Jeff Lemire may be our greatest living graphic novelist. I know that’s a pretty bold statement, but if you’ve read Sweet Tooth, Essex County, or The Underwater Welder, you know it’s one that’s difficult to contest. And if you haven’t read his work, shame on you. The man understands how to dig at the very soul of his characters and brings out the best in them in a way not many writers can. He writes thoughtful stories about being human, even when his characters are robots or aliens or monsters. That’s why anytime Lemire creates a new intellectual property, whether he’s drawing it or not, it calls for celebration. So with that being said, break out the champagne and cheese platter for Dark Horse’s Black Hammer #1.
Scripted by Lemire and drawn by Dean Ormston, Black Hammer #1 introduces a band of former superheroes living in exile on a farm in a rural region of North America (presumably). While they all seem to be analogs for certain AAA superheroes in some capacity, we get very little background on our characters. You are, however, presented with enough information to know that they are a tight-knit family, even if some would prefer they weren’t.
As it stands now, it appears that the central conflict of Black Hammer might simply be strife within the group, which I’d be totally fine with. Lemire knows how to write dysfunctional families like no one else (I’m talking on the level with novelist Jonathan Franzen and filmmaker Todd Solondz). But given that the reader is privy to a world beyond the farm, I’m waiting for a tragic dose of external conflict to engulf our protagonists (it is a Lemire story, so it’s only a matter of time).
The dialogue in this book is concise and realistic. Lemire does such an amazing job of “show; don’t tell” and it all comes through in character interactions. There’s not a wasted word in this issue. There isn’t a single panel that goes by without important information being relayed to the reader. And even though there wasn’t much “action” in this issue, it moved briskly and lets the reader sneak a peek at the cards in its hand.
Dean Ormston does an amazing job with the art. His panels are straight from a lot of Lemire’s own layout style from previous graphic novels. Ormston’s rough impressionist line work in the present day panels give the characters and environments a sense of melancholy and boredom. While the flashback scenes contrast this tone effortlessly, by conveying a time that was brighter and more defined for our heroes. It’s a wonderful dynamic that never confuses the reader about what they are seeing.
Lemire and Ormston do a great job of bringing this group of odd-ball characters to life, and they immediately make us root for them (or question their motivations). The writing and art are sharp and the setup is simple, yet intriguing. Black Hammer #1 is an amazing first issue and has all the potential in the world to become a great series.
- Lemire kills it again with a very cool premise
- Great dynamics between characters
- Ormston’s amazing art