By Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston & Dave Stewart
Issue #2 of Black Hammer gives readers more pieces to the puzzle, though it is far from solved, and that’s a good thing. We get more elaboration on the ordeal rather than the situation. Whatever is going on seems less important for now as opposed to how the characters are dealing with their seemingly doomed existence. The first issue masterfully set up the plot while introducing us to some great character development, all while holding the cards very close to the chest. Issue #2 does its part in taking everything one step further…and only one step. There’s still a lot of mystery, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy watching the characters interact, even grow as individuals, while the mystery plays out one way or another.
Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth) progresses the story, establishing a timeline, by way of Golden Gail’s backstory – the Capt. Marvel / Shazam-like character who in this case happens to be an adult trapped in the body of a youth. The homage takes a turn here and explores a different aspect of a magic word that can alter an average human into a super powered being. The turn takes a twist when the super-powered version is not only a child, but also frozen in that adolescent form. Lemire manages to create what feels like his own story while clearly building on existing comics all in order to explore common tropes from a fresh perspective.
But what is going on and how long before we find out what exactly has our heroes trapped and why? Did they do something to deserve it? We may have an idea of how long they’ve been trapped, but who is the one called Black Hammer and how did he escape? The questions, though they persist, thankfully don’t cause confusion or distract from the comic whatsoever. The story is more about the complexities of personal relationships as they pertain to super-powered beings that don’t appear to be in a position to live up to their potential to “do good.” The glimpses we’re given of their Golden Age exploits serve as a satisfying moment for a superhero comic that is otherwise a family drama. Make no mistake, those same scenes – which are called out as “The Golden Age” in the actual comic – leave us wanting more for sure.
In classic comic books there was the often and formulaic approach of creating stories where heroes always got caught by an elaborate trap customized for their weaknesses. Despite how clever a super villain’s trap may have been, it was only ever a matter of time before the protagonist foiled plans, made an escape, and saved the day. And so, you have to wonder just how long can Black Hammer go on before either giving up some of the secrets or showing these guys in real action-oriented situations. How long can the brooding go on for the characters, and could it soon begin for readers? That’s probably a silly question, because this book is without a doubt incredibly entertaining. Nevertheless, if you like the characters, you’ll want to see them at their best and thriving right? If, in the end, the premise turns out to be focusing on the trap and not the escape, then it it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves without growing stale.
Actually, it’s the Golden Age sequences that allow for the art to really shine. Not that the art ever takes a back seat to the writing, although it is certainly the flashbacks that give artist Dean Ormston (Bodies) and colorist Dave Stewart (Hellboy) a chance to mix it up a bit. There is a noticeably different color palette that relies more on saturation than blending, but it’s the subject matter that creates the starkest contrast. We go from moody and dreary landscapes on the farm to a giant robot terrorizing Spiral City in a move that seems as refreshing for the artists as it does the reader. There are probably some Easter-eggs planted in these scenes that take us, even momentarily, back to other classic comic books.
Fact is, glorious battles aside, learning more about characters during the flashbacks definitely informs their current, present day frustration, stress and sadness. Perhaps we’ve become too accustomed to what a superhero comic should be. If so, then this book, especially issue #2, does a great job at using some very familiar aspects in order to reprogram readers on what to expect from a comic book. After all, those Golden Age scenes (and the ones that follow) feel more like a look back at old comic book back issues rather than a true flashback or a character’s memory. Are we in store for a sort of meta-universe-experience? Perhaps it’s as simple as ‘nothing is what it seems.’ Either way, you gotta love it when a comic makes room for endless speculation. Anything can happen, anything may have happened already, and it’s recommended that everyone stay tuned and keep picking up the monthlies in order to find out!