Black Hammer: Secret Origins

Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Dean Ormston
Colors by Dave Stewart
Letters by Todd Klein

Published by Dark Horse, 2017
152 pages.

Buy it HERE.

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Comic book writers like Super Heroes a lot. There's something about the variety of ways that Super Heroes can manipulate their environments that spurs the creative ideas of your every day comic book writer.

Jeff Lemire in his afterward mentions this story being in his head for many years, and it shows. A Golden Age (1940s) Super Hero Team battle their one last nemesis in Spiral City: a Colossus called The Anti-God is vanquished by the blow of Black Hammer, but they all vanish in a huge ball of light. Secret Origins concerns the team surviving somehow on a lost farmhouse that they cannot escape from. Also, Black Hammer didn't come back with them.

Particularly peeved is a young girl named Gail who is really a 55 year old woman. Back in the day her super power was a kind of reverse Captain Marvel, where by saying a magic word she can morph into Golden Gail. Like boy Billy Batson changing to grown-up Captain Marvel, Gail changes to the 8 year old Golden Gail when using her super powers. The problem for her is when they're on the farm 10 years after the change she can never change back into an adult: she's forever 8 years old.


Other super heroes are:

  • Martian shape shifter alien Barbalien
  • Aging fighter Abraham Slam
  • Madame Dragonfly, an occult witch
  • Colonel Randel Weird
  • trusty female robot side-kick to Col. Weird named 'Talky Walky'.

In the story Col. Weird can indeed travel beyond the boundaries to other dimensions but only he can, and he drifts in and out of awareness, his eyes staring orbs and white beard unkempt inside his spacesuit.


Style conscious.

Black Hammer's Dean Ormiston keeps the tone askew and strange as a style choice. His look at times channels Kirby and Ditko when called for, namely epic colossal or quirky strange. He keeps his line open enough for Dave Stewart's colors to really set the mood.

I for one am not a huge fan of Super Hero stories as a default. Comic books can be about anything. Being a person equipped with extraordinary powers is cool for sure, but not the be-all and end-all. That being said I very much enjoyed reading this and took a few mental notes in my 'non-superhero' work for the future, stuff like dialog, pacing, mood, scene changes.

Keeping it real and relatable.

Everything in Black Hammer flows so effortlessly in spite of having a fairly detailed plot. Flashbacks, five super hero stories, the dimensional traps... I don't know how Jeff Lemire does it but I never needed to make an extra effort to understand what's going on. It has something to do with the setting. Jeff sets his stage on a farm in a remote place. Nothing to see here. Then he walks you in slowly with what each character is up to, stranded here on their 10th anniversary of the big 'change'.

Then, in classic bait-and-switch style Jeff turns this into a simple 'old man meets cute old woman' love story. Will Abraham be able to get his new sweetheart without revealing his or the other superheroes' secrets? Doing stuff like this is like throwing out a rope for the reader to clutch onto.

Fantastic Worlds.

Lastly, I can't help but stop and admire the beauty and power of some of these panels. The barn with Talky Walky's contraption: the sixth attempt at making a flying probe to explore their imposed boundary. The green tinged nostalgic look back at Spiral City. The gritty brown and grey realism of a dirty alleyway.

The imagery was enough to enjoy, and when I have a great story coupled with it I REALLY enjoy it -and start to take notes!

Next Tuesday:

Dead Inside.

Another 'stylized' kind of art from Toni Fejula and Andre' May. Story by John Arcudi.


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