Thursday, 25 August 2016

Black Hammer #1 Review (Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston)


Ten years ago they saved the world during a crisis-level event. Today this small team of superheroes live on a farm near a small town with no memory of how they arrived there but they do know one thing: they can never leave. Wha’ happen?! 

I thought Black Hammer would be good as Jeff Lemire claims to have written this in 2008, before he started writing superhero comics for DC and Marvel, when he was writing quality comics like Essex County, Sweet Tooth and The Nobody. Going by this first issue at least, it’s disappointingly not of the same standard. 

It’s hard to tell what the story is from this issue but it seems like it’s a deconstruction of superheroes, particularly DC ones. It’s easy to see some of the characters being parodied: Abraham Slam is Superman, Golden Gail is Shazam if Billy Batson couldn’t turn back into Shazam, and Mark Markz/Barbalien is J’onn J’onzz the Martian Manhunter. Going by this first issue though it’s not clear what Lemire’s saying about them - they’re like a dysfunctional family? 

We’re introduced to the characters, some vague allusions are made to the past, there’s small town politics, and that’s it. Despite the title, Black Hammer doesn’t appear - yet. Apparently he sacrificed himself like Flash in Crisis on Infinite Earths? Eh, ok. I think I read somewhere that these are characters who have been retconned so this might get meta with newer versions of these characters replacing them in the city and the farm being a kind of purgatory for discarded heroes. If that’s where this is headed, that’s cool but again this is stuff I found out from reading articles about the series rather than Lemire hinting at these things in the comic itself. 

Artist Dean Ormston suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on the left side of his brain in March last year which delayed the release of this series until now and it’s good to see that he’s recovered. He’s definitely not a superhero artist and I think the comic’s the better for it. Rather than being muscle-bound athletic body-types, the characters look awkward and unusual, like they belong in a horror story or old sci-fi B-movie instead. It makes the book more enticing and seem more unpredictable than the more straightforward mainstream superhero comics which is refreshing. 

Black Hammer #1 is a slow, unimpressive and largely boring beginning to a title I’d hoped would be a return to form for Lemire, and it isn’t. I’m still interested enough to read the story in full when the collected edition is released but this first issue hasn’t convinced me to follow it in the monthlies.

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