By Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, and Dave Stewart
Most of us have never personally taken hallucinogenic drugs and now, thanks to Black Hammer #5, we wont have to in order to know what it’s like. Hold on to your hats, folks, because this issue goes all out as we “follow” Col. Weird into the para-zone. Jeff Lemire (Descender), Dean Ormston (The Sandman) and Dave Stewart (Hellboy in Hell) present their abstract take on DC’s Adam Strange in a story that suspends reality and goes about its business without a sense of up and down, before and after, or forwards and backwards. There’s also art reminiscent of Steve Ditko’s work on Doctor Strange, so it’s likely the inspiration for this character and story stem from more than once source of comic book nostalgia. The funnest part about Black Hammer is piecing those inspirations together as you read along.
Black Hammer #5 capitalizes on everything we love about weird comics, and proves you can still generate a wide variety of emotional reactions with simple two-dimensional artwork. And “dimensional” is the key word here as we get an idea of how chaotic it is being the Colonel. Issue #5 not only lets us get up close and personal with the para-zone, it also shows the effect it’s had on Col. Weird’s mental and physical well being. After this story you’ll no doubt agree that it’s no wonder his actions and words are so easily misinterpreted. Lemire writes such meaningful dialogue in this series; you can learn about a character without them stepping into the spotlight. Black Hammer is one of those rarities that introduces us to characters in such a way that we connect with them even when they make sparse appearances. Col. Weird is maybe the best example because so far we’ve been spotted him randomly while he actively tries to find a way out of the group’s current predicament. If you’re confused by that last sentence, then don’t forget, four issues are already out there. The story has been progressing steadily through each hero’s origin story and past experiences, while keeping us up to date on their present lives. Relationships are essentially forced on each person in the story due to proximity, whether they choose to make the best of it or not. It would appear that Col. Weird’s desire to escape outweighs his need to fit in to his surrogate family — though he does make attempts — and not without some degree of mental sacrifice. Talk about abstract! The more you analyze this story the less it feels like a superhero book, although make no mistake, it is one of the best and most original superhero-team books going at the moment.
This issue wraps up the first arc beautifully without giving anything away. Although we may have glimpsed Black Hammer himself last issue, we’re still clueless as to what is actually going on and whether our heroes, such as they may be, will ever escape the country-farm they are trapped on. Between art and writing, Black Hammer has done more than find it’s voice, it’s created a sense of branding that can be defined best in the last two pages of this issue. There is a delicate balance that exists in the dialogue, artwork and color, which creates a pleasant paradox between the subject matter and it’s presentation. No matter how bizarre things started out, and despite the idea that things are only getting stranger, it’s really impressive that a sense of normalcy can still exist. It’s in the way the characters talk to each other that shows they long for a more rational way of life. It’s in Dean Ormston’s artwork and the way the characters can seemingly relax and come to terms with frustrating, and paralyzing situations. And it’s in the color, by Dave Stewart, where we find warm and appealing settings and moments of calm reflection. One minute we’re soaring through unknown parts of the universe and seeing things the human eye shouldn’t be able to see, then suddenly enjoying the quiet company of a fellow captive who, although not experiencing that captivity in the exact same way, can still display unifying empathy.
There’s plenty more to come after this first arc, titled “Secret Origins”, including a giant-sized annual! What will the future hold for Black Hammer now that we’ve learned about most of the individual characters’ pasts? It’s exciting just thinking about the possibilities, but it’s safe to say we’re in good hands with this team based on the results they’ve already produced.
Black Hammer isn’t just a five-star comic, it’s a five-star series and it has taken fans by storm. Anyone reading is surely talking it up with fellow collectors, and on that note, be sure to grab those variant covers by Lemire himself before they’re gone. This book redefines excellence at every step and, somehow, it only seems to be getting better.