Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Dean Ormston
Publisher: Dark Horse
Release Date: 21st Sept 2016
Jeff Lemire. I sometimes wonder if he has managed to build that machine from the book The Tommy Knockers. The one that writes novels while you sleep using your subconscious. Seriously, I count seven active writing projects he is working on right now and an eighth due out soon that he is the artist on, but enough about that particular wet dream.
It’s an incredible creative contribution to the world of comics, but what makes Black Hammer so interesting is that it’s his own homage to the world of comics. This fusion of Golden, Silver and Bronze age tropes blended together in a setting right out of a Steven King novel is potentially one of the best things he’s done yet.
Issue three leans towards the origin story of Barbalien. This is, of course, a homage to the Silver Age character of the Martian Manhunter. There are some lovely little breadcrumbs (besides the obvious) that Jeff uses. All Martians have names synonymous to J’onn Jon’zz, Barbalien himself is Mark Markz, and the two other Martians in this story are Lok Lokz and (oh, how I loved this) Jan Janz. Indeed, Barbalien travels to Earth and take on the secret identity of a Police Officer and spends the next years trying to learn how to fit in!
It’s a theme that Jeff carries from Barbaliens past into the present. The notion of being an alien and trying to find where one fits, even in this town our heroes are trapped in, Mark Markz is searching for acceptance and Jeff writes it with a certain beautiful tragedy, especially towards the end of the issue. Indeed, that is a part of what makes Black Hammer such a fantastic read – precision homage to the Superhero genre aside – Jeff has made the character of his story incredibly authentic. These people have real problems and real issues. There is a delicate symbiosis of real human problems in here; touching on loneliness, prejudice, religion and a willingness to find acceptance despite the cost. It’s this realism that makes Black Hammer feel very relevant despite it’s spectacular roots.
Dean Ormiston on inks and Dave Stewart on colours continue to show strongly in part three. The production of Black Hammer really is something else. If you look closely enough I’m sure you can find references to comic books everywhere. I guess that is the beauty of collaborating on a comic book that is basically grounded in all comic books. The scenes of Barbalien at church, and then his conversation with the Sherriff outside practically scream “Preacher!” at you, and yet the work is clearly Dean’s and Daves. Taurus, (the supervillain Barbalien takes on in a flashback scene) looks like a brilliant homage to a 70’s Daredevil villain-of-the-week type entry courtesy of Frank Millar and Klaus Jansen. Seriously, the comic is full of this, and other little nuances like a Smallville-esq Water Tower and crater in the desert where
Mjolnir Talky-Walky’s probe crashed. Even the alternative cover has a stamp saying ‘approved by the cosmic code committee’ alluding to the cosmic nature of this issue and another homage to silver age comics (the approved by the comic code authority stamp). I love this stuff; it just gives me an insane amount of pleasure to read.
Black Hammer is the Russian Doll of comics. It’s a comic about comics, written by comic book fans, for comic book fans and is based on all comics. It’s unashamedly obvious in its references, and by not trying to be too clever about this it gives the reader an unmistakable thrill in discovery rather than being a cheap knock off. Additionally, Jeff Lemire is weaving a touching and honest story about these five trapped characters, all dealing with their own unique demons and you can’t help but invest in this. I said in my opening paragraph this was potentially on of the best things Jeff has written to date and it is, but it could so easily by THE best thing he’s written.
Trust me, Black Hammer is just that good.
If you want to find out more about Black Hammer, you can check out our interview with series writer Jeff Lemire by CLICKING HERE.
The writer of this piece was: Andrew McGlinn
Andrew Tweets from @Jockdoom