Even if you haven’t been reading Black Hammer — which you should be, because it’s amazing — you’ve got to admit that Sherlock Frankenstein and The Legion of Evil is a heck of a catchy title for a comic book. That’s half the fun of the world that Jeff Lemire is building slowly but surely. Every little detail is designed to make you at least go, “Huh, that’s cool” silently to yourself as you’re reading, and it only serves to help build that world even further and make it feel lived in.
This is the first spinoff to Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s critically acclaimed rural horror superhero series Black Hammer, but instead of following the forgotten heroes cast out from their own world, it follows Lucy Weber — the daughter of the titular Black Hammer — searching for answers regarding her father’s disappearance, which has led her down the trail towards his greatest enemies and the asylum where he imprisoned them.
Considering the bombastic title, the first issue of Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil is rather understated, and it seems that may be the case going forward, as Lucy interviews different members of the Legion of Evil about the whereabouts of their erstwhile leader and what his disappearance has to do with her father’s own. It’s with these characters that Lemire really gets to cut loose and showcase his creativity; one panel of a list of villains on a tablet contains names like Manaconda, Sultrix and Cthu-Lou, all of which feel fully realized despite only appearing in name only. The bulk of the issue revolves around Lucy’s interview with Mectoplasm — a ghost in a giant robot body — and while the concept is as silly as anything Otto Binder may have come up with in the Silver Age, his story is heartbreakingly genuine and packed with the raw emotion you’d expect more in other Jeff Lemire works like Royal City or Essex County.
The world wouldn’t feel half as realized without the absolutely killer art or David Rubín who — assisted by Kike J. Díaz on flatting — handles everything you see on the page. He weaves lettering and sound effects seamlessly into the page itself, bringing them alive by melding them into the art. Although he’s credited as “art, colors and lettering” it’s almost impossible to say where one ends and the other begins. Take a simple panel of lightning striking in the background behind Lucy; the lightning crashes into the sound effect itself, lighting the second-half of “KRA-KATOOM” an even bright shade of yellow than the first. Lucy herself stands between “KRA” and “KATOOM” breaking up the effect and giving the reader a brief pause in between the roll of thunder and the strike of lightning.
It’s incredibly hard to build a shared superhero universe that can draw readers in the same way that corporately owned, decades-old universes can; only Astro City and Invincible have really succeeded in having a similar longevity. The creatively displayed by Jeff Lemire and all of his collaborators across the Black Hammer line of titles puts this franchise on par with those two and does the most important thing a superhero comic can do. It makes you want to come back next month to see what happens next.