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‘Black Hammer Volume 1: Secret Origins’ TPB (review)

Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Dean Ormston
Colored by Dave Stewart
Cover Art by Dean Ormston
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: March 29, 2017
Price: $14.99
ISBN-13: 978-1-61655-786-7

Jeff Lemire’s vision of a superhero universe, rooted deep in his indie roots comes to fruition today in the release of the first volume of Black Hammer (Dark Horse Comics).

Drawn with a Mignola-esque sensibility, the art by Dean Ormston (2000 AD, Sandman Mystery Theatre) drops you into this new universe that is as much Kirby as it is Lemire’s own Sweet Tooth.

Let us back up a couple of steps. Why should you read this book about a superhero team from another dimension trapped within a 10 mile radius of a simple farm house?

The answer is simple: This book is very good.

The first volume of Black Hammer collects the first 6 issues, with issue #7 coming out just last week to great applause.

Again, what is all the fuss about? For those along for the ride they’ve discovered a golden age superhero team exactly ten years after becoming stuck on another dimension. What appeals to high functioning comics geeks is the retelling of familiar origin stories ranging from Captain America to Superman and all the way over to Adam Strange, Captain Marvel, Daredevil and Martian Manhunter mixed up in a blender to have you questioning, ‘have I read this before’?

The brilliance is that you may have read this before, and not in the ways that Invincible or Savage Dragon or Millar’s Jupiter’s Legacy approaches rebuilding familiar blocks of comic storytelling. This approach is uniquely Lemire’s. By bringing Essex County to Kirby’s Fourth World spliced with Swamp Thing and EC Horror, Black Hammer has a hometown feel.

The aforementioned farm town on which the team lives is similar in ways to Kent Farm in Smallville, but also has it’s own Twin Peaks eerie vibe. There’s simply no way to paint the picture of Black Hammer without running around the bases and dropping these references. While I could be slightly off the mark, these feelings of familiarity are very deliberate, showcased by the variant cover pastiches separating issues of the comic in the trade.

In the back matter notes, Lemire reveals his ideas for Black Hammer have been cooking for some time, and while some characters were scrapped, the team of Golden Gail, Barbalien, Abraham Slam, Col. Weird and Dragonfly are introduced with their own separate issues that also carry the overarching story. Who or what is Black Hammer? Is it the name of the team? The town? The diner where Abraham’s love interest Tammy works? If you dare — read the comic and issue #7 to find out!

You are hit with origins issue after issue until the picture of team dynamic is made clearer. Mostly, Gail is trapped in a 9 year-old’s body, though in reality she is much older, the team’s robot Talky-Walky is designing probe after probe to escape the farm, Barbalien is dealing with repressed sexuality and to be honest, Col. Weird spends most of his time in the Para-Zone to make much sense. Dragonfly is the supernatural outcast living in a cabin on the outside rim of the farm, and all the while, fatherly Abraham Slam tries desperately to keep up appearances to the townspeople.

We’re given brief glimpses to their home dimension that they are so desperate to get back to. Back on Spiral City they defeated a villain known as Anti-God. The actions of the superhero team have transformed them…and transferred them to the team’s current whereabouts at the ‘Mystery Farm’.

Our way in to the story is with the first solo story, issue #2’s Golden Gail. Her origin is much like Shazam/Captain Marvel, but on the farm currently she is a 54 year-old in a body of a child, masquerading every day as the school bus comes and she says goodbye to Grandpa (Abraham). This is more of Lemire deftly plopping the reader into small town Canada by way of superhero storytelling. Brilliant stuff.

As mentioned previously, if you are hooked, you are hooked, and you don’t need Black Hammer  sold to you. I’m confident, however that if you read your way through this trade paperback, a second trip to the store or your online retailer will engage you to pick up issue #7, revealing the actual Black Hammer and an even deeper connection to comic book stories of the past.

Recommended for the high-minded comics reader that may feel they have read all beyond what superheroes have to offer. Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston have something different here, and possibly it is what you are looking diving deep into the independent comic book scene.

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