After two years, three spinoffs and two volumes, the bandage is finally ripped off.
Let me preface this writeup by saying that the Black Hammer main series has been a total revelation for me personally. It started off as what seemed to be a tribute/tongue-in-cheek parody of popular DC and Marvel super-teams, with a zany story of a group based off of them getting lost somewhere in the universe and having to find their way back home. But somewhere along the way, the emotional depth and resonance of these characters seemed to match and then eventually surpass that of their Big Two counterparts. While individual characters like Spider-Man and Batman have meant so much to me personally, the super-groups like Avengers and Justice League have not been my cup of tea. Perhaps this is because those individual personalities seem to get diluted, or maybe because there’s no guarantee of a singular vision or writer.
This has not been the case with Black Hammer. Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston have given these characters so much depth individually, but have gone beyond what their counterparts at other imprints have been able to do by giving the collective team a real bond that never once feels forced. While I would argue this second volume so far has seemed to delve into a bit too much tribute and parody, and too little of what truly made Black Hammer great, in this issue all of those concerns are swept aside and the book achieves its full potential.
At the end of the last issue, Lucy finds out that Madame Dragonfly and Colonel Weird were behind the heroes being stuck in Spiral City. The story continues and there is no evil mastermind sort of explanation, but instead there’s a lot of unapologetic resolve that doesn’t seem to be quite villainous. As for the rest of the gang, things seem to be going unusually well. There’s some more truth telling for Abe that doesn’t exactly turn out the way he envisioned, and during this scene we see even in spite of the gravity of the situation (pun intended?), the script never loses its wit or sense of humor. Later, Abe and Barbie the Martian reflect on their time at the farm and while briefly questioning why things seem to be getting better in their lives here, they seem ready to embrace the positive trends and resign themselves. This conversation reflects on whether ignorance is bliss, and the universal applicability of it makes it truly amazing.
However, Gail isn’t going to let them give in after she learns the truth of everything that’s been going on. She tinkers with the remnants of Talky Walky who reveals Dragonfly’s complicity, and her justified outrage that comes next is a thing of beauty. Even though Lucy has been the poster-child for volume 2, in this issue Gail reveals herself as the emotional core of the entire run. The anger she has that’s built deep within her and the betrayal she feels is special because it’s not for herself or the life she lamented missing out on (with Sherlock Frankenstein), but rather for her teammates and comrades who have been deliberately manipulated into wanting to stay on the farm.
None of this can prepare her (or the others, or the readers!) for the ending, which blows the door off everything that has come and massively expands the possibilities of what’s next. Lemire has been building towards this moment since issue #1 of the original series, and now that we’re finally here, I have a strong desire to go back all the way to the beginning and try to piece it all together to figure out where exactly we are and what hints were dropped along the way (even without doing this, I can already think of tons of scenes and situations that I have to rethink). This is the testament to a tightly executed plot that, in spite of many distractions posed by the massive initial success of the story and then the spinoffs that resulted, managed to stay disciplined and finally pay off to where we are now.
It’s the consistency in the visual storytelling that has helped us get this far. Lemire has gone with different artists for his spinoffs and while he has given Ormston a break for a few issues, there’s no one else who could have better brought the concept and themes behind this particular issue to life. Whether it’s Abe’s middle-aged gut or Dragonfly’s tears, the mix of realism and emotion conveyed by the little details in the visuals is endearing and awesome all at once. The expressions on the characters’ faces are as rich and varied as ever, and with the new status quo being revealed at the end, it will be interesting to see how Ormston adjusts his style going forward.
All I can say after this issue is wow…just wow. Two years’ worth of build up has finally paid off, and now I have no idea what’s going to happen next and I love it. This is what comics should be all about.