Black Hammer Volume 2: The Event
Reprints Black Hammer Giant-Sized Annual, Black Hammer #7 – 13
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Deam Ormston, Nate Powell, Matt Kindt, Dustin Nguyen, Ray Fawkes, Emi Lenox, and Michael Allred
Lucy Weber, the daughter of Black Hammer, has arrived in the pocket universe that her father’s allies have been trapped inside of. Her memories of how she got to this strange small town have been muddled, but she doesn’t have much time to contemplate this when she has to deal with the grief of her father’s death. Her arrival also signals a sudden change in the behaviors of the stranded heroes, particularly in Madame Dragonfly and Colonel Weird. Through stories told by the heroes and flashbacks, the audience learns more specifics surrounding the event that caused all of this tragedy, the battle with Anti-God. Very quickly all the heroes find the once quaint yet eerie small town they have been living in becoming darker and more sinister, signaling that this phase in their lives is coming to an end and something new is being born.
Jeff Lemire continues the wonderfully engrossing Black Hammer series by illuminating his mystery of heroes lost in strange bubbled off re-creation of Smallville. The greatest appeal to me in this series is that I read it as Lost with superheroes. We have a half dozen superpowered beings stuck in a place they don’t quite understand while the writer uses audience-centered flashbacks to reveal truths about them to us while leaving the characters obscured to each other. There’s plenty of dramatic irony and intrigue; as a result, leaving readers shocked yet feeling that these revelations are an organic development of the storylines.
The first chapter in this collection is the double-sized annual spotlighting Colonel Weird (an obvious nod to DC Comics’ Adam Strange). Lemire plays off of Adam Strange’s curse of being transported between worlds thanks to the fictional Zeta Beams and frames Colonel Weird as a space-faring hero who has become increasingly intangible and withdrawn from linear time over his life. Weird delivers a reason why all his comrades never communicate their truths and therefore avoid many conflicts. At the end of his tale, Weird meets his younger self, emphasizing that this is not time travel but a more complex pattern of events. Weird laments that he wants to warn his younger self so many tragedies that are yet to come, but he remembers that his younger self was never told these things and vanishes. The younger Weird is left to wonder what this strange old and scraggly man was ranting about, while the reader feels the aching regret of the elder Weird.
Lemire follows this up by finally going in-depth with the title character Black Hammer, who ironically has been one of the least explored figures in the series. We get a detailed origin of Hammer which combines elements of Green Lantern, Thor, The Inhumans, and Jack Kirby’s Black Racer. My favorite decision is to make the Anti-God antagonist a non-corporeal force of nature, combining Darkseid with his oft-sought after Anti-Life Equation with some Galactus for good measure. In many ways, Lemire elevates the Darkseid concept to a more Lovecraftian realm, a cosmic being of pure malevolence beyond humanity’s understanding. It makes Anti-God genuinely scarier than Darkseid or Galactus have ever been.
In the following issues, we have secrets revealed about Golden Gail (a Shazam pastiche) who tells the story of her retirement and secret love affair with arch-nemesis Sherlock Frankenstein. There’s the origin of Colonel Weird’s partnership with his robot sidekick Talky Walky, which ends tragically. Abraham Slam, who reminds me of two-fisted mystery men like Wildcat, tries to adapt to the grim and gritty turn of superheroics in the 1980s. Barbalien, the series’ answer to Martian Manhunter, recalls the ostracizing he received while posing as a human police officer juxtaposed against his current struggles after realizing he has feelings for the town’s minister. All of this culminates in a moment hinted at since the arrival of Lucy Weber and opens up the story to go in some exciting and revelatory new directions.
Black Hammer exists as a series that is both accessible to new readers who will take it at face value and longtime comics fans who will quickly see the tapestry of comic book history woven throughout its pages. The way Lemire remixes concepts always floors me and its the depths of humanity he brings to these characters that keep me coming back. Golden Gail is a great example, twisting the Shazam concept, so it is an adult woman who becomes a little girl hero and exploring the psychological toll of a woman having immense power but always being seen as a child. Gail is cursed when the heroes arrive in their pocket universe by being stuck in her child form which is eroding her psyche to a scary degree. It’s not quite as bleak as Alan Moore’s Watchmen but still mature and developed. As Lemire expands his World of Black Hammer is appears, we’ll be able to get even more depth to these characters and other tertiary ones.