Black Hammer Volume 1: Secret Origins (Dark Horse)
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Dean Ormston
It’s been ten years since the heroes of Spiral City was pulled from their reality and deposited in a small town that they cannot escape from. Abraham Slam. Golden Gail. Colonel Weird. Madame Dragonfly. Barbalien. They all live in hiding to one degree or another, trying to suss where exactly they are and how they get back home. After a decade its become somewhat normal and worn some of them down. Golden Gail was a woman in her fifties but, like a reverse Shazam, is trapped in her child form until they can escape. Colonel Weird seems to be a living ghost fading between the small town and a tangle of time where he visits his past and future selves. Barbalien, already an exile from his homeworld of Mars, struggles to deal with the feelings he has developed for the town’s preacher. But across the cosmos, a stranger in Spiral City nears closer and closer to finding these lost heroes.
If your only exposure to Jeff Lemire has been through his DC and Marvel work, then you haven’t really experienced his excellence. Strapped down by strict editorial demands at the big two, Lemire delivers stories that range from okay to terrible, but it isn’t his fault. When placed on creator-owned projects at Image or Dark Horse, even Vertigo, he shines. Black Hammer is his best since Sweet Tooth in my opinion. This is likely because I am a sucker for dark comics that explore analogs of famous heroes or tropes. Black Hammer plays off these ideas with such brilliance while evoking a profoundly horrific atmosphere.
The artwork of Dean Ormston does a beautiful job of evoking that swampy, ghostly horror. It lies somewhere between Mike Mignola and Travel Foreman (Animal Man). Colonel Weird leaves wisps of ectoplasm behind as he floats up through the floorboards or through walls. Madame Dragonfly is beautifully witchy, and Barabalien pulls off that space between human and otherworldly. If Black Hammer has attempted to go for a retro-Silver Age look, it would not have been near as effective. Ormston brings the creepiness and leaves the reader feeling as if everything is off.
After introducing the cast in the opening chapter, the rest of the collection spends its time spotlighting each hero, leaving the mysterious Madame Dragonfly for last and a shocking cliffhanger. Slam is your typical costumed Golden Age brawler. Barbalien is the Martian Manhunter, not the last of his people but unaccepted by them. Colonel Weird is burnt out, acid tripping Adam Strange. Golden Gail is Shazam with a reverse situation when she says the magic word she turns into a little girl superhero. The twists on these characters and archetypes are just enough to make them familiar but new. It speaks to Lemire’s skill as a fan of the comics medium that he is able to find that perfect between space.
There’s a lot of mystery and the setting of the table for plots and subplots. To talk any more about Black Hammer would be to give too much away. If your library system supports the Hoopla app, this is available to read there. I highly recommend you seek this out because it has already hooked me and I am eager to see where this strange, dark story goes.