Black Hammer Age of Doom #1: Review
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Dean Ormston
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Todd Klein
Editor: Daniel Chabon
Standard Cover: Dean Ormston and Dave Stewart
Variant Cover: Skottie Young and Dave Stewart
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Black Hammer is back! This stand out series which combines a nostalgic look at Golden and Silver Age comic book tropes (not all of which are strictly of the superhero genre) through the lens of a David Lynch nightmare was THE break out title of 2016. Through most of 2017 the outstanding creative team of Lemire, Ormston, Stewart and Klein proved issue after issue that Black Hammer was one of the top books being published by any company in any genre.
Issue #13 left us with our most tantalizing cliffhanger yet of the series and offered our seemingly eternally damned heroes their first true glimpse of the possibility of escaping their maddening purgatory. For those unfamiliar with the series who might be tempted to pick up this series with this new #1, here are the basics; The titular hero, Black Hammer is one of seven heroes who vanished from their own universe following a climactic battle against “Anti-God”. Afterwards the heroic team find themselves marooned on a small farm outside of the town of Rockwood where they are unable to leave. Years pass as tensions grow, relationships dissolve and complications arise. All the while, the mystery of how and why they are are trapped begins to consume the group.
The cast of Black Hammer is a combination of comic archetypes ranging from the vaguely Adam Strange character Col. Weird (my personal favorite) to the horror host Madame Dragonfly who in a genius move in issue #6 actually talks to you the reader which completely cements her as narrative kin to EC Comics The Crypt Keeper or DC’s Cain and Abel. While the cast of Black Hammer are clearly homages and a love letter to eras of comic book past they also exist as wholly original characters that live, breath and resonant. Thanks to the combination of great character writing by Lemire and elegant and powerful visual design by Ormston. This synthesis gives the Black Hammer universe a sense of vibrant originality comparable with Busiek’s Astro City. Or might be one day if the series lasts that long.
This book offers an intriguing plot and believable yet fantastic world. It gives us not only some satisfying nostalgia in its choice of character types but presents a classic deconstructionist Alan Moore-esque examination of superheroes post crossover event reboot that again leans heavily on the past for inspiration but yields something truly relevant for today’s readers -Especially in this day of “event fatigue”. But it is really the excellent character work that carries this book. The emotional battles of the characters, their relatability. That is the heart of the book and what makes it sing.
Age of Doom #1 opens with an all new Black Hammer in possession of both the Hammer and more importantly answers for the lost group of heroes. What follows is a narrative side step into another mystery that opens up even more questions about this universe and what is really going on. I’m going to avoid major narrative spoilers here and just insist that you buy this book. I do have to say though that I think Lemire is treading on thin ice by prolonging the tensions of the previous arcs to an almost unbearable level. I don’t think it’s too demanding to have expected some answers or resolutions in this first installment. But to not only have none but burdening the reader with even more is something that might bring this house of cards tumbling to the ground in a mess of incoherent plot points.
I would guess however that these reader expectation are exactly what Lemire and co. are actively trying to subvert and tease and might perhaps even play into the wider theme of reboots and never getting satisfying endings in superhero epics. I just hope we don’t end up with the superhero comic equivalent of Lost – lots of great ideas and characters that ultimately leads nowhere.
Make no mistake, Age of Doom #1 is actually Black Hammer #14. This is the continuation of that story and not a spin off like the wonderfully entertaining Sherlock Frankenstein and The Legion of Evil, which you should also be reading.
Fans of the series should not hesitate to buy this book immediately and while a new title and #1 might lead some to think this is a good jumping on point for a new reader I would think someone who picks this up with that in mind at the very least isn’t going to get any of the emotional resonance of what happens and more than likely is just going to be confused. In today’s market you have to give every reader any chance you can to jump onto a book. I get that and yes this is as close to that point as this book is ever likely to give you. Don’t pass it up!
When I said that this is one of the top 5 books you should be reading from any company, I meant it. So if you are new to Black Hammer I do think you should pick this up. Just make sure you also pick up the previous trades and whatever issue of Sherlock Frankenstein you can get. Believe me, you’ll thank me for it later. Black Hammer is a sublime and horrifying nightmare tale of heroes wrestling with their dark side all while facing reality shattering mysteries. It’s as human and relatable as it is mind bending and awe-inspiring in it’s cosmic scope.
Black Hammer is also a rare book that shows every member of a creative team working at the top of their craft and perfectly in sync with one another. Lemire’s writing and Ormston’s design and art have already been covered but we can’t forget Stewart’s colors which whether the scene is a bar room, a barn, an alien planet or some science fiction Negative Zone like astral space is always pitch perfect. Todd Klein’s work whether it’s the balloon placement, sound fx or change in font for characters is perfect and masterful.
I love it and you will too.