Black Hammer: Age of Doom #2 (May 2018)

Black Hammer: Age of Doom #2

Black Hammer goes Vertigo. At least Lucy’s half of the comic. Not only does she go Vertigo and to Hell, she meets a former costumed hero-type who’s now in Hell as well. Lots of almost rhyming, sorry.

Wasn’t a former hero type in Hell a Swamp Thing plot point back in the day?

Lucy’s story is kind of an odyssey, but only after she gets sent to Hell, and only taking the cliffhanger into account. Otherwise, she’s just become a superhero–moments earlier–and is now on a crappy first adventure. With a lot of talking and not much of it relating to the Black Hammer story.

Meanwhile, back on the farm, it’s a Barbalien and Gail issue. They go to the library to investigate the empty books Lucy found last series. They’re in for a surprise. There’s also the moment when Gail tells Barbalien about an illicit romance… which got introduced in one of the spin-off books and really doesn’t have any emotional impact here.

It’s kind of concerning. But it’s also Ormston art and Black Hammer Prime has miles of goodwill to burn through. It doesn’t really burn any here, just implies it might.

Fingers crossed Lemire’s got some plans. Right now, it doesn’t seem like he’s got any plans.

CREDITS

Writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Dean Ormston; colorist, Dave Stewart; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Brett Israel and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows #3 (May 2018)

Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows #3

I suppose this issue–where Doctor Star discovers he’s inadvertently inspired the creation of the Green Lantern Corps (different name, same exact idea)–is the best so far in the series. There’s a lot of dramatics and a lot of interstellar stuff.

The dramatics are more flashbacks with Doctor Star coming home. He argues with his wife, goes to Vietnam looking for his son, then finds his son in the hospital (presumably stateside). These scenes have a lot more dramatic fodder than the present day, where Doctor Star is trying to save his son from cancer. Why Lemire skipped out on the more dramatic stuff for the melodramatic tropes… just another of Doctor Star’s mysteries.

The space stuff is at least cool looking, thanks to Fiumara. It’s all a knock-off of Green Lantern now, but whatever, it does look good.

One more issue to go. There’s nowhere for Lemire to go at this point. But at least the book has stopped being as disappointing, though only because it’s a moot point now.

CREDITS

Writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Max Fiumara; colorist, Dave Stewart; letterer, Nate Piekos; editors, Brett Israel and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Black Hammer: Age of Doom #1 (April 2018)

Black Hammer: Age of Doom #1

Not a lot of content in Age of Doom #1 but it’s sure nice to have Dean Ormston back on Black Hammer. He didn’t ever really leave but the book’s been on hiatus awhile and you don’t realize how much you miss his sad superheroes’ faces until you see them again.

No, Jeff Lemire doesn’t solve the Black Hammer riddle. Lucy Weber, new Black Hammer, solves one riddle–though it’s unclear how she solves it, whether it’s because she discovered something or just found out when she got the hammer–and finds herself in a new one. Before she has a chance to tell anyone what’s going on.

So the regular cast is basically just regrouping–though them making a concerted effort is new for them–and getting their drink on.

It’s a little fast of a read and while Ormston does do a lot of detail in his panels, he doesn’t do very big panels. But it’s very nice to have Black Hammer Prime back.

CREDITS

Writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Dean Ormston; colorist, Dave Stewart; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Brett Israel and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows #2 (April 2018)

Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows #2

What’s really bad is I barely have any memory of Doctor Star #1 other than it not being particularly good and a Starman homage, certainly not for a Black Hammer brand title.

The second issue isn’t much better but it’s at least got space aliens.

Doctor Star is a terrible father. Well, not exactly. Not intentionally. But his dying son wants nothing to do with him; the issue’s got some flashbacks to the early fifties to explain it all. I suppose it gives Fiumara some cool stuff to draw, but then Lemire pulls him back to the mundane. Fiumara does better with the fantastic. His mundane is boring.

Outside being a crappy (but not exactly) dad, Doctor Star doesn’t have much character. He’s sad and he’s sorry. Nothing else. The flashback scenes showing him being busy dad to his son (as a kid) and loving his wife doesn’t make him into a character. It fleshes out the caricature with more caricature.

I suppose the book’s in a better place than it was after the first issue, but it’s a long way from solid.

CREDITS

Writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Max Fiumara; colorist, Dave Stewart; letterer, Nate Piekos; editors, Brett Israel and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows #1 (March 2018)

Ds1

Doctor Star and The Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows is a Black Hammer tie-in book–more a sidequel, with the WWII setting showing Abraham Slam and Golden Gail in their respective youths. It starts out a Starman homage (I assume, I’ve never read it but the protagonist’s name is James Robinson and his outfit is similar so… it’s pretty obvious).

Robinson narrates. Writer Jeff Lemire lays on the melancholy, which artist Max Fiumara visualizes quite well. Doctor Star never looks better than when it’s about some intense sadness and desperation. Not even when there are superhero things going on.

So the intense sadness should be the best part. And it’s not. It’s just intense and sad, something Lemire does exceedingly well with on Black Hammer and exceedingly poorly with Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows. Just think about that title. It’s so sad. Everything is so sad.

Other than being sad, being Starman homage, and having minor Black Hammer tie-in… there’s nothing to Doctor Star #1. Not good when there are only four issues.

CREDITS

Star Child; writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Max Fiumara; colorist, Dave Stewart; letterer, Nate Piekos; editors, Brett Israel and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil #4 (January 2018)

Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil #4

I wasn’t particularly concerned about Sherlock Frankenstein #4 going into it. I knew Lemire would have something good cooked up.

And he does. He and Rubín don’t just do the history of Sherlock Frankenstein, they do the history of the Black Hammer universe, at least in the twentieth century. It goes from Golden to Silver to Bronze. Lemire doesn’t break out all the heroes it goes through, just gives Rubín space to show off some familiar–and not familiar–designs.

Lots of double page spreads this issue. Rubín goes crazy with it to great success. Lucy and Sherlock’s meeting pays off.

And the ending of the book, which has very little to do with Black Hammer itself, is a perfect finish to this series. Lemire’s been doing a lot with the “supervillains” of BH. The finish embraces that work (more than it does having a Lucy investigates issue).

It’ll be interesting to see what Lemire does with the next spin-off, which is Lucy-less.

CREDITS

The Undying Love of Sherlock Frankenstein; writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, colorist, and letterer, David Rubín; editors, Cardner Clark and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil 3 (December 2017)

Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil #3

The only thing wrong with Sherlock Frankenstein is realizing it’s almost over. I don’t know why I thought it was six issues; just being hopeful, I guess.

Lucy’s investigation continues, even after someone has attacked her in the sanctuary. Real quick–apparently Black Hammer (the character) got his powers from the New Gods? I don’t think the New Gods and their planet were in Black Hammer. Maybe I’m wrong but… it seems like a fresh reveal.

Anyway, the investigation continues and Lucy makes a couple surprise discoveries. The first leads to a lovely scene from Lemire, who really gets to leave Hammer’s sadness aside when he writes Lucy. She’s got sadness, but it’s not that hopeless sadness. It’s a hopeful sort of sadness.

And that scene leads to the big reveal and the soft cliffhanger tag announcing the final issue. Boo, final issue. Yay, Sherlock Frankenstein.

Great art from Rubín, of course, including some fantastic double-page spreads. His little Lucy intro is great too.

CREDITS

Who is the Metal Minotaur?; writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, colorist, and letterer, David Rubín; editors, Cardner Clark and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil 2 (November 2017)

Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil #2

Lemire just won the Cthulhu game. For over ten years, comic book companies–usually indie ones–have been doing Cthulhu stuff. Boom!, Avatar (obviously), Archie, Dark Horse, Image. And Lemire just won it for Dark Horse with this issue of Sherlock Frankenstein.

In searching for her father, Lucy Weber meets Cthu-Lou II. He’s a sewer varient of Cthulhu’s chosen emissary on Earth and he’s not interested. He fights with his wife, who’s got a husband with an octopus head and no interest in super-villainy. They’ve got a sweet daughter, also with octupus head, but in a cute way. It’s just this sad story for Weber to encounter. There are clues too, but it’s really just this sad family.

Lemire couldn’t do it without Rubín though. Not at all. Rubín uses comic strip pacing for some of the issue, which makes the mundane hilarious and the terrifying genial. The expressive faces–it’s a talking heads issue–are wonderful.

It’s a fantastic comic. Lemire and Rubín each do great stuff here.

CREDITS

The Call of Cthu-Lou!; writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, colorist, and letterer, David Rubín; editors, Cardner Clark and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil 1 (October 2017)

Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil #1

The panel composition. David Rubín sometimes spirals the panels in double-page spreads, sometimes just moves action horizontal, always guiding the reader’s eye. It’s a visual treat, which is particularly awesome given it’s a talking heads issue.

Set before Lucy Weber joins Black Hammer, Sherlock Frankenstein and Legion of Evil has her investigating arch-villain Sherlock Frankenstein (think a mix of Sivana and Lex Luthor) in hopes of finding her father and the other heroes. Writer Jeff Lemire paces it well–he clearly loves writing Lucy Weber, the comic’s got first-person narration–and even the hinted revelations have a lot of weight. Though Frankenstein is probably incomprehensible if you haven’t kept up on Black Hammer.

Rubín’s art isn’t just amazing for the double-page spreads, it’s the single panels too. The way he visualizes Spiral City, modern technology amid grime, it’s breathtaking.

So good.

CREDITS

Whatever Happened to Sherlock Frankenstein?; writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, colorist, and letterer, David Rubín; editors, Cardner Clark and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Black Hammer 13 (September 2017)

Black Hammer #13

This issue wraps up the second arc. I haven’t decided if I’m going to wait for the trade or just read the second arc again in one sitting, because Black Hammer has arrived. Lemire and Ormston do New Gods, they do Darkseid (sort of), they do a big climatic finish, and it all works. Even when it seems, for a panel, like the pace is off, all of a sudden it’s right back on.

Lemire sets up a bit for the next arc, moving some characters around, then bakes in how he’s going to do the finale. It’s subtle and thoughtful. And Ormston’s panels are those heartbreaking Black Hammer panels. Lush desolation.

Black Hammer just keeps getting better.

CREDITS

Writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Dean Ormston; colorist, Dave Stewart; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Cardner Clark and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Black Hammer 12 (August 2017)

Black Hammer #12

David Rubín returns for another issue (maybe a few), with Lemire doing an origin story for Lucy Weber. The entire thing is flashback, starting when Lucy’s a kid (right after the heroes’ disappearance) and going until she starts investigating it as an adult. There’s some talking heads, some exposition, some foreshadowing; Rubín beautifully visualizes it all, making the final reveal–which is somewhat static–emotionally devastating. It’s a different kind of Black Hammer, but Lemire clearly knows how to do all kinds of them.

CREDITS

Writer, Jeff Lemire; artist and letterer, David Rubín; colorist, Dave Stewart; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Cardner Clark and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Black Hammer 11 (July 2017)

Black Hammer #11

It’s a bridging issue–though it’s still unclear what Lemire’s setting up. Lucy Weber continues her investigation, sort of recapping everything. Nothing new exactly, just some rather nice Ormston art. Barbalien has a showdown–both in the present and in flashback; it’s well-written, but it’s character development, not progressing the overall narrative. Again, some great Ormston art. Gail has the most dramatics, but not character development. Meanwhile Abraham sort of pops in to keep a couple of the other subplots alive. Black Hammer isn’t in idle, Lemire is arranging the pieces to move forward. It’s almost a mellow issue, even if it’s got a lot of emotional heft.

CREDITS

Writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Dean Ormston; colorist, Dave Stewart; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Cardner Clark and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Black Hammer 10 (June 2017)

Bh10

Has Black Hammer not had a big issue lately? Because this issue gives me the “momentous reveal” chills I got reading the first trade. Lemire works the whole thing on multiple levels–you get big moment on a character level for Barbalien, but there’s also a whole “what’s the mystery of Black Hammer” thing going on. And Lemire juxtaposes those subplots against Abraham Slam’s story and flashback. It’s really good.

Wonderful Ormston art this issue too. The flashback is awesome, but the modern stuff is so melancholic and disheartening. Real upper, this comic.

CREDITS

Writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Dean Ormston; colorist, Dave Stewart; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Cardner Clark and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Black Hammer 9 (May 2017)

Black Hammer #9

It’s a depressing issue. Lemire knows he’s going to do a depressing issue–he set it up with the previous issue’s cliffhanger–but he just drags the reader through it all. David Rubín fills in on the art, which is a fantastic mix of psychedelic and cartooning. His expressions on Colonel Weird, in a flashback to the Colonel’s younger, Adam Strange days, are phenomenal. It’s practically comic relief, which Lemire desperately needs for the comic. Black Hammer can be depressing, it can be despondent, but when something actually sad happens… it’s almost too much to bare (thanks to all the other stuff). It’s a solid issue with some great art.

CREDITS

Writer, Jeff Lemire; artist and letterer, David Rubín; editors, Cardner Clark and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Black Hammer 8 (April 2017)

Black Hammer #8

The strangest thing about Black Hammer, which I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed before–or did and didn’t comment on (or worse, did and did comment on)–is how both Lemire and Ormston excel at the tragedy. The comic is at its best when the characters are suffering their worst. This issue has a little bit of passive suffering–Gail has no happy memories–but also the active, confounded suffering of new addition Lucy Weber. Lemire has her the catalyst for possible change, giving the reader foolishly renewed hope for the characters. It’s a depressing issue, but gloriously so (Ormston has a great time with it); the cliffhanger is an evil shocker too.

CREDITS

Writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Dean Ormston; colorist, Dave Stewart; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Cardner Clark and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Black Hammer 7 (March 2017)

Blach Hammer #7

Lemire gets Hammer’s second storyline–with Black Hammer’s (the dead hero, not the comic itself) daughter showing up in the farm. There’s a lot of comedy, there’s a lot of tenderness (which Lemire and Ormston handle quite well), there’s a lot of flashback on Black Hammer. It’s a great issue with a way too effective soft cliffhanger. It’s like you’ve got an all-new series to read.

CREDITS

Writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Dean Ormston; colorist, Dave Stewart; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Cardner Clark, Brendan Wright, and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Black Hammer Giant-Sized Annual 1 (January 2017)

Black Hammer Giant-Sized Annual #1

It’s a double-sized (or at least over-sized) annual for Black Hammer, yay. Colonel Weird goes through the Paraverse pursuing a creature (who looks a bit like Starro) and going into flashbacks with each of the characters, with different artists. It’s good art, it’s sad superheroes, there’s lots of implied depth, it’s moody, it’s Black Hammer.

CREDITS

Writer, Jeff Lemire; artists, Nate Powell, Matt Kindt, Dustin Nguyen, Raw Fawkes, Emi Lenox, and Mike Allred; colorists, Dave Stewart, Sharlene Kindt, and Fawkes; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Cardner Clark and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Black Hammer: Secret Origins (2016)

Black Hammer: Secret Origins

Black Hammer looks like a horror comic. Dean Ormston’s art always suggests there’s something darker going on, even if writer Jeff Lemire didn’t hint at it all the time. There’s something creepy about the comic’s world; the cast of characters doesn’t know what’s going on, the reader doesn’t know what’s going on, Lemire doesn’t really hint at the details, just implies details exist. It makes for a disquieting reading experience, even though there’s nothing too dark going on.

More so, Lemire hints there isn’t anything much darker to be revealed, just sadder. Black Hammer is all about sadness. Sadness and secrets.

It’s also about a bunch of superheroes who find themselves transported to a farm in a rural town after they defeat a great enemy. Lemire bakes in the sadness–the superheroes weren’t happy before they left, so when the comic opens ten years after the event, it’s unlikely anything else is going to make them happy.

Abraham Slam in his younger days.
Abraham Slam in his younger days.

Except maybe Abe Slam, who’s pretty much the protagonist. He’s Captain America without the powers, only he didn’t leave his home dimension in the forties, he left it in the seventies or eighties when he was an old man and felt like he didn’t have a place anymore. Much to the chagrin of his fellow captives, he does find a place, being an old white guy farmer who romances the woman who runs the local diner. Her ex-husband’s the sheriff, which Lemire hints will come into play later, but not yet. Mostly Abe’s just contentedly getting by, mostly because he’s the only one of the captives who can.

The rest are either aliens, robots, mystically de-aged, supernaturally winged, or just plain unstuck dimensionally.

J'onn J'onzz--sorry, Mark Markz--arrives on Earth.
J’onn J’onzz–sorry, Mark Markz–arrives on Earth.

The alien is the Martian Manhunter stand-in–Lemire borrows from both Marvel and DC to fill out his cast, who weren’t a super-team so much as an assortment of superheroes. Barbalien. Turns out his not just hiding his true form, he’s also hiding he’s gay, which leads to some trouble. Because he’s keeping it a secret. Ten years stuck together on a farm and none of the characters seems to be upfront with any of the other. Some of it is the baked in sadness Lemire does, some of it is the sauce for the gander. Black Hammer is a heavy read. There’s not a bright sky in Lemire’s writing or in Ormston’s art. When the comic’s really going for it, it’s impossible to say who’s more effective, Lemire or Ormston. It’s impossible to imagine the comic without the two of them.

The robot is Talky-Walky, who is probably female–she doesn’t get her own issue in this collection–because she’s the sidekick of the unstuck fellow, Colonel Weird. He’s the Adam Strange stand-in who knows more about what’s going on than he can explain but in learning it, he’s gone mad. There’s the implication of unrequited love on her side. Back in the day, they used to travel to other planets and eradicate life because what else were they going to do to aliens in the Golden or Silver Age. Lemire makes a lot of subtle comments on old comics matter-of-factly. Again, he bakes it in.

Captain Weird explores... the weird.
Captain Weird explores… the weird.

Colonel Weird’s issue has some foreshadowing, but mostly it’s a dejected look at how these previously powerful characters can’t have any more power. Even though they do still retain a lot of their powers, if not all of them.

The de-aged person is Golden Gail. She’s a female Captain Marvel (Shazam Captain Marvel). Only she became Captain Marvel in the forties and whenever she changed into the hero, she became a nine year-old. So now she’s a middle-aged woman stuck in a nine year-old’s body. She’s probably the closest thing to comic relief, only it’s all so tragic and all so heavy, it’s never funny. Worse is when it turns out she’s got a crush she shouldn’t have. Lemire’s not happy unless Black Hammer is making someone unhappy; he’s also willing to take on that burden. He’s asking the reader for a lot of emotional investment and is doing so responsibly. There’s not a single time he asks for too much without it being necessary.

Shazam! Oh, you know what they mean.
Shazam! Oh, you know what they mean.

Then there’s Madame Dragonfly. She’s got the wings. She’s a witch consigned to a cabin who went out to save the world because just because she’s a cursed witch doesn’t mean she’s a bad guy. She’s the coolest character in the book. Lemire plays with tropes and standards, but Madame Dragonfly is something entirely her own. What if the narrator of a horror comic, gross with dragonfly wings and eye of newt and zombie dolls, wasn’t a bad guy. Her story finishes the collection; it’s where Lemire hints at things too terrible for even Black Hammer to reveal. Not too terrible in terms of horrific reveals, but too terrible in terms of human reveals. He takes his characters very, very seriously.

Madame Dragonfly helps save the world.
Madame Dragonfly helps save the world.

While most of the issues–except the first–have a single character emphasized, Lemire’s careful to continue his B plots and C plots. It’s a tightly constructed comic, both in Lemire’s plotting and how Ormston visualizes it. The series is upfront about its despondence, upfront in its deconstruction. It’s never overly ambitious. Lemire and Ormston are ambitious with it, but they always hit their marks.

It ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, both for the reader and the characters, which is sort of annoying. Not because it’s not well-executed, but because it means I need to wait for more Black Hammer.

CREDITS

Writer, Jeff Lemire; artist, Dean Ormston; colorist, Dave Stewart; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Ian Tucker, Cardner Clark, Brendan Wright, and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

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