Hellboy’s roots may have been in WWII, but we haven’t seen a whole lot of stories in the Mignolaverse set during that time. “Sledgehammer 44” aims to correct that with it’s story of a Vril-powered armored suit -- nicknamed Sledgehammer -- fighting on the side of the Allies during the war. What’s it’s job? To take out crazy Nazi mecha and their superpowered agents such as the Black Flame. The first story in the volume introduces us to the title character and the group of army grunts backing him up on a mission in France. Though the battle is won, the grunts wind up having to wheel Sledgehammer out of the area and right through Nazi territory. Mignola co-writes with John Arcudi, and the latter continues to demonstrate here, as he has in “B.P.R.D.,” that he’s got a knack for writing good “army grunt” characters and dialogue. If it wasn’t for that, then it’s not likely we’d care about the fate of the group through this story and the strange journey that Pvt. Redding winds up taking during its course. (That part is pure Mignola.) Jason Latour handles the art here, and his style -- full of sharp angles -- works well here as he gives us some nice, clean action sequences and makes the dramatic parts hit hard. The sequence involving Redding after the pitched fighting that opens the second half is particularly gut-wrenching.
The second arc, entitled “Lightning War,” has Sledgehammer dealing with the changes he underwent in the first part. As he struggles with his newfound status quo, we see Hitler himself paying a visit to the imprisoned Black Flame who then helps capture an experimental Allied plane and its pilot. Naturally, Sledgehammer finds the motivation to get back in the fight after being asked to aid in the rescue of the pilot and the plane. We’re into more B-movie territory here with lots of fighting, explosions, and melodramatic dialogue as our protagonist takes on the Black Flame. Though artist Laurence Campbell does give the story a darker look, and he makes the Black Flame look as sinister as he deserves to be, it’s harder to get invested in the events here than it was in the first arc. Those army grunts were quite likeable and most of the characters here are stock types meant to fulfill a particular need of the plot. Even Sledgehammer himself eventually winds up coming off like a second-rate Hellboy with his deadpan commentary on the action around him. Things do end in an unexpected way which suggests that this will be the only volume about the title character’s exploits (in spite of the “1” on its spine). If that’s the case, then I’m fine with it as these stories were diverting enough and any follow-up seems better suited to the pages of “B.P.R.D.” than another miniseries.