Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist(s): Dustin Nguyen, Emi Lenox, Nate Powell, Matt Kindt, Ray Fawkes
Release Date: 18th December 2017
I’ll admit to being ‘Captain Skeptical’ when I first heard about the Black Hammer Annual. I often find these kind of things to be more of a marketing stunt to cash in on the popularity of a thing rather than a genuine offering. It’s for that reason that I generally steer clear of them, as I’m the type of person who gets really annoyed when something doesn’t meet the high standard I’ve come to expect of it. So it was with some gently passive aggressive prodding from the editor “I thought you’d be all over that, Andy *hint* *hint*” that I finally agreed to check it out.
Please, someone remind me to listen to my editor more often.
The story in the annual is a self-contained little number as we follow Colonel Weird through the Para-zone, chasing an entity he remembers from his past (although his mind being what it is, he can’t exactly remember what it is). The entity moves in an out of the Para-zone, each time encountering a different member of the Black Hammer team, each with his or her own little confrontation as Colonel Weird watches. It’s a neat little arrangement with a new art team working on each encounter.
One of the things that I found wonderful about this story is that each little arc was like a compressed homage to each character’s issue so far. All the emotional baggage was there; Abraham’s sense of right, Gail’s belief that she’s cursed and never to be happy, Barbalien’s struggle to fit in, Madame Dragonfly’s forced sense of exile and bitterness, and Colonel Weird’s tragedy. It’s a glowing testament to the skill of Lemire’s writing that he can bring to the fore all these different themes with just a four or five-page allocation for each player.
My favorite story is the Abraham Slam section. The brilliantly kitsch Golden Age narrative and the way Slam narrates every panel in a thought bubble had me smiling from ear to ear, and the colour palette and style of the Kindts’ art in this section feels like such a perfect fit. I would, in all honestly, buy the Annual for this section alone. In fact, each section seems to have picked an artist whose style or application seems to fit the story to a tee. The standout artist for me, without question, was Ray Fawkes. Barbalien in Fawkes’ delicate watercolour style (which I first encountered in the pages of Intersect) just blew my mind. Ray’s interpretation of our Martian hero is, now that I’ve seen it, definitive. My favourite character in Black Hammer, under Ray’s eye, aesthetically just hit 11.
Abraham’s story and Barbalien’s art may be my personal favourites, but I have to admit that I think the most fitting marriage of character and style of art has to go to Colonel Weird’s story drawn by Michael Allred. The sense of innocence in the drawing reflects the optimism of 60s space adventures like Dan Dare, or even TV’s Lost in Space. Even the way the Para-zone entity is drawn is ridiculously non-threatening, it’s just brilliant.
Black Hammer Giant Sized Annual is a resounding success. It works for all the right reasons; a complete story that fits into the canon without messing anything up, providing a chance for different artists to realise our favourite characters with some interesting (and inspired) interpretations. All this and Lemire, more than ever, has managed to keep true to the sense of wonder he expresses in the universe of Black Hammer. Namely, the fact that each character is an homage to comics in their purest form, and it’s the success of that expression which (when shared by the reader) makes Black Hammer such a wondrous thing. All of that is condensed into this annual, and you would be well advised not to miss out on it.
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To find out more about Black Hammer, make sure to check out our interview with series writer Jeff Lemire by CLICKING HERE.
The writer of this piece was: Andrew McGlinn
Andrew Tweets from @Jockdoom.