Despite the buzz surrounding Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s eagerly awaited Dark Horse comic, Black Hammer, I viewed it with a jaded eye. Golden Age heroes disappear and are quietly living out their lives in a rustic environment. This sounded both cliché and boring.
I admit to only picking up the comic out of respect from Ormston who came back from a cerebral hemorrhage.
When I’m wrong, I’m wrong. My self-congratulatory cynicism quickly evaporated as Ormston’s art and Lemire’s fantastic script drew me in. This is not what I expected and, to be honest, with Lemire scripting the story I should have known better.
Lemire came onto the comic scene with an explosion. DC knew it in 2010 when it signed him to an exclusivity contract. Under that contract, he worked on the Conner Kent Superboy, did the Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown a Flashpoint mini-series, Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Justice League Dark, and Animal Man. All of which showed his power and talent in the field. The one ugly bump was the New 52 Green Arrow, which I have discussed in a previous review.
Marvel understood Lemire’s talents and the minute the exclusivity contract was over, he was over there as well, working on Old Man Logan, All New Hawkeye, and the Extraordinary X-Men to name a few.
Valiant grabbed him to do the Valiant mini-series in 2014. That spun into Bloodshot Reborn.
With his growing presence and influence it was no wonder that the fanboyverse went into spasms when Dark Horse announced in 2014 that he’d be creating a new comic, Black Hammer, with great BritCom artist Dean Ormston.
Unfortunately, when Ormston suffered a cerebral hemorrhage the project was back burnered. Now, the first issue is out and the wait was worth it.
First, the moody and evocative artwork shows that, fortunately, Ormston’s massive talent was not diminished by his medical issue. The opening scenes shows Abraham Slam going into the barn to care for the animals. The art is at odds with Abe’s monologue. He talks about feeling at home the minute he stepped onto the farm. But, rather than a charming and rustic background, Ormston portrays an emotionally stark and barren environment. Does Abe really believe what he is saying, or bowing to the inevitability of their situation, is merely lying to himself?
As we meet the other former members of the super team, the latter seems more likely. As it develops, the team members have been trapped on this farm and surrounding area for ten years. They are living under the radar, keeping their identities secret. Outwardly, except for Abe, they all chafe at this exile. The melancholy the characters feel for what was lost was beautifully realized in two separate scenes. In one, Baralien, the Warlord from Mars, is sitting on the roof with Gail, who is trapped in the body of a nine year old girl, and they are discussing the past. “Do you miss it Barbie? The way it was?” asks Gail. “Oh, I don’t know, sometimes. But the way you miss old friends you haven’t seen in years. You knew if you went back it wouldn’t be the same as it was.”
In the next scene, Talky-Walky, the robot man is working, evidently on his Quixotic project of building a machine which will free them, when Colonel Weird shimmers into existence. Living between two planes of existence and in neither, his mind is going. Talky is distraught at the mental disintegration of a man whom he respects. The Colonel realizes that he’s lost something, “Well, I haven’t been myself, have I?” he asks in a moment of self-realization. Poignantly, Talky answers, “Nonsense, Colonel. You’ll always be my commanding officer.”
In just a few short pages, Lemire and Ormston have created a dark and moody ambiance, with well realized characters. We know that they saved the world, the Mysterious Black Hammer died and then something happened which trapped them on the farm.
The issue ends with the Black Hammer’s son, a newspaper reporter vowing to find out what happened to these heroes.
While all the clichés were, at first blush, present, Lemire and Ormston turned them into something new and brilliant. Black Hammer was worth the wait.