Review – Black Hammer: Visions #1 (Dark Horse Comics)

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Patton Oswalt
Artwork: Dean Kotz
Colours: Jason Wordie
Letters: Nate Piekos
Release Date: 10th February 2021

Golden Gail was one of Earth’s greatest Superheroes before being trapped on the Farm in Rockwood. She now finds herself as a fifty-year-old woman trapped forever in the body of a grade school child, with all the problems that come with fitting in at a new school. Oh, and she’d kill for a cigarette and a glass of Rye. Never ageing presents its own set of problems, and while she tries to maintain her distance from the other children in her class, one classmate begins to question how similar Gail and her “cousin” seem to be.

Black Hammer has always been a bit hit and miss for me. Don’t get me wrong, it has moments of absolute brilliance, but by the same token, it also has some stories that just fall utterly flat for me. I think it’s partially because they went so full tilt into creating this vast, sprawling universe that they lost sight of what made it so great in the first place.

Thankfully, this latest entry in the chronicles of Black Hammer is one of those which falls into the “absolutely brilliant” category, and it’s a story that has reignited my love for the Black Hammer universe. What this new series provides for us is a set of one-off stories from a plethora of guest writers which, if this first entry is anything to go by, shows the love that others have for the this particular world.

Set not so much as a prequel, but as a chapter before our first visit to the farm in Blackwood, we are given a story that has some genuine humanity and emotion to it. I have often felt that Gail really got the short end of the stick with regards to her imprisonment, and this is an impressively well written glimpse into just how hard it would have been for her, being trapped in the body of a child, never being able to truly be herself, and enjoy her life as the others could (obviously within the constraints of their imprisonment, however seemingly pleasant a prison that may be).

This story is not just about Gail, it’s also about Eunice, another misfit who sees Gail for who she is, and sees the good in her despite her apparent best efforts to alienate everyone she meets. She sees the little girl struggling to fit in, and while that doesn’t exactly make them friends, it does give her the insight to look further than others and notice the incongruities in Gail/Windy’s stories.

Patton Oswalt automatically gets insane amounts of kudos from me for including an excerpt from a Philip Larkin poem in this story. When I was about 10, my mum’s favourite “punishment” was sending us to our rooms to learn a poem, which we then had to come down and recite word perfect to her. One time, as an act of rebellion and in a childish attempt to be cool, I chose this poem, which seemed a great idea until I had to stand in front of my mum, gran and grandad and utter the words “They fuck you up, your mum and dad.” I have never forgotten this poem or the burning hot haze of embarrassment that accompanied it, and still does to this day. I also really liked that all the way through I was reminded of Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World, and then, as if aiming a knowing wink in my direction, I found a quote from Aimee Mann’s song Ghost World at the end of the issue.

I think that Oswalt’s vision of the Black Hammer universe is superbly executed. For me it captures the feel of the original series and I’d love to see more entries written by him.

Dean Kotz and Jason Wordie do an excellent job on art duties. There’s more than a hint of Francesco Francavilla’s style in the design of this book, albeit heavily laced with Kotz and Wordie’s own distinctive approach. The character design is superb, the world they’ve created around Oswalt’s narrative is superb, and there is some really well thought out page and panel design, with some panels being little individual works of beautiful, haunting art.

As much as I love the depiction of Gail in this story both narratively and artistically, I think that the depiction of Eunice is just brilliant. I think that it makes her a much more real and sympathetic character, one that I became invested in very quickly, and I’d actually quite like to read a book just about Eunice’s travels and travails.

With huge thanks to Oswalt, Kotz, Wordie & Piekos for producing a great new entry in the Black Hammer series, I cannot wait to see what else we’ve got in store for the upcoming issues of this new series.

Rating: 4/5


The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek ‏

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