Black Hammer's core characters are respectful pastiches of Silver and Golden Age heroes. But despite the fictional nature of their environments (Spiral City and the Farm), Black Hammer is far more "real world" than the originals ever were. This makes for a refreshing and engaging read. And the series has become so popular that we've even seen a Justice League crossover.
Most of the tributes to old DC and Marvel characters are pulled off with style and finesse. But despite their inherent coolness, sometimes you just can't outdo a classic. Here are 5 Characters That Are Cooler than the Characters They’re Based on (And 5 That Aren’t)
10 Cooler: Abraham Slam
Slam's inspiration is up for debate because it's possible he's also partly based on Captain America. But the Golden Age Atom (Al Pratt) was probably the main influence when Jeff Lemire brought the character to life on the page. Both characters were physically unremarkable. Both trained hard to make themselves stronger and used their newfound strength as their superhero alter egos to fight for the downtrodden.
Slam's costume is clearly derivative of Pratt's second outfit with the fin on the mask/helmet, and so is his back story. The difference is, Slam has far more emotional depth than the Atom ever did. He wrestles with his inferiority complex and tries constantly to hold the inhabitants of the Farm - the only family he has - together. The Atom was really just an analogue of the typical once-downtrodden hero that's featured in many stories.
9 Not Cooler: Mister Grizzly
Mister Grizzly is a hairy Wolverine wannabe who lives in "Limbo Land" - a place where unrealized characters from incomplete stories live. Granted, he probably wasn't actually meant to be as cool as Wolverine. He's an intentionally clumsy homage to Logan's famed Weapon X.
In the pages of Black Hammer: Age of Doom #7, he describes himself as a "Mad science experiment gone wrong. Part man, part grizzly bear. The most feral anti-hero Spiral ever saw. I would'a been real popular in the nineties". So, essentially, Mister grizzly is a parody of not just Wolverine, but all the things that made the nineties "Grim & Gritty".
8 Cooler: Barbalien
Mark Markz - Barbalien - is a J'onn J'onzz (Martian Manhunter) homage that has become far more relevant that his green DC Comics counterpart. Alienated (no pun intended) because of his homosexuality and peace-loving nature on Mars, he goes to Earth on a mission to find out more about humanity. He establishes a successful career as a police officer and becomes very close to his partner, Cole, who he eventually falls in love with.
Sadly, Cole does not reciprocate. And Barbalien is ostracized as a result of homophobic bigotry once again, when those he called friends turn on him. He's not only a stranger in a strange land, he's also an undeserving victim of hate, who just craves love - and an extremely topical character that resonates in today's sociopolitical climate.
7 Not Cooler: Jack Sabbath
Deadman (Boston Brand) is the inspiration for Jack Sabbath, a ghostly guide from the afterlife who roams the spiritual and infernal planes. Most notably, he allied himself with the new Black Hammer (Lucy Weber) in Hell (Black Hammer: Age of Doom #2) and was a member of the Liberty Squadron "back in the day".
Deadman's history dates back to 1967, when he was first brought to life (well, sort of) by Arnold Drake and comics legend Carmine Infantino, in the first story to depict narcotics in a mainstream comic book. Deadman maintains his relevance to this day. And his history just has more "gravitas" than Jack Sabbath's.
6 Cooler: Madame Dragonfly
Madame Dragonfly works because she's not necessarily based on a single character. She's a combination of the best parts of a few. She's a hybrid of Joe Orlando and Michael Kaluta's Madame Xanadu and characters that "hosted" classic horror anthology comics in the Silver and Bronze Ages - like the Cryptkeeper in Tales From the Crypt, the Vault-Keeper in Vault of Horror, and Cain and Abel in DC's House of Mystery.
Like Madame Xanadu, she's not just a narrator, she's a character in the story. She brings all the atmosphere and magic of the classic horror comics to Black Hammer and becomes a more complicated, sympathetic version of the characters she's inspired by.
5 Not Cooler: Anti-God
Anti-God is more like a plot device than a character. He's visually a lot like Jack Kirby's Darkseid and the Apokoliptian despot God is clearly the inspiration for his character (with a bit of Galactus thrown in). Anti-God is the earth-shatteringly evil catalyst that kills Black Hammer and was instrumental in exiling Spiral City's heroes to the Farm.
DC's Darkseid is a classic, well-developed villain who's had the Justice League on their knees and even done the unthinkable: Killed Batman (although he was resurrected and his death explained away, of course). Anti-God is a mere shadow of Darkseid, but he does serve a purpose.
4 Cooler: Colonel Weird
Black Hammer's Adam Strange pastiche has gone on to outdo his Silver Age comics counterpart, simply by being far more interesting. Throughout Black Hammer and Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Weird is a shadow of his former heroic self, who's always hinting, through his seemingly nonsensical ramblings, that there's a much bigger picture at play in the greater storyline.
He emerges as very important when we get to the bottom of why the heroes are stuck on the Farm, and his adventure in Limbo Land turned out to be a touching and very human tale. He's an intriguing and dynamic character, whereas Adam Strange is a walking sci-fi trope with a dated back story and a character range that's significantly more limited than Weird's.
3 Not Cooler: Sherlock Frankenstein
This one may be hotly contested. And there's no doubt that Sherlock Frankenstein is a great character in his own right - as are most of the characters in the Black Hammer universe. He's a multidimensional, complicated personality whose emotional trauma has made him extremely conflicted.
But sometimes, the less complicated villains just work. And Doctor Sivana has worked since 1940. Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana is Captain Marvel's (Shazam's) arch-enemy. He's the classic mad scientist whose motivations are purely self-serving. He's creepy as hell and we've loved to hate him for decades.
2 Cooler: Golden Gail
Gail Gibbons started out as a fairly obvious nod to Billy Batson (Shazam!). Like Billy, she's an orphan who's been through the wringer and was granted great power by a mysterious wizard, who gave her a magic word (Zafram). Saying her magic word triggers her transformation into the mighty Golden Gail.
There's one key difference between the original Captain Marvel and Golden Gail, though. Billy Batson's character is transformed from a child into a super-powered adult - probably every child's fantasy - but Gail's super-powered form remains a child. Turning the concept on its head this way leaves you with a chain-smoking, world-weary nine-year-old who's got the mind of a cynical adult.
Being trapped in this form on the Farm makes the prospect of romance with an adult impossible, and her appearance means that she's often expected to behave like a child. Her general frustration, jaded demeanor and strong character make her a multi-layered personality that we'd love to know more about.
1 Not Cooler: Grimjim
When he appears as an inmate of Spiral Asylum in Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil #1, this unsettling character is an apparent homage to the Joker. The big difference is that Grimjim is superpowered and immortal. This may elevate him above the Joker's physical power level and render him unkillable (as per the World of Black Hammer Encylopedia). But where he surpasses the Joker for power, he's lacking in villainous mystique.
Batman's arch-enemy has, over the years, and through seminal literary masterpieces like Batman: The Killing Joke, been established as one of the most influential comic book villains of all time. Screen versions of the Joker (perhaps with the exception of Jared Leto's) have also entrenched him in popular culture. And the new Joaquin Phoenix vehicle is already making major waves. So, cool as Grimjim may be, the Joker is a particularly hard act to follow.
NEXT: EXCL: Black Hammer: Age of Doom #12 Preview Brings a Big Emotional Reveal