In the latest issue of the newly launched miniseries, Quantum Age: From the World of Black Hammer, we find that no matter if the year is 2018, 3031 or 3041, some things never change. No matter how much technology advances or how much we think we are moving forward socially, mankind still has the ugly tendency to be suspicious of those that are different from the majority, still is prone to brutal violence and still deifies beings that at the end of the day are just as flawed as the rest of us. In a particularly moving sequence of events, an inner monologue from the main character sums it up perfectly: “…maybe the people we thought were heroes are just real people after all.” It’s this quote that summarizes the main theme of Quantum Age perfectly. As noted in our review of the first issue, it felt like Lemire might have been going down the road most recently travelled by Star Wars: The Last Jedi to bring an example of this to life, but he pulls a brilliant fake-out at the end (which we’ll get to later).
In a nutshell, we pick up with present day Trev Trevz being offered to join what’s left of the Quantum League (or so he thinks) by Erb and Modular Lass. As Modular Lass reveals her motivations, the conversation is preceded and interspersed with a flashback to a childhood that starts to lay out the answer to one of the open questions from the last issue: how did Trev make it to Earth? Without needing to directly call them out, immediately thoughts of refugees and immigrants pervade the reader’s mind and you can’t help but draw parallels to what is going on in the real world today. There is one scene in particular where border patrol guards start questioning a young boy despite the pleas of his parents and, whether it was planned or unintentional, the first thing you think of is children being separated from their parents at border crossings. Luckily, the family gets through the incident unscathed and we later find out it was an elaborate plan to escape from Earth.
But as Trev returns to present day, another theme pervades the story, which is that no one is ever truly safe. We get a nice distraction for a bit where we are introduced to Modular Lass who is quite honestly the highlight of the issue. With her sarcasm, profanity, cigarette smoking and optimism hiding behind a shield of bitterness, she reminds me of some of the best anti-heroes in the tradition of Han Solo, Wolverine and others. This is a woman who has been through a lot but doesn’t want you to bother her about it. Like Trev I also would like to learn more about what she’s been through; it feels like the broken bond between her and her former teammates is glossed over somewhat (even though it’s likely we will probably learn more soon enough).
It’s Wilfredo Torres who really helps bring her to life with these characteristics as he has Modular Lass, also known as Ginna, display a number of interesting and sometimes hilarious expressions ranging from bemusement, exasperation, smugness and brash confidence. Her sidekick, the floating armadillo Erb, plays the straight man and a perfect foil for her with his nervousness and constant worrying (best line: “Erb not liking your filthy smoking. Erb telling you again and again to quit!”). After the pair explain why they have whisked Trev onboard their ship and make a dark proposal that involves the President, they are suddenly thrown into peril and are attacked by the Science Militia, a group that is no doubt connected to the anti-Martian authoritarian regime running things on Earth.
The battle that ensues is then interspersed with another Trev flashback that starts off rather sweet but ends up being quite brutal. The scene lays out his motivations for coming back to Earth ten years later and does so in a simple and stark manner. There is no time for overly dramatic moments of grief; much like a real-life war zone, young Trev is forced to keep moving in spite of the incredibly personal tragedy thrust upon him. While in the present day the heroes escape to live on another day (if not a little battered and bruised), the big takeaway from the combined events of 3031 and 3041 ends up being the identity of the President, which was another open question from the last issue that gets answered. While the reveal is a shocker, it also initially raises some hope of a possible redemption for the character. But then, to make sure there isn’t any doubt about how horrific this person is, Lemire has the President violently smash his foot down on the lifeless head of Trev’s father. Oh yeah, he does this with a big smile on his face. The message is clear: this is one bad hombre. The double whammy is finding out Modular Lass’ connection to this brutal tyrant. In spite of that, Trev’s resolve in the present day is clear and he’s all in on getting justice.
We already talked about the fantastic work Wilfred Torres does with facial expressions and Modular Lass in particular. He also buys into the concept of the simplicity of tragedy and death with the way he portrays the military ambush in the flashback. He doesn’t distract from the horror by getting graphic or grandiose as some artists are keen to do at times. There are just pools of blood, explosions and fallen bodies. However, this approach doesn’t always work and I felt a missed opportunity was in the space battle shown in the present-day. In a scene where Modular Lass reveals the extent of her powers I was underwhelmed by the impact of her powers on the ships; Torres’ angular and blocky style just didn’t work for me in this moment and I felt that here a grandiose, epic and overly detailed splash page would have been the right move instead of what we got. Overall, the visuals still work for me and complement the story well.
Lemire and Torres are pacing this story perfectly by continuing to use flashbacks to build the backstory of their protagonist and revealing mysteries one by one rather than leaving everything for the end. While it’s frustrating that there are still a few major open questions, the impatience and desire to get answers is a testament to the high quality of a series that leaves you wanting more. Despite this being a futuristic science fiction story, they do a masterful job of drawing real-world parallels by framing tragedy as something unglamorous and capturing the current-day tension of possible family separation at border crossings. Most importantly, they raise some questions about human tendencies that are amplified with a shocking reveal at the end. You don’t want to be missing out on this one as things are about to heat up.