‘Black Hammer’ #1 is a strong, smart, intriguing beginning

black_hammer1Black Hammer #1 already establishes the potential for a very special story. Jeff Lemire has steadily been writing a wide range of fantastic titles over the last couple of years and it looks like Black Hammer will be yet another one to add to the pile of hits. He firmly plants throughout the issue a confident understanding of each of the unique characters, as much as they are a mish mash of The Avengers and Justice League respectively; originality is something that perhaps Lemire is jabbing at with the superhero genre.

A team of superheroes find themselves living together on a large piece of farmland, stranded there for ten years. The Golden Age of their time as superheroes, saving the lives of Spiral City, is a thing of the past. Abraham Slam revels in the repetitions of the everyday farm chores, Barbalien, a shapeshifting alien from Mars, regrets his past self, Col. Weird drifts between reality and the Para-Zone as if affected by some sort of superhero PTSD, Talky-Walky, a robot, constructs a probe in search of rescue from their current lives, Golden Gail, now stuck and angrily so, in the body of a nine year old reminisces about the glory days, and Madame Dragonfly idly bides her time by conversing with crows. There is little information learned about each of the characters but there is a real, heavy sense of the past weighing heavily on each and every one.

There is a great conversation between Gail and Barbalien that encapsulates how the former heroes either miss their golden glory days or are glad to talk of those times in the past tense. As they sit on the top of their house on the farm, Gail asks Barbalien (or, Barbie, as she calls him) if he misses the golden days. Barbalien responds by saying: “Oh, I don’t know. Sometimes. But the way you miss old friends you haven’t seen in years. You know that if you went back, it wouldn’t be the same as it was.” This moment really captures the transition that took place in the Modern Age of comics as a whole, especially affecting the way super hero comics were approached. Perhaps the changes that took place were and are a good thing. Often it can become toxic to hold too tightly to a past that has its nostalgic value but remains in the past for a reason. Black Hammer also does an excellent job through its art style at showing the differences.

Dean Ormston’s artwork is fairly heavy on its line work, drawing attention to the lines on peoples’ faces and clothing to provide a real sense of texture. It’s almost like a combination between Steve Dillon and Frank Quitely, though Ormston’s faces feel more worn and weathered through his distinct style. Ormston also does a consistent job at drawing water spots on tables, cracks on wood within the barn, dirt and rust on Abraham’s truck and a general sense of worn environments to really get the sense of a lived-in world in which time has affected not just the people living within it.

Dave Stewart’s colouring, as it usually is, is the real standout to this comic thus far. Stewart’s paralleling of colour palettes perfectly connects with this deconstruction of the superhero genre and how time has affected it aesthetically. The present time is coloured with more colder, muted browns and greys, giving off a real serious, melancholic and almost sentimental tone to the heroes who have found contempt and acceptance. The past, Golden Age of the super hero battles, shown in brief flashback panels, appear with very bright, punchy yellows, blues and reds. These prominent colours do appear in the present through the spacesuit of Col. Weird, the skin of Barbalien, the door of the farm house and even as a blue flame under a pan of eggs and bacon that Talky-Walky is frying up, yet, are more diluted. Whether this is an intentional commentary on the tired super hero genre within comics (perhaps even their Hollywood adaptations) or not, it is an aesthetically pleasing choice that fits the tone of this title.

Todd Klein, lettering legend, is one of the best in business at using his fonts and word balloon choice to add a further layer to specific characters. Talky-Walky’s green balloons (matching with his lime green helmet) and font are rigid, suitable for a robot that weighs heavily on cold, hard facts. Col. Weird’s balloons and text are shaky and rough, making it seem like if his voice could be heard it would crack and mumble. Its additionally suitable that these two characters just so happen to have once been bonded as a duo.

Black Hammer begins with a very somber tone that strikes directly at the ticking heart of super hero comics and looks to break down a few tropes along the way. The creative team has crafted a very strong beginning with some well put together characters and an array of questions that builds towards a curious final few pages.

Black Hammer #1

Illustrated by Dean Ormston

Colours by Dave Stewart

Written by Jeff Lemire

Lettering by Todd Klein

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Story: 9 Art: 8.5 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy

Dark Horse Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.