By Will Holden
The Black Hammer superhero universe is a new and highly varied take on traditional superhero characters and concepts created by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston and published via Darkhorse Comics. The core concept of Black Hammer follows a group of ageing heroes from yesteryear who we find out have been trapped within the boundaries of a Southern United States town called Rockwood.
The heroes live together on Black Hammer farm just out of town, but have kept their identities secret from the rest of the populace. A few elements of these heroes’ new lives become clear early on: firstly, there is an invisible barrier around the town that doesn’t just stop our heroes from leaving but disintegrates them on contact, a fact found out by Black Hammer, for whom the farm is named. Secondly, this situation has come about following a large-scale, final battle against the Anti-God in the heroes’ home of Spiral City 10 years ago. The people of Spiral City believe the heroes to be dead and have no idea about the farm. One citizen of Spiral City who refuses to believe the heroes’ demise is Lucy Weber, the daughter of the original Black Hammer.
The Black Hammer universe expands in various directions from this core conceit with a handful of miniseries under the umbrella title of The World of Black Hammer. These titles have been mostly written by Jeff Lemire, with some exceptions, and various big names stepping in to complete writing and art duties including Matt Kindt, Wilfredo Torres and David Rubin. These comics introduce new characters or provide more background for characters we have already met. This includes stories set in a parallel time frame, such as Sherlock Frankenstein, his story is set after the heroes have disappeared from Spiral City and focuses mainly on Lucy Weber’s crusade to find the missing supes. Another direction for these miniseries is the future of superheroes in this universe in The Quantum Age. This story is set a few hundred years into the future of Spiral City and concerns the heroes that were inspired by the group that “died” fighting the Anti-God.
The characters themselves are largely homages to classic superheroes from the big 2 publishers, for instance Golden Gail is a sort of reverse Shazam. She must say a magic word (Zafram) but as apposed to the Billy Batson/Banana Man norm, Golden Gail turns into a super powerful 9-year-old. This is further complicated by the fact that in Rockwood, Gail is stuck in her 9 year old body, despite being in her 50’s in reality. Alongside Gail we have Abraham Slam, a Captain America analogue, Barbalien who has a striking resemblance to the Martian Manhunter and of course the big bad, Anti-God who’s Darkseid inspiration is worn on its sleeve. This is by no means a criticism; Black Hammer feels like an opportunity for Lemire to play with all his old toys but to tell stories with a mature and modern lens. These characters are complicated and have troubles that go beyond the usual fisticuffs.
If you are looking for a deep yet concise superhero universe with great art, storytelling and characters, look no further. You’re here.
5 Anti-Gods out of 5.