Black Hammer has always been known for its patient storytelling. The stories are never rushed, making them more enjoyable and the payoffs more meaningful. They can be weird and cover a wide array of topics, but there is never reason to doubt they will turn out good. That was, until Black Hammer ’45. Released by Dark Horse Comics, BH45 is takes a while to pull the reader into its story. Has the damage been done or is it able to turn things around?
BH45 takes place during World War II. It’s 1945 and the fighting is on the verge of ending. The Black Hammer Squadron is an elite group of African-American pilots who have fought and won many battles. As they head into what may their final fight, men and woman involved look back on their past with no regard to the future.
Without a doubt, what makes BH45 so difficult to get into is the art. This is not to say that Matt Kindt does a bad job; in fact, Kindt’s work is perfect for the era and the story being told. If anything, an argument can be made that his style makes it easier to become immersed in the story. However, that same style is what makes it difficult to enjoy the story.
The thing about the Black Hammer universe is it is a fantastic one. It contains its own Golden Age and villains named Sherlock Frankenstein. The art matches the offbeat nature of the characters. Seeing art that looks like it could have come from a pulp comic from the 1940s is off putting.
Kindt’s work never looks bad. The action scenes are done well and he does a great job of conveying motion. The pages look like a sophisticated storyboard for a big time Hollywood production. There is some great detail throughout the book. This is especially true of many of the characters’ faces. Kindt also does an excellent job depicting vehicles of the era.
Almost halfway through the issue something happens. Maybe it is the subtle choices like the yellowed pages for the scenes from the past. Or maybe Kindt’s work catches up with that of writer’s Ray Fawkes. It may simply be the art just gets better. Whatever the reason, the art goes from being a detriment to being an asset.
There is a great scene late in BH45 that typifies how well Kindt’s art is working with the storytelling. Over the course of the issue, the readers learn about the connection between three members in different armies. There is a great animosity (fear?) between the three. As they all fly towards each other, there is a page with three panels. Each shows one of the characters. It is an impactful scene that solidifies Kindt’s art enhances the story being told.
Fawkes’s writing (the story is by Fawkes and Black Hammer creator Jeff Lemire) is tremendous. Like Lemire, Fawkes takes time to build the characters and the mood. Even if the art may not be immediately accessible, the plot certainly is. Interweaving events from the past with scenes from the present, BH45 is a very human story. It is a tale filled with heroic deeds and relatable consequences.
Black Hammer ’45 is a great addition to the Black Hammer universe. The writing will grab readers from the beginning while the art may take some getting used to. The story is top notch and adds to the lore. Accessible to more than just Black Hammer fans, BH45 is an enjoyable read for anyone.