By Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston and Dave Stewart
Black Hammer #3 is remarkable. Even the slightest interaction between characters has an impact on the game-changing experience that this comic book has become. Black Hammer radiates a rare excellence that gets brighter with each issue and “The Warlord of Mars” is by far the best example yet.
Since this is the third issue, you should know this review will be told within the context of the first two issues, but don’t worry, no spoilers.
The mystery is beginning to crack open, although the clues writer Jeff Lemire (Roughneck) chooses to give us are well placed. He knows when to throw us off a little, when to surprise us, and all while he continues to build a highly authentic world. The irony is that this has all been done before. But leave it to this creative team to refine the subject to the point of completely original content. Mark Markz, a.k.a. Barbalien the Warlord of Mars, takes center stage and we learn all about his origins on Earth. Again, this is as much a deliberate retelling (of DC’s J’onn J’onnz the Martian Manhunter) as it is a new chapter in an original story. Actually, the book’s entire approach seems to be to tell the story of the Justice League of America as if it were never told at all. It’s more than familiar and totally different at the same time, which is exactly what is so remarkable about this book. That’s also why it’s a game-changer, in that it challenges the entire industry to step it up in terms of quality in a world where it feels like everything’s already been done.
And it’s not just the writing. The artwork in Black Hammer goes miles beyond expectations to give us a book that actually one ups itself with each new issue. Artist Dean Ormston (Judge Dredd) and legendary colorist Dave Stewart (B.P.R.D.) depict this universe consistently, but it definitely feels more realized as the series progresses. Whether it’s a meteor-like object plummeting through a city at night, or a car parked in an alley as it begins to snow, there is an undeniably, inviting warmth to the illustration. Leaves falling outside of a church are as dynamic as a thoughtless decapitation on another planet. These are the panels between the action and drama, which serve as a means of reinforcing the tone overall. Ormston uses those trademark heavy blacks of his to balance his delicate line work, a contrast reflective of the plotline. Likewise Stewart does his part to tell the story through painterly effects and coloring. His choice of specific colors, and color palettes create emotion and communicate the absolute perfect degrees of intensity from scene to scene. Dave Stewart’s style allows for action to exist on the same page as drama without one tone overpowering the other, which makes for a complete package.
Each member of the creative team owns their responsibility to create a cohesive, believable world no matter how fantastic the circumstances may be. There are quiet, personal moments, that can be — even awkwardly so — all too human, but Lemire, Ormston and Stewart don’t hesitate to remind us it’s under the premise of super-heroes and their inability to fit in. No matter past, or present, one thing is clear: the fact that these super heroes exist is enough to create unbalance in the lives of everyone they come into contact with. Even hiding their abilities isn’t enough to subdue their disruption on society, and in telling their backstories we also realize the effect it’s had on them personally.
The word is out, Black Hammer is a success and a must-have comic. Fortunately it looks as if we’ll be getting more character backstories before it’s over too. And, besides the obvious question of where the heroes are trapped and whether they’ll manage to escape, readers have got to be wondering about an even bigger mystery…who and where is Black Hammer?