Welcome to Black Hammer’s twist on the stages of grief.
When comic creators pull off a grand slam, it’s tempting for them to try and keep pushing for the same outcome every single time. But good creative teams understand that it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and pacing and spreading out all the goodies will have a better long-term outcome. For Black Hammer: Age of Doom, after the flawless and tumultuous issue #4, this installment is one for us to take a step back and see how our heroes react to what just happened.
We start off the issue with a flashback to the end of issue #1, and then we get to learn Lucy’s story and how she wound up on the ship. This is then followed up with the big secret of the entire Black Hammer series — the heroes defeating their arch-villain Anti-God created a cosmic imbalance of sorts that would have wreaked havoc on them and possibly the rest of the world. So Madame Dragonfly did something incredibly heroic and working with Col. Weird — transported all of them to his ship in the Para-Zone. The team’s reaction being one of fury to this news is probably an understatement. They go through the first few classic stages of grief — denial, anger, and bargaining — and we also learn a bit more about how Jim Weber, the original Black Hammer, actually died, before Col. Weird shares a surprise of his own that shocks even Madame Dragonfly herself.
This issue actually doesn’t have too much going on. There is no action. After the massive whopper that was dropped on us in the last chapter, that is totally appropriate. The reaction of the team needs to be the focus. Just think about it: they have been in stasis for ten years. This technique felt like a bit of a nod to arguably the best Star Trek: The Next Generation episode of all time, “The Inner Light,” except with a darker outcome and less sentiment. It compensates by letting us see the reaction of the team, which is something cool that unfortunately TNG didn’t do with Picard after he came out of his experience. And if the ending of the last issue threw the door open with possibilities, the ending of this issue literally tears the door off the hinges. Judging from the cover of the next issue, it’s going to get really Weird (with a capital “W”).
There are some really good visual moments in this issue as well. Ormston doesn’t get any big action shots to work with, but he recognizes the focus of this issue is going to be on reaction and emotion, and he goes all in. There is a cool way he manages to display a sense of weariness on everyone’s face. Doctor Star in particular is a highlight. If you have read the brilliant miniseries (which is coming out in November as a TPB!) no words are needed to explain why he has a sad look on his face as he thinks about his time with Col. Weird, Black Hammer and the rest of the team. Even Weird himself, who is usually shown with his crazy-eyed look, has a moment where he looks genuinely defeated and sad.
It’s not all perfect this time, though. While the move by Madame Dragonfly to save the team and put them in stasis is cool and heartbreaking, the “cosmic imbalance” concept came across as very cliched to me. While it may have forced the team to insert an extra issue of flashback here for exposition, perhaps actually showing team celebrating their victory against the Anti-God followed by the dreaded negative impact of the imbalance hitting them would have been more appropriate and drove home the message. Then you could have had Madame Dragonfly and Col. Weird quickly pull off their spell and barely anything would have had to change. As it stands, the scenario on its own rings a bit too hollow in its attempt to be simple. The other thing that bothered me was that in the middle of the anger, fury, sadness and desperation, there isn’t much of a focus on the dynamic between the team itself. Usually in these emotionally powerful moments throughout the series, we have gotten some take on the interplay between the group as a whole, or some reminder of why they all need to stick together. But this time around, it’s just individual team members going after Dragonfly or Weird while the others stand by.
The latest installment of the Age of Doom series takes the foot off the gas, but that is a good thing. With such a whopper of a reveal, our heroes (and us readers!) need time to process it all and that’s exactly what this issue does. However, we should enjoy this respite for as long as we can, because there is absolutely no telling what the next issue is going to have in store as we enter parts completely unknown.