Review – Black Hammer ‘45: From the World of Black Hammer #1 (Dark Horse)

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Story: Jeff Lemire, Ray Fawkes
Writer: Ray Fawkes
Artwork: Matt Kindt
Colours: Sharlene Kindt
Lettering: Marie Enger
Release Date: 6th March 2019

In Jeff Lemire’s efforts to wildly expand his Black Hammer universe, he has pulled in some incredible talent. From Rubin to Torres to Fiumara to everyone else in these books, this universe has become nothing less than an unstoppable force. But for ’45, his tribute to comics written during World War II, Lemire brings a literal superhero-level team-up of talent to tell the story of this universe’s own war heroes; the Black Hammer Squadron.

The Black Hammer Squadron are an elite aircrew force. During World War II, Hammer Hawthorne and his men, JP, Li and Grips were the terror of the skies. Single-handedly beating back the Nazis and the Red Tide when all others failed. They were an unstoppable force of nature, all the way up until their very last mission in the last year of the war, 1945. A mission that, 70 years later, still haunts Captain Hawthorne.

In this debut issue we kick off the tale of this final mission and the ultimate battle about to take place. Setting up Hawthorne and his rag-tag crew, a suicidal rescue mission of a family, the dreaded Nazi superhuman fighter pilot that has terrorized their team since the beginning, and the powerful crushing force of a Russian commander and her mechanized army. Oh, and the sorrow still felt in these veterans so many years later.

Lemire, Fawkes, Matt and Sharlene Kindt, and Enger, have all produced some of my favourite comics of the last decade, and together in this issue, they work like a well-oiled machine, spreading their talents to every inch of this comic.   If there was anyone ever able to tell a somber, mournful story, it’s the Kindts, Lemire and Fawkes. The present day tale of Hawthorne on the 70th anniversary of their last mission, is drenched in an oppressive, remorseful atmosphere. The remaining of the Black Hammer Squadron are notably weathered, the years and the cost of war weighing heavily on them.

These scenes aren’t unique in the world of war fiction, but it’s how they give it the weight it deserves that matters. Fawkes and Lemire’s dialogue is impossibly real, with the mannerisms of these vets captured so deftly in their late years. Matt Kindt’s distinctive style of art is so personal and raw in the emotions of the cast. 4 or 6 panel grids that allow for slow-moving, close-up focus on these characters show just how much emotion and story Kindt can pack in just the framing of a face. And Sharlene Kindt’s colouring may be the most important facet. With her use of shadows, lighting and dark colours giving that oppressive, somber atmosphere.

In the events of 1945, this team flexes its wings with dynamic style. This is where the tribute to all things World War II Superhero comics kicks in. Opening on an awesome montage of crashing aircraft, parachute landings, infiltrations and all manners of explosions of gunfire, it’s a great way to show off everything that’s loved and remembered about this period of comics, as well as giving us a proper introduction to this squadron. From the banter to the quirks to the one-liners, it’s all here for the classic, loveable military heroes of the era, while still being nicely diverse.

The deep rivalries, the vengeful heroes fighting for their fallen, the superhuman Nazi experiments creating unstoppable killing machines, the merciless fatales, the alternate history technology and massive mechs and the cosmic powers that eventually bring themselves to the fight. They’re all delivered with the seriousness they deserve, but are also just awesome to see.

Matt Kindt’s art is absolutely wild here; from the quiet of the present day, the events of this mission are delivered large and explosive. The action feels massive across the page, and every aircraft and piece of weaponry is delivered with meticulous detail. And the last page can only be called jaw-dropping.

Of course, Sharlene brings a varied, vibrant color palette for this explosive action, but the beauty of the ’45 setting is this faded sheen she gives to the pages. Contrasting the clean pages of the modern day, these pages, from the border in, has the fantastic effect of making the page look as if it was pulled from an issue from the ‘40s. Just a brilliant cherry on top. Marie Enger too, across the issue, does a skilful job on the lettering. Perfectly matching the Kindt’s unique style, the setting and the two distinct time periods.

It’s unsurprising that a creative team like this knocks their first issue out of the park. A brilliant tribute to the era, draped with all the tropes, larger-than-life action and strong characters that go hand-in-hand with this period of comics.  This first issue is really only the start of something much bigger, with the real battle starting next month, but this introduction is as raw and personal, explosive and action-packed, and satisfying as you’d expect with a lineup of creatives like this. If you’re a fan of Black Hammer, it’s essential you pick this up. If you’re a fan of this era of comics, it’s essential you pick this up. If you’re a fan of good stories and great action, it’s essential you pick this up.

Rating: 4/5.

The writer of this piece was: Connor Stephens
Connor Tweets from @diddlesMVP

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