Abraham Slam! Golden Gail! Barbalien, Warlord From Mars! Col. Weird and Talky-Walky! Madame Dragonfly! They were some of the greatest heroes that Spiral City had ever known and they gave their lives in its defense from the overwhelming multiversal threat of the Anti-God. At least, that’s what everyone believes. What actually happened was that these heroes were wiped out of that universe and sent to a new one where they reside on a farm in a small town. That was ten years ago, and while at least one of them has acclimated to this new life quite well, others haven’t given up the hope of finding a way out of this place. They don’t know it yet, but that hope may lie in the hands of Lucy Weber — a reporter and the daughter of Spiral City’s greatest champion, the Black Hammer.
Now, I’ll admit that writer Jeff Lemire’s affection for small-town life is becoming something of a trope in his creator-owned work. He still manages to make this unusual setup work through the well-considered characterization he applies to his cast. We get some good insight into the backstories for the main cast in this volume which makes it easier to relate to them and understand their issues with how things currently are. It’s easy to understand how Abraham can acclimate so well to farm life along with Gail’s frustration at being trapped in a nine-year-old’s body. He even makes the trippily confused Col. Weird a tragic figure after we get a bravura issue that shows us what it’s like seeing time from his perspective.
Lemire also makes it clear that these individuals are analogues for certain more famous comic book characters. In case you’re wondering why Gail is stuck in a nine-year-old’s body, well, that’s because her analogue is Mary Marvel. It’s not wholesale theft as the writer puts enough of a spin put on each of them to make it so that they aren’t complete copies. In Gail’s case, we find out that she aged normally while her superhero form remained nine years old. So becoming a kid superhero is something of an escape for the woman until she’s stuck that way. This does add a level of “inside baseball” to the narrative where you have to be aware of which characters are being riffed on in order to get the most out of what Lemire is doing here. Even so, the story being told is still pretty accessible even if you can’t make these connections.
Art is from Dean Ormston who has a style that defaults at “creepy.” It worked well for him during his time as designated fill-in guy on “Lucifer,” and it works surprisingly well here too. Even if the town the characters reside in is normal, there’s still a lot of weirdness going on as a result of their presence. You’ve got the robot Talky-Walky building space probes in the barn, Col. Weird phases in and out of reality on a regular basis, Barbalien’s normal appearance looks as if it was carved from red wood, and then there’s Madame Dragonfly and her haunted home. These things actually look like they can co-exist within the town because Ormston’s thin-lined, impressionistic style makes everything look off-kilter. It’s probably not going to be to everyone’s liking, but the artist’s work is the right kind of weird for me in this series.
Vol. 1 does end on an impressive cliffhanger which acts as a kind of game-changer for the series up to this point. It also presents a nice twist in suggesting that one of the cast may have had more to do with their current situation than they’re letting on. All this makes the first volume of “Black Hammer” a well-crafted debut that leaves me wanting to know more about its world and characters. Particularly the title one, whose screen time is inversely proportional to his apparent importance to the plot here. It’s also a little telling that this creator-owned superhero story from Lemire is more interesting than the corporate-owned superhero stories he’s been telling for the past few years.