Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Dean Ormston & Dave Stewart
Published by Dark Horse
Superhero stories are a dime a dozen. While they’re not the only comics out there obviously, they’re as common a genre as it gets, especially considering the ubiquity of the superhero in television, movies, video games, etc. This can lead to overflow of material being able to stand out in the age of superhero dominance. While you can have material to point out such as Invincible, not everyone is quite that lucky. Which is why it’s a rare treat to have something like Black Hammer that looks like nothing else out there to come in with a bang and do a different story, and rise beyond simply using analogues. While Jeff Lemire is no stranger to superheroes given his work at DC and most recently Marvel, there can be a bit of a problem of overlapping with your own work, especially given the recent release of a work like Plutona that has adjacent themes. As said said before: Black Hammer doesn’t look or feel like anything else being published at the moment.
Black Hammer deals with the retirement of a house of superheroes after a crisis that occured years ago. While that premise of people living together in a tense environment is pretty ubiquitous, it’s used to more empathic effect here. The archetypes are familiar to anyone who’s experienced a modicum of pop culture. Abraham Slam, Col. Weird, and Golden Gail among other archetypes. While it’s not a new idea to put character archetypes into a situation like this, it’s very rare to see the idea of superheroes post-retirement and beyond their younger days being played so seriously. The various emotions at play help give this comic the feel of Lemire’s other more down-to-earth comics like Essex County. Abe simply wants to enjoy his retirement and the new life they’ve built, Col. Weird is still having his own adventures while his grasp on reality is questionable, and Gail is fairly easily bitter on her aging being reversed. What makes this stand out from something like a Drawn Together is again, that willingness to take the premise to its extremes as opposed to parody, and it works given that the mutual desires of the characters in the comics are at odds with each other, especially with Abe who desires normalcy after an apparent lifetime in superheroics. The others by nature, or by appearance, simply can’t participate in that charade.
Part of the secret to Black Hammer having such a distinct tone and feel is down to the art though. Dean Ormston’s art unites very disparate types of comics characters into what’s actually a unique whole throuhout the book. While there is some stretching allowed to give you flashes of different flavors to where these characters would stand in comics history, there’s also an element of that same distinctive feel being neutralized in the more grimy world, which is also thanks to Dave Stewart’s colors in making that happen. In terms of having an understanding of what type of story is being told here, the art complements the story and vice versa. While there are a great many superhero comics on sale, there aren’t many with a look with this distinction, or with a touch like Lemire’s in many DC or Marvel comics.
4 out of 5 Barbaliens.