Hey everyone! Hope you’re all having a grand ol’ time. This week, I’m spending most of my time hibernating; the joys of mid-semester breaks at uni. Naturally, any time off I have is spent digging up new comics for you all to try out. This week, I’ve picked up volume 1 of Black Hammer, by Jeff Lemire (Green Arrow, Sweet Tooth). I’m not generally a massive fan of works from the Dark Horse stable (hurr, horse puns) but Lemire won me over pretty quickly with this off-beat, quirky superhero story.
A long time ago, Spiral City was home to heroes. They fended off crisis after crisis, taking down nefarious villains and alien monsters time after time. After one final crisis, and the defeat of the Anti-God, they vanished, as if they were never there at all. The rest of the world thinks they’re dead, but the heroes, aged and worn down, are still alive. Trapped in a small town seemingly in the middle of nowhere, they’ve been forced to take residence in a small farm on the outskirts of town. Abraham Slam, the former Captain America analogue, tries his best to hold his ramshackle family together, but as time goes on and their imprisonment continues, the cracks are starting to show. With that being said, when your family consists of an alien warlord from Mars, a 55 year old woman stuck in the body of a 9 year old, a hyper-advanced robot, an insane, inter-dimensional adventurer and a swamp witch, you’ve got one hell of a job to keep things under control.
Black Hammer is most assuredly a superhero story, but not in the ways you’d expect. Like how Identity Crisis dealt with the human impact of a murder in the Justice League family, Black Hammer is more about the familial bond between the heroes themselves. Abraham Slam’s attempts to corral his former colleagues into some semblance of a family make up the core story of the first volume, and their own ways of dealing with the 10 year anniversary of their confinement. The reason for them being trapped is never really explained, but the consequences of trying have apparently been severe enough to prevent them from trying more than once. The characters themselves are fantastic, and Lemire’s exploration of their ways of coping with their imprisonment makes for a great story. Most of the characters are analogues of famous heroes from DC and Marvel – as I said before, Slam is essentially Captain America, “Golden” Gail is basically a half-drunk Mary Marvel and Barbalien/Mark Markz is an obvious reference to Martian Manhunter.
Black Hammer reads as sort of like a cross between Justice League and the X-Files; Colonel Weird’s inter-dimensional sections alone are weird enough to satisfy any sci-fi fan. It’s fairly light on the details with regards to the heroes’ imprisonment, but it’s not really that important; it’s more for setup than anything else, and the stories Lemire tells about each of the heroes’ personal lives is far more important. It’s weird and heart-warming at the same time, and I quickly found myself deeply invested in the outcome; despite their resentment at their situation, Slam and his family have developed ties to the town they seem to despise.
The world that Lemire has built is fantastic, and his exploration of his characters is even more so; if, like me, you love the depth of the greatest heroes around, then Black Hammer is definitely worth your time. Keep an eye on this one, folks; it’s a love letter to the superheroes we adore.
By Alastair McGibbon
Image sourced via Geeks of Doom