Since it came out in 2016, Jeff Lemire's superhero pastiche Black Hammer has given us some of the coolest characters in comics today. The deconstructed superhero story starts out in a mysterious limbo state where a group of former heroes deals with life post-heroing. We plucked out our favorite characters from that strange prison, plus a couple of their associates, and ranked them by who we thought was the coolest. If you're not reading Black Hammer, you should get your hands on a copy. And if you have, here's our list of the 10 coolest Black Hammer characters, ranked.
10. Doctor Star
Just because he's number 10 on this list doesn't mean Doctor Star isn't awesome. Star is creator Jeff Lemire’s tribute to the Golden Age of comic book superheroes, and what a tribute he is. Star is, like a lot of old-time heroes, a scientist and adventurer. He's one who pursues justice and information in the same amount. Doctor Star's solo series, The Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows, layers the Golden Age fun of his character onto modern-day consequences, placing him at the center of an emotional family drama. Once you read Black Hammer, you can't go wrong by following up with Doctor Star's story.
9. Golden Gail
Like Shazam, Golden Gail was blessed with incredible superpowers as a child. As she continued to age, her powered other self did not, in a weird twist on the Billy Batson/Shazam relationship. Gail is in her 50's now, but in the strange temporal prison she shares with her peers, Gail is trapped in the body of her 9-year-old self. Out of everyone in this list, Gail might have it the worst. Not only is she locked out of her old life and old world. She’s locked out of her old(er) body, too.
8. Abraham Slam
Abraham Slam is somewhere between Captain America and DC Comics classic character Wildcat. He’s a two-fisted, death-defying do-good, who makes up for his lack of powers with spunk and an unshakable belief in what’s right. At least, that’s what he was. Now, Abraham is an old man, trapped with his fellow heroes in their weird purgatory. Perhaps that’s why he’s so reluctant to go back to heroing. Or perhaps it’s just that he found a villain he couldn’t take down with a right hook: time.
7. Black Hammer
We don’t actually see much of the titular character in Black Hammer. By the time we meet his fellow heroes in their weird abode, Black Hammer is dead. Still, there’s a very cool origin for this character, which we get mostly in flashbacks. Joseph Weber was an average man, just trying to do what he could to help the world. That all changed when Starlok, an All-Father figure like Odin or Highfather, bestowed on him a magical, Thor-like hammer that granted him incredible powers. Black Hammer was Earth’s greatest champion from then on. Even in his final act (read the book to learn more!) Black Hammer proves himself worthy to be the name on the cover of this comic.
The hero known as Barbalien shares a lot of characteristics with DC’s Martian Manhunter. Like MM, Barbalien is a Shape-shifting alien, one who must constantly disguise himself as a human to hide his true identity. Not only must he disguise his true appearance, but often his true feelings. As a gay man, Barbalien faced prejudice from his former days as a city cop and as someone trapped in a small-minded town. Every character in Black Hammer has it rough, but no one is quite as alone as Barbalien.
When Jeff Lemire decided to create a villain that was both 100% comic book-y and utterly terrifying, we don't know if even he knew just what he'd come up with. Anti-God is the lovechild of Galactus and Darkseid, a creature of such chaos and destruction that all of reality trembles in his presence. He is doom in 2D, a science-fictional allegory for everything bad and hateful in the world. We really have to give it to Lemire on this one. There are some really bad characters in comics these days, but none as genuinely unnerving as the Anti-God.
4. Colonel Weird
Comics have always been trippy, but they got especially so in the mid-'80s to early '90s. That's around the time that Alan Moore's Swamp Thing came out, and it wasn't long before Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol followed.
Colonel Weird feels like Lemire's tribute to those times, even though he's got a name and backstory similar to the Silver Age's Adam Strange. Weird's name is probably the most appropriate in this book, as he's constantly phasing between our reality and the "Para-Zone."
Weird is a constant mystery in the story, even making us question whether or not he's actually a good guy. The one thing we know about Colonel Weird is that he will never do what's expected. He'll place his wildcard antics into the already fraught drama of Black Hammer, making for an even better–much weirder—plot.
3. Madame Dragonfly
If you're looking for the superhero who inspired Madame Dragonfly, you won't find one. Actually, Lemire took Dragonfly not from any superhero comic at all, but from the horror anthology comics of the '70s. Titles like Tales from the Crypt and House of Mystery were the influence behind this witchy addition to the Black Hammer universe; it's the fact that she's from another genre that makes her character is so cool. Whatever Jeff Lemire has planned for her in BH, we hope that she gets her own spooky series. It feels like there simply aren't enough horror anthologies in comics anymore.
Or maybe it's just that there never will be?
2. Black Hammer II
In just 12 issues of a comic, Jeff Lemire created a legacy character as endearing as Dick Grayson's Batman or Carol Danvers's Captain Marvel. The second Black Hammer, Lucy Weber, takes up her father's title after years of investigating his death. When she does, it's a moment of triumph and revelation in an otherwise grim and murky story. Lucy isn't just based on another superhero, she's the best product that could come out of a superhero world. She is equal parts inspired by others and inspiring to others, which earns her a very high place on this list.
1. Sherlock Frankenstein
Look, good guys just aren't as fun as bad guys. Every comic book reader knows this. That's probably why Sherlock Frankenstein (mad scientist and arch-nemesis of Golden Gail) got his own spinoff series from Jeff Lemire.
Frankenstein is everything that makes Silver Age villains great. His plans are wicked and way too complex. His genius is unmatched and yet somehow always overcome. Heck, the first time we see him he's literally attacking a city in a giant robot. Frankenstein is every villain from Lex Luthor to Doctor Doom, and for that, we think he deserves the number one spot.
What do you think of our Black Hammer character rankings? Do you disagree with it, or are there any we left off the list? Let us know in the comments section below!