After more than a decade away from comics, I returned to my first love just before the launch of Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire. Around the same time, I started writing for CBR, and I immediately remembered what I loved so much about the medium. Comic book storytelling is unrivaled when it comes to creativity, and there were so many great creators delivering the goods at the time that recaptured my imagination.
Geoff Johns, Brian K. Vaughan, Grant Morrison and Mark Millar were all killing it on their respective books, but it was Jeff Lemire’s uplifting, albeit heartbreaking, post-apocalyptic Vertigo series, Sweet Tooth that truly renewed my passion for comics.
The surprise smash-hit gave Lemire near unlimited access to some of the most iconic superheroes in the history of DC Comics, but the Canadian cartoonist stayed true (north) to form reimagining lesser lights like Animal Man, Frankenstein and Superboy before setting his sights on Green Arrow with his now frequent collaborator Andrea Sorrentino.
Like many my age, my introduction to capes and tights was the Super Friends cartoon and ever since, I have loved team books so when Lemire united the Justice League with Animal Man, Green Arrow and Supergirl life was good for this fellow Canadian, especially when the series was set in Ontario; literal and figurative home of Essex County. A jarring continental shift to Marvel saw Lemire exit the Watchtower prematurely to take on Extraordinary X-Men, another favorite from my youth, and while the stories were unequivocally uncanny something was missing. Jeff Lemire was missing.
Which brings us to Black Hammer. I have interviewed Jeff Lemire more than any other creator since I started at CBR, and have spoke to him unofficially via phone and email countless other times over the past decade. And I can say that he loves superheroes. He loves the Golden Age. He loves the Silver Age. He loves Keith Giffen. And Paul Levitz. And James Robinson. And he loves all the foil covers and polybag wraps that have been unleashed since. But he is a creator in the truest sense of the word. And he couldn’t deliver the superhero story that he was meant to write until he was doing it with his own characters. And if you have read even a page (or panel) of his Dark Horse comic, you know Black Hammer is pure Lemire.
Black Hammer wouldn’t be what it is without artists Dean Ormston, David Rubín and Dave Stewart, but the world that has been created is everything that Lemire loves about comics. And I love too.
Lemire magically blends winks and nods to major comic book events like The Great Darkness Saga and Crisis on Infinite Earths in nearly every issue with unique and timely smaller moments that feel more like life on the farm then the dark underbelly of Gotham or the bright, blue skies of Metropolis.
Abraham Slam, Golden Gail, Colonel Weird, Madame Dragonfly, and Barbalien are timeless reinterpretations of timeless characters trapped in a seemingly timeless trap. What’s not to love?
Barbalien, an incredible amalgam of Conan the Barbarian and Martian Manhunter, is a personal favorite and his storyline, which explores his sexuality in this fantastic rural setting, is both brave and bold. Golden Gail and Madame Dragonfly are both powerful characters but as we have learned their secret origins throughout the series, these two women have become even more formidable when we see what they have overcome.
Colonel Weird, and his trusted sidekick Talky-Walky, is justly named but the Adam Strange analogue absolutely steals every page and panel that he drops into. And Abraham Slam, the glue of the team, is like Bruce Wayne from Dark Knight Returns without the Scrooge McDuck bucks backing him.
With Black Hammer: Age of Doom set to launch this April, I can’t wait to see what happens to the former superheroes of Spiral City as this fantastic voyage enters its next chapter.
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