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Off The Rack Comic Review: Black Hammer

July 26, 2020 | Posted by Rob Stewart
Black Hammer
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Off The Rack Comic Review: Black Hammer  

Marvel’s dissection of the still-living body of Dark Horse Comics continues.

Years after having acquired the comic publishing rights to Star Wars—a previous boon for the independent company—Marvel has recently purchased the licenses for the Alien and Predator lines.

Why does Marvel need or want those? It’s not like Dark Horse is such a threat to them that they have to chip away at this staunch competition. I don’t see any reality where the alien races are folded into the 616 (as admittedly cool as that would be; I’d be here for a Daredevil Vs Predator crossover with everyone just infrared-ing the hell out of each other).

I suppose it’s just more of Disney’s eternal quest to literally own everything. I’m not sure how sustainable this model is, but I don’t love it. Crossovers of IP’s are fun, but it’s better when there is more diversity of corporations. More talent will have jobs, and the homogeny of everything gets broken up.

But nope. Instead, we will end up with the Disneyfication of everything, I guess. Hurray.

TITLE: Black Hammer

Writer and Artist: Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston and David Rubin

Publisher: Dark Horse

Protagonists: Abraham Slam, Barbalian, Colonel Weird, Talky Walky, Golden Gail, Madame Dragonfly, Lucy Weber

Antagonists: Anti-God, as much as there is one

Dark Horse does yet live and breathe, however, even if it’s entirely on the back of two sprawling universes created by the great talents of Mike Mignola and Jeff Lemire.

I’ve loved Mignola’s Hellboy for ages now, and I have covered that previously. What started as a simple tale of a hell-borne hero has grown into an expanded universe of many other characters. Well after HB’s success, Dark Horse did the same thing with Lemire’s Black Hammer title.

I have covered the first six issues of Black Hammer previously on podcast, Ghosts of the Stratosphere. If you want to hear my thoughts, click there to check them out. I was pretty entertained by the series, and thought enough of it to take issues seven through thirteen for a ride for you here and see what I thought of a bit more of it all.

Black Hammer is the story of a group of archetypal heroes who, after a conclusive battle against the evil Anti-God, were shunted off to a rural farm town named Rockwood. The heroes do not know if Rockwood is on their homeward, another world, or another plane of reality altogether; all they know is there is a perimeter around the town that stops them from leaving.

They discovered this many years prior to the start of the series when the titular hero Black Hammer tried to escape to return to his family, but was killed by the perimeter. Since then, the heroes have made lives for themselves in Rockwood… with varying degrees of success and contentedness.

In these issues, Black Hammer’s daughter Lucy finds herself sent Rockwood and reunited with the partners of her father. She can not recall how she ended up there, though, and is of little help finding a way back home.

The characters involved are almost all plays on others that you know well. Abraham Slam is an analogue for Captain America. Barbalien is Martian Manhunter. Golden Gail is Shazam, and onward. Obviously these characters are all subverted in some way, such as Colonel Weird, the stand-in for Adam Strange, having his mind warped by his travels across plane of reality.

Dean Ormston’s art is perfect for this series. I might not want to see him take on a run of Spider-Man or anything bright like that, but he really conveys a sense of how tired and defeated the former heroes of Spiral City are. His work is great at conveying real people in a farm town setting, but he also manages to portray the swampy mysticism of Madame Dragonfly and the ethereal, out-of-touch aspects of Colonel Weird. Just some fantastic art here.

The first several issues of Black Hammer, as I noted on my show, were a bit slow, but they did what they needed to do: establish each of the players in turn. The second batch of issues up to #13 does more of the same, but also brings in Lucy and allows the plot to move forward—especially as of the last issue where Lucy claims her fallen father’s hammer and claims to now remember everything.

The book is a brilliant slow burn and character study of these unrelated heroes who were not only thrust into a battle they were unprepared for but also into a life from which they can’t escape. Thirteen issues in, and there’s really no antagonist or villain (though there is a lot of reason to suspect the motivations of Madame Dragonfly and even Colonel Weird), and yet… it’s all so gripping.

I am completely absorbed of the mystery of it all, and I blew through this next set of issues. It’s a fast read, nothing is spoon-fed to the reader, and the characters are realistically unlikable, but also sympathetic. Black Hammer is an outstanding story that, honestly, may have started just as strong as Hellboy did. Will I like the long-term story of BH as much as HB? That remains to be seen. But I’d put these two volumes against Seed of Destruction and Wake The Devil.

If I have a complaint, it’s that I don’t yet see why these characters HAVE to be direct analogues for existing Big Two heroes. I’m not sure what that adds other an ability to subvert some expectations and give the readers a big of comfort in feeling like they already “know” these people… just a bit.

Talking Point: Besides Hellboy and Black Hammer, what are some of your favorite Dark Horse books from over the years?

That’s enough homework, though. If you liked this article, check out Ghosts of the Stratosphere. That’s my website where others and I write comic book and pop culture articles every day. Comics, Wrestling, TV, Movies… it’s all there.

You can also follow us on Twitter, @gotstratosphere for updates! Mostly I tweet about food.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
An absolutely engrossing and compelling book. The pace is slow in the very best way where details are meted out in tiny doses to keep the mystery going. The art and story mesh as well as any other comic without a one-man show running it.

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Off the Rack, Rob Stewart