Jeff Lemire might be the busiest man in comics. In the last few years at Marvel, he’s managed to pump out simultaneous (!) runs on Extraordinary X-Men, Old Man Logan, Moon Knight and Thanos. On the indie front, he also worked on the critically acclaimed After Death with Scott Snyder, Royal City (still ongoing) and Bloodshot: Salvation. That’s not mention all the stuff he did for DC before his time at Marvel in 2015 and earlier. But of course, the reason you’re reading this review is the same reason I jumped at the opportunity to write it: Black Hammer.
The Quantum Age is the third Black Hammer-related series launched by Lemire. It spins out of the events occurring in the original Black Hammer book and its follow-up Black Hammer: Age of Doom. Interestingly enough, Lemire has pushed the narrative forward almost 1000 years into the future. This technique is refreshing because you don’t need to have read the main series to get an appreciation for what’s going on here (although I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that we got a sneak peek of this time frame and its characters in the FCBD exclusive Overwatch/Black Hammer). This is a galaxy in a very different place than that of the original heroes from the 20th century and it features a totally new cast of characters that come with their own crises.
The story kicks off in Spiral City, which should be familiar to Black Hammer veterans, but in 3041 it’s unrecognizable. The city has become a dystopia where there are curfews, strong anti-alien sentiment, and armed men patrolling the street. The story goes back and forth between this time and 25 years before to show us just how things got to be this way. In 3016, we meet the Quantum League, which seems to be the legacy of the original team of heroes–in fact, one of them (Hammer Lass) is a direct descendant of Joe and Lucy Weber from the 20th century (as directly noted in the FCBD issue). In the thousand years since the disappearance of Black Hammer and his team, somehow superheroes became a thing again and the world seemed to be in a good place. Everyone is cracking jokes, there are interspecies relationships, and technology has progressed to where there are science satellites, spaceships, and many other as-of-yet unnamed advances present.
All of the good times seem to have fallen apart as a result of a Martian invasion that took place unexpectedly and the League’s apparently unprecedented response. As we return to 3041, even though the events of twenty-five years ago aren’t completely clear, the long-term impact of whatever happened is stark and apparent. The Quantum League was scattered, an authoritarian regime known as the Citadel came to power (with a yet-to-be-revealed President at the helm) and all aliens were banned from Earth and are being wiped out across the galaxy. The story sets itself up with the Martian protagonist, Trev Trevz, sneaking around Earth in disguise searching for Hammer Lass. He has a proposal for her and the Quantum League to come back and stop the genocide of alien races. While he isn’t able to convince her, the story ends showing that he’s not the only one with a plan to try and turn the state of things around.
I was reminded of some of the story beats raised in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The world seems to be in a good place, and then a cataclysmic event occurs, an authoritarian regime rises up and our heroes scatter and give up. Years later, a young idealist shows up and tries to convince his “favorite” superhero that she needs to come back and help save the universe. She responds coldly and basically kicks him out. He is then picked up by a small movement that still resists against the authoritarian regime. For those unfamiliar with Lemire’s approach, it’s tempting to call this creative appropriation but it’s likely that he will put his own twist on this story as he has in the other chapters of the Black Hammer saga. Lemire is known for taking common tropes and simultaneously paying tribute to the source material while mixing and matching story components together to eventually make you laugh, cry and get angry. Indeed, the story being set in the 31st century immediately recalls Justice League 3000, the JM Dematteis and Keith Giffen classic from a few years back. There are also many factors here that are unique to this book. The anti-alien racism, the mystery of the 20th century heroes, and the wonder of interstellar exploration all make this fascinating and different enough from any other story to stand firmly on its own. Plus, I’m intrigued to see what this President character looks like and if he resembles a certain someone we all know…
Wilfredo Torres is a great fit for this futuristic jaunt. He takes advantage of the back-and-forth between the two time periods to create two distinct art styles. In present day, he keeps the attention solely focused on the characters and complements the stark, bleak state of things by adding very little surrounding detail. The character drawings are very simple and forego any sort of flash or pomp. By contrast, in the earlier time period there are numerous panels where he draws a number of the heroes in great detail (some of whom are recognizable from the FCBD issue (which he also contributed to)) engaged in activities and fighting adversaries that open up even more possibilities for the Hammerverse – these side quests could possibly lead to spinoffs of their own. He reminds me a lot of Ed McGuinness who is one of the best when it comes to interstellar superhero tales. One of the exciting features of the art is where you can see tribute is paid to Marvel and DC heroes, a continuing tradition of the Black Hammer series, and it’s fun for the reader to try and guess who the “source material” is. Dave Stewart, who has been the primary colorist on all but one of the Black Hammer series, returns and takes Torres’s cue by using an almost monochromatic color scheme for the future, blanketing everything in red, while in the earlier time period there are numerous colors and everything is bright and full of diversity. It’s an effective technique that drives the point home even further about how different these two settings are.
Just about the only knock I have against this story is that it’s basically a setup issue and yet I still have so many unanswered questions. How did Archive V (the leader of the Quantum League) change from his serious, all-business appearance in the FCBD issue to the romantic he is in this one? How did the Citadel come to power? How did Trev make it to Earth? Who is the President? And that’s just to name a few. While the original Black Hammer series operated on a similar sense of mystery, it all boiled down to the main question of how the team got to Rockwood. By contrast, this many open questions and for a series that has only six issues to answer them seems a bit much. But if there’s anyone who can pull it off, Jeff Lemire is your guy. I’m all in for this one and it’s a perfect jumping on point for anyone new to the Hammerverse.