Title: Black Hammer.
Story-arc: Secret Origins.
Writer(s): Jeff Lemire.
Illustrator(s): Dean Ormston.
Colourist(s): Dave Stewart.
Letterer(s): Todd Klein.
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics.
Release Date: April 25th 2017.
Genre(s): Comics, Science-Fiction.
My Overall Rating: ★★★★☆.
Comic books on superheroes have often been ridiculed and frowned upon for their cheesy and flashy stories that lack the depth of renowned classic literature. Only those who dare flip them open know that they are far more than meets the eye and merit much more respect than they receive as their stories deliver the emotional and intellectual punch through both words and art. Thus, in his latest project, Jeff Lemire looks to illustrate his love for superhero stories through an honorable look at them in Black Hammer. While inserting family drama into a superhero story, he visits a darker take drenched in isolation and introspection with a light-horror touch that turns his story into something much more mystical and folkloric. Without being entirely encompassed within the whole superhero genre, this story finds a personality of its own and delivers an original premise that promises great adventures to come.
What is Black Hammer: Secret Origins about? Collectings issues #1-6, the first volume of Jeff Lemire’s and Dean Ormston’s project puts together a strangely intriguing group of six superheroes who are isolated in a timeless reality where escape seems impossible. Once heroes who saved Spiral City from the Anti-God, now they are a dysfunctional family trapped in a dimension that reduces them into vulnerable beings who suffer from their peculiar predicament. In this story arc, Jeff Lemire focuses on introducing each of his characters by revisiting their respective origin stories and end with the revelation on how they ended up stranded together in a farm. With reminiscent tones of silver and golden age superhero comics, the story draws upon themes of loneliness and hopelessness to deliver a hauntingly compelling story of heroes who wish they could have what they once had.
Cracking open this story, I had a tough time understanding where it was headed and what it looked to achieve. It’s only upon realizing that each issue was an origin story to each member that resided in this strange and gothic farm that I came to comprehend the homage intended by the author to classic superheroes. In fact, most of the characters found in this story are inspired by heroes that have existed within the DC and Marvel universe, from heroes like Shazam and the Swamp Thing. Without being complete knock-offs, Jeff Lemire accomplishes a phenomenal job in characterizing them in a way that looks at their personalities and their history rather than their physical appearances and their superpowers. He also introduces very humane issues within each of these heroes who, in one way or another, search to find their own happiness in the memories of their past accomplishments. Even more intriguing is how some, as they try to cling onto their past to relive their glory days, find themselves burdened by it on a daily basis.
The artwork is how this story doesn’t fall into the trap of being just another story about superheroes as it adds the necessary country gothic atmosphere and tonality. Even more impressive is how the artist suffered from a stroke that implicated paralysis and yet accomplished such a lively and compelling project in the end. Although there are moments where character design made me think of plasticine figures, there’s a certain vibe that is conveyed through this style that allows readers to feel burdened, something quite unpleasant and heavy, which goes perfectly with the story that unfolds as each hero struggles in finding happiness in the life they are now imposed. The mystery that also permeates from the artwork, and also the story, is a great hook that stimulates a desire in finding out what Jeff Lemire looks to tell in the next volume.
Black Hammer: Secret Origins is an impressive and mesmerizing homage to silver and golden age superheroes that explores loneliness, despair and love.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a copy for review!