to be a fan-made stained-glass rendering of pages 23 and 24. Just you wait; it’s powerful.
Stewart’s colors on those pages are also stunning. He keeps a very four-color, superheroic flavor throughout the book. Then amplifies it when we’re not in that Kansas anymore. Klein once more provides standard-setting letters, deftly slipping from distinctive colors, balloon shapes, and the screams. We feel the Many Angled One’s longing to lash its suckered tentacle across the face of a deserving human race.
As readers, we’ve logged some familiar miles in shoes like Louise’s. We probably won’t be astonished at the path she takes. Still, it’s a story very worth telling. Because in a time when parental abuse, bullying, and teen suicide statistics soar, apparently many of us have not integrated these empathic lessons into our everyday lives. Maybe the broken heart of an unloved little girl with tentacles will heal our own.
Dark Horse Comics/$3.99
Written by Jeff Lemire.
Art by Emi Lenox.
Colors by Dave Stewart.
Letters by Todd Klein.
7.5 out of 10
‘Black Hammer: Cthu-Louise’ hits stores December 12. You can pre-order it here.