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Graphic Novel (Guest) Review 336/365: Black Hammer Vol. 1

Please keep up with all of my old Graphic Novel Reviews here as I quest for 365 in 365 days! Or search #365GN on Twitter.

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It’s Day 2 of The Adam Ebert Experience!  Check out his guest review from yesterday, and enjoy this one!

Title: Black Hammer Vol. 1: Secret Origins   

Author(s): Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, and Dave Stewart

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics (2016)

Age Rating: 13+

Creating analogues for superheroes from the Big Two is a tried-and-true tradition in the comics medium.  Seen most famously in stories like Watchmen and Planetary, authors play off the well-known character types that many fans are incredibly familiar with to tell stories not usually seen.  These types of stories allow the creative team freedom to tell a story with Big Two-esque characters that might not necessarily get published (or approved) by Marvel or DC.  Some might take this as putting these famous characters in more “adult” situations or perhaps, exploring parts of a character that would not fit in a company’s vision for the character.  That’s how we got characters like Midnighter and Apollo.  Warren Ellis created analogues of Batman and Superman, placed them in a more realistic setting, and made them a gay couple.  While analogues can certainly elevate a character, most analogues aim to merely recreate the original characters in a different setting and accomplish nothing new with the narrative they’re constructing.

Black Hammer features analogues of characters like Mary Marvel, Martian Manhunter, Adam Strange, Thor, and many others. As the story begins, we find our heroes in a post-crisis state of limbo, stuck on a farm on the outskirts of a town that is just too quiet.  Their true identities are kept from the townspeople for various reasons, but as time progresses, it gets harder for our heroes to stay quiet.  One character, Barbalien, develops a crush on the town’s pastor, while Gail, an adult stuck in a child’s body a la Shazam shows up to school drunk.  As the story progresses, the characters butt up against the world they’re stuck in, and it makes for compelling drama.  Revelations about past events and hidden secrets keep the narrative moving and the reader engaged as to what’s really happening with these characters.

On a whole, Jeff Lemire’s work carries a level of melancholy along with it.  Works like Essex Country, Roughneck, and Royal City all have this undeniable feeling of sadness that creates an atmosphere not found in many other texts.  With this, the overall setting, the art by Dean Ormston, and the world constructed by Lemire all contribute to a compelling and enriching read.  If someone was to question that superhero stories are juvenile, I might point them in the direction of this book to prove them wrong as Lemire and company elevate what could have been merely a standard story with superhero analogues into something much more intriguing and honest.

In terms of utilizing this in curriculum, some foul language and bedroom scenes could keep it out of younger grades, but I could see English teachers pairing parts of this text with novels like The Sound and the Fury or Love Medicine that focus on family structures in small towns.  The ongoing nature of the book also prevents it from being incorporated into curriculum on a whole.  If anything, a student could pick up this book as a stepping stone away from capes and cowls into other genres in the medium.

-I want to sincerely thank, Adam for these two days of great reviews!  Please give him a follow on twitter @MrAtomAbort

Happy reading!

Eric

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