Saturday, January 20, 2018

Black Hammer, Volume 1: Secret Origins

Winner of the 2017 Eisner Award for Best New Series, Black Hammer is a unique and interesting take on superheroes. Writer Jeff Lemire, one of the hardest working guys in comics, with a tremendous amount of titles to his credit wrote in the introduction to this book that he came up with the concept a while ago soon after finishing his Essex County Trilogy (some of the best comics I've read and well worth checking out). The plot follows a superhero team after they have spent ten years stranded in a small, rural town in another dimension following a grand battle to save the universe.

The characters in the book stand well enough on their own, though experienced comic book readers will recognize them as analogues for some pretty well established figures. Abraham Slam is very similar to Captain America, an older hero who lacks powers and is nearing the end of his career. Barbalien is an alien who seems a lot like the Martian Manhunter. Golden Gail is superheroine a lot like Mary Marvel, only she is unable to transform back to her human form so she is a 50-year-old woman trapped in the body of a 9-year-old. Colonel Weird is a version of scifi adventurer Adam Strange who is unstuck in time, and seems to be aware of the past, present, and future, though he cannot make sense of any of it. He is accompanied by a helpful robot called Walky Talky (who spends a lot of time hiding out). Madame Dragonfly is a lot like Madame Xanadu, a mystic possessed of great magical power. The final member of the team is Black Hammer, a hybrid version of Thor/Steel/Orion who has godlike powers but a strong drive to cater to humanity, though he is seemingly dead. He did have a daughter though, and she is still striving to find out what happened to the team while others have moved on and simply concluded they are dead.

This motley bunch is stuck in this place, though they don't know how they got there or why they cannot seem to leave. The kicker is that they still retain their powers (mostly) maintain a particularly low profile. Some, like Abraham Slam, find they like the quiet, mundane life while others view it as a horrid circumstance. Golden Gail is especially galled to have to relive elementary school and often gets drunk and is abusive to others. What makes this series compelling is more the personal angles to the relationships and plight they are in. Each chapter focuses on a particular character, recounting their secret origin and adding insight into their current status. The plot is also propelled by attempts to escape this place, not to mention the drive to find the mysterious cause of their situation. Clearly, this book has a lot going on, but the plot never gets convoluted. Black Hammer was the best kid of superhero comic for me, very easy to get into and very difficult to set aside. I am very much looking forward to picking up the next volume soon.

Joining Lemire in this collaboration are artists Dean Ormston and Dave Stewart. Ormston hails from the UK and is known for his work on 2000 AD and various Vertigo titles. Stewart is a veteran colorist who has won multiple Eisner Awards for his work.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have sung its praises. Thea James wrote,"I can’t really remember the last new superhero book that I read and desperately wanted more: Black Hammer is the superhero comic you need." Cam Petti praised the comics creators because they "use those cultural touchstones as tools not to celebrate, but to examine humanity, and in this way, they strike out on their own and craft an excellent story." Spencer Church called it "an incredible display of character development and storytelling."

Black Hammer was published by Dark Horse, and they have a preview and more information about this volume here.

No comments:

Post a Comment