Jeff Lemire must be the hardest working person in comics right now. He captained four books in Marvel’s All-New All-Different relaunch; continues to publish the excellent Descender with Dustin Nguyen, has a full graphic novel scheduled for release early next year, and will be writing Marvel’s new Thanos series for this fall’s Marvel NOW! initiative. For starters. But his new Dark Horse series Black Hammer, debuting this week, may end up being my favorite Lemire book this year.
Together with artist Dean Ormston (Sandman, Lucifer), he tells the story of a Golden Age super-team now mysteriously trapped in an alternate reality and relegated to life on a small farm, just outside city limits of an equally small town. In fact, the main adversarial conflict in this first issue seems to be from the local sheriff, jealous of the attention his ex-wife is giving to “Abraham Slam.” The mystery deepens as we discover that, in the process of protecting Spiral City from an unnamed threat, the titular hero sacrificed himself to not only save the city, but his teammates as well.
There’s a special reverence in the creation of Lemire’s Golden Age-inspired heroes, the kind that we’ve seen from so many other writers and artists over the years, from veteran auteurs like Grant Morrison and Alan Moore, to more recent homages by folks like Jeff Parker and Paul Jenkins. All of the characters in Black Hammer are classic Golden Age archetypes, lovingly brought to life by this creative team, and imbued with that sense of wonder and space-age fantasy that first captivated society more than three-quarters of a century ago. Some of them, like Martian warlord Barbalien, are obvious nods to what must be some of Lemire’s favorite classic heroes (“Mark Markz..? Uh… it’s Swedish.”)
Like it or not, we live in an era of scrutiny and suspicion, where every opportunity to disgrace and denigrate is embraced with the speed of a Tweet or soundbite. Knocking people down a peg has become a full-time job for anonymous Internet trolls and publicly recognized spokespeople alike. Human heroes have always had flaws; but it seems like rather than celebrate the ability to overcome those flaws, we’d rather bury people in them. Not even our superheroes are safe. Shields are tarnished, capes are torn, and they’re at war with one another.
So when you get to the last page of this first issue of Black Hammer, and you discover that an intrepid reporter (the Golden Age worship is nonstop!) from their home reality is still searching for those heroes, even ten years later… her words “no matter what, I’m going to find them” resonate with serious profundity. She’s looking for heroes, for all of us.