There was a team of heroes once. Brave and bold, with a mighty legacy. And with in it, a legion of superheroes once fought. Now that team no longer exists. The great Quantum League is gone, much like the heroes of the 21st century saw their time come to an end. Although vastly different, across decades, a simple pattern. Hope. Violence. Death. Tragedy. Unavoidable, unstoppable and forever looming. That’s what The Quantum Age is about. Set a 125 years into the future of the current Black Hammer world, whilst flashing back 25 years in the midst, the book is a deeper look at the past, present and ultimate future of this entire universe spanning a massive array of colorful superheroes, villains and mythology.
Jeff Lemire’s world of Black Hammer, since its inception, has seen great acclaim and expansion, and this book heralds the next age of that in every sense of the phrase. It takes stock of the entire macronarrative of this world and ruminates upon it, as well as superhero conventions and how they can be bucked and explored in new ways to give a fresh perspective. And all of it is, of course, based on DC mythology. Lemire is very clearly a huge, huge DC buff and takes every opportunity to let the reader know of that, mixing and matching known character pastiches and archetypes in fun ways and making various connections that only a big fan of the material would do. And certainly, playing with that DC mythology and using it to present a different lens on the superhero and be true to the roots Lemire comes from, that’s a lot of what this entire universe is about.
Bringing on Wilfredo Torres into the Hammerverse and teaming once more with Dave Stewart and Nate Pierkos, Lemire’s new vision of his world’s tomorrow is certainly interesting. Torres excels here, working with Stewart who sets the tone and overall look of this universe, acting as the glue and connective tissue to bring things together. Torres’ clean style, which takes great advantage of simplicity to get across a great deal, is a great match for the story here. It’s very much something tailor-made for his talents, with the artist being in that same realm as creators such as Chris Sprouse, able to mix sci-fi imagery and pulpy touches with contemporary tools to make work that feels timeless and ‘classic’ for the lack of a better word. Torres and Stewart’s storytelling leaps off the page here, given the room to play around with virtually everything this one world has to offer, across the past and present. The latter’s coloring, being broad enough to include and encapsulate every possible element of the universe that Lemire throws in, is stellar, moving from dusty browns to florescent greens.
But perhaps the truest joy here is the characters, who’re all steeped in DC myth. As established above, Lemire loves DC Comics. But so do Torres, Stewart and Pierkos. The Quantum League is, obviously, a Legion Of Super-Heroes pastiche. Packed with analogs to its various pillars and key archetypes, the League spans Archive, their Brainiac 5 to Furnace Lad, their own Sunboy. But it extends further than just the heroes, we even get their own take on classic foes such as Time Trapper. But the team doesn’t just stop there, the big foe, The Citadel, is also an easy New Teen Titans and Omega Men reference and is by no means an unintentional choice. They’re having fun. And it shows. Torres gets to absolutely cut loose here, designing not only an entire world but a legion of superheroes. As any one with even a tangential grasp of the Legion knows, it’s named that for a reason, there’s a whole armada of heroes, they’re massive. And they’re massive to the point that it’s surprising George Perez hasn’t had a bigger go at them.
But in any case, it’s a truckload of superhero-insignias and outfits, all fashioned in the ways of the future, which Torres gets to create, with Lemire joyously brainstorming them for Torres to bring to life. And then Stewart gets to bring color to their world and tell their story through that color, while Pierkos gets another challenging but fun task. Creating some of the unique fonts for some of the characters and carefully visualizing this future world and telling a story through those choices, as the book packs some big reveals. The book is as much as about the past as it is about the future, so it features some surprising inclusions of characters we know and love, who have distinct typeface and balloons. So Pierkos has to be careful here, never tipping the hand of the story until it’s just the right time, keeping ties to the books that have come before while doing his own thing and innovating. With Todd Klein setting up the stage with the prologue, he’s perhaps a bit more constrained, but nevertheless, he impresses with his placements and choices. His SFX decisions in particular really work for the book and the sensibility it’s going for, echoing that classic over the type feeling, while also maintaining a sense of restraint.
As for the core narrative, it’s best experienced without knowing too much. But with that being said, the basics go like this: The Quantum League existed a hundred years after the 21st century heroes’ time, it was a peaceful age full of prosperity, peace and hope. Until it wasn’t. A terrible incident changes things and 25 years after, the League is dead, so are a great many of its members and a fascistic Earth government rules supreme, with a cruel President heading their Anti-Alien agenda. It’s a very, very Legion plot and it has echoes even in the recent decades, where in Legion content is rare, going back to Geoff Johns, Gary Frank and John Sibal’s Superman and The Legion Of Super-Heroes. The team is down and hidden away as the sci-fi utopian dream of the Legion twisted itself to become a dystopian nightmare of bigotry and intolerance, going completely against their code of inclusivity, acceptance, tolerance and diversity. Working off those roots, the book goes a bit more extreme with that promise and commits to it in a way it’s difficult for anyone to with the Legion proper, which is part of the purpose in even doing an homage, you do that which never could be done with the actual thing. And besides the homage, the characters are all rich and deeply unique, specific to this Hammerverse, much in the same way the Legionnaires are to the DC world. The book follows Hammer Lass, the descendant of Black Hammer and Barbaliteen, the descendant of Barbalien and explores the legacy of heroism in this world and how it operates in this universe.
Packed with pleasing continuity and moments of genius, where in one can practically hear the ‘aha!’ like in a magic trick, it’s a roaring ride with moments that evoke trippy Gil Kane art at points and a whole lot more. But perhaps the only really hurdle of the book is the ending or perhaps a lack there of. It declares its vision and mission statement, but it then comes to a stop. There’s clearly more story here and it’s very much a “to be continued,” so in terms of standing alone, it can be tricky. Though that being said, it’s a book steeped in intertextuality, so it’s certainly not meant to stand alone all that much and it might be read differently when its sequel arrives and the story is complete. Apart from that, the book also has a perhaps unintentional political reading, with a tyrant president dead-set on the supremacy of those like him, while all others burn. And where it goes with how one must confront such individuals and go about fixing the world in order to have a future is…muddled, although that reading is likely unintended and thoroughly coincidental, a consequence of playing with Legion tropes and conventions more than anything. But it is certainly worth mentioning that reading is there and exists.
The Quantum Age is a strong entry into the Hammerverse, expanding out the world’s potential and impact, all the while continuing with its approach to superhero storytelling that’s made the work so popular in the first place. Torres’ entry into the universe is a joy and one can only hope he sticks around, because his perspective and view of the world feels just as good as Ormston or anyone else’s. Lemire’s passion and love for DC mythology and the superhero has led to some fun places so far and this is no exception.
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