The story begins with a lonely young woman being pushed into a role she doesn’t want and isn’t ready for, but it ends with sisters working together to shape the world for the better. Alexia is physically strong, like her father (the man formerly known as Ironhead), but feels anything but as he pushes her to take over the foundation he made to end hero/villain violence. Then Amy, daughter of the villain the Blackhand, shows up at what seems like the worst possible time. Neither girl realizes in that moment just how much they’ll come to depend on each other.
Blackhand & Ironhead has all the feel of a classic hero story with none of the classic sexism and racism, and that follows through with the art. The lines and colors remind me of Golden Age hero comics, but the women aren’t all drawn as hourglass figures with pouty lips and cat eye liner. The same is true of men, to be fair. There are some characters that are definite references to that Golden Age style, like Titan, but there are still details that differentiate him, like the lines around his mouth. Body diversity is fairly good; we see old and young people, different face and body shapes. There’s an ongoing thread of Alexia being seen as or called fat, but visually she doesn’t really seem overweight to me. I’m not sure if that’s partially meant to be commentary by the creator on perceptions of fatness, or not.
And that’s the greatest thing about this comic: it’s a critique of superhero comics. No one is a really great person, Alexia and Amy included, and the world is a mess. There’s no longer the apparently horrifying violence that was caused by heroes and villains, but in the very first scene we see that there are still punks in the world, picking on people they think are easy to take down. The foundation Alexia’s father ran did do some good, such as using money from the cage fights to help rebuild places damaged by villains, but the concept of cage fights as a replacement for the violence on the streets is also very questionable. None of the adults in Alexia’s life turn out to really be who they seem, and mostly for the worse. Amy was raised to hate heroes for good reason, and is pretty selfish at first, but starts to realize she has a chance to make things better.
There are some plot holes or dropped story threads, such as who Alexia’s mother was, and what happened to her. We know she’s not in the picture anymore, but have no idea if she was a hero or a mundane woman, whether she died or left. I’m hoping that might get addressed in future volumes, and not be just another missing parent, like in Disney.
Something to note on the comic itself is that it is a print edition of a webcomic, so the format isn’t quite what most readers expect from traditional comics. The shape of the book is unusual, around six inches by nine inches, so it could be a little odd on the shelf with more standard comic sizes. At the same time, I feel this helps make it more distinctive, which is appropriate for this very distinctive story. Blackhand & Ironhead is a great choice for readers who like superhero comics that are self aware, like Watchmen or The Boys, but without the sexism and hyper violence (especially as those are back in the public eye with new TV adaptations). And since this is rated T+, it’s an awesome choice for teens who can’t for some reason pick up the previously mentioned comics but still want a hero story that discusses bigger topics.
By David Lopez
Image Comics, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: T+
Series Reading Order