By Levi Remington
Jeff Lemire's grand homage to Golden Age heroes continues with the start of a new arc -- this time exploring the mysterious origins of Black Hammer, the hammer-wielding hero of the streets who sacrificed all he had to save Spiral City. In the spirit of previous issues, two stories of past and present are told concurrently. But how does this week's backstory stack up? Read ahead to find out!
When I first discovered comics, I immediately fell in love with the way they made me feel. There was a whole world of art, entertainment, and expression just waiting to be consumed. An entire ecosystem comprised of fans, conventions, and creators. All in celebration of the stories.
There were established tropes and archetypes, patterns that the biggest stories tend to follow. New comics felt familiar because they were standing on the shoulders of giants, proudly wearing their inspirations on their spandex sleeves. For some creators, this familiarity became a weapon of mass manipulation, reeling the reader in with a comfortable premise and skillfully retooling old stories for their enjoyment. For others, it became a crutch. Their stories felt recycled and trite, their characters -- hollow reproductions.
The best storytellers take another approach: Expand upon the past, and do it better than before. Take the familiar, and do something unfamiliar with it. Jeff Lemire does just that with Black Hammer. The silly, inconsequential optimism of the superhero Golden Age collides with the touching emotional poignancy of Lemire's stellar Essex County, and the result is an impassioned character study that's affecting and human without minimizing the fun in absurd, superhero nonsense.
The first arc was excellent, setting up a compelling mystery and building up a great cast of characters. Issue #7, 'Black Hammer Falls,' slightly bucks that trend with an origin story that suffers from its hurried pace, resulting in new characters that are initially lacking in depth.
The origin is fun, but it feels as though it's trying to plant emotional hooks that it wasn't built for. Don't get me wrong, the drama that Lemire crafts for the present-day story is superb, but I always saw the Golden Age drama to be intentionally cheesy. It works in previous issues because the history of the character plays a role in how that character acts now. You see a character react to tragedy when the world was more innocent, and then you see how the seeds of that tragedy have grown in the current world where life is grim and unforgiving. What makes Black Hammer's origin differ is that he is no longer around. We are being told a clichéd origin story for a dead man, and it largely feels unessential.
One way in which this origin does work is in making the reader feel sad for Lucy -- Black Hammer's daughter. She's a shell of a person, never having recovered from grief; her father's death still defines her. It makes me wish this issue had a Lucy-centric backstory instead, because then the effort could have gone towards developing a character that's still around. As it stands, the reader may feel too separated from Lucy to react emotionally to her struggles. The handful of pages that she's appeared in have simply not been enough to warrant an attachment to her character. This part of the story could have definitely used some tweaking.
The present-day story is fantastic. I love these characters and their interactions. Even while they spend time explaining things to Lucy, small glimpses of their personality shine through to make the conversation interesting.
Dean Ormston and Dave Stewart are killing it on the art. Character expressions are fluid and evocative, their designs are unique, and the bleak scenery is slathered in thick, Mignola-esque blacks that help contrast the colorful characters beautifully. There's also an effectively disturbing scene that depicts gore with a troubling cleanliness. For a writer who excels in character, it's important they are teamed with an artist who understands their sensibilities and can visually portray the right emotions. Ormston is the guy for the job.
Black Hammer is a terrific series. Lemire is doing top-notch character work while Ormston and Stewart are executing some lovely and expressive art. However, this issue was not as strong as what we've come to expect. I'm not sold on the Black Hammer character, and I think they may have been leaning too hard into his death for drama, but I'm looking forward to see how the creative team develops newcomer Lucy.
Black Hammer #7
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Dean Ormston
Colors by Dave Stewart
Letters by Todd Klein
Published by Dark Horse Comics