So, I really like Black Hammer. It’s not just because the story itself or the ideas within the greater Jeff Lemire saga of Black Hammer spin-offs and sequels are good – though they are. And it’s not just because Lemire has had a fantastic set of collaborators, beginning with Dean Ormston. It’s not even that Black Hammer might have been the only successful example of a new shared super-hero universe since Invincible way back in 2002.
Rather, what makes me like the whole Black Hammer universe is that it’s a shared universe that is first and foremost about the characters’ emotional arcs. Yes, there’s some stuff about the Anti-God and the other various riffs on the New Gods, but that’s not what Black Hammer is about. It’s about Abraham Slam and his desire to just stay in their little rural village; it’s about Barbalien coming to terms with his sexuality; it’s about Talky Walky figuring out his own role independent of Colonel Weird; and it’s about Golden Gail’s struggle with her age, and with the fact that she appears to be a kid forever.
Okay, so, Black Hammer: Visions is an anthology series, with each issue giving different creators chances to tell a story in the Black Hammer universe. This first issue was not one that I came into enthusiastically. While I had no reservations about artist Dean Kotz, I wasn’t a fan of Patton Oswalt’s previous comics work.
However, Oswalt has seriously leveled up in his writing prowess over the last fifteen years, and Black Hammer: Visions is a really fantastic, interesting story. Oswalt looks at Golden Gail’s life, and asks a question that in retrospect, appears obvious: while Gail herself doesn’t age, her classmates do – whatever happened to them?
So Oswalt goes to years and years later, after the Black Hammer heroes have been in their mystical little town for a while, and tells us a story about two girls – Barbara and Eunice – as they are on the eve of their high school graduation. They sit in Tammy’s diner – a spot that we saw so often in the original Black Hammer books – and reminisce. But as they talk, we see the growing divide between them. We see the struggle between trying to be ‘normal,’ of fitting in society as a whole, and, in our conclusion, Gail manages to synthesize that whole for them. That uniqueness doesn’t have to come at the expense of being part of a greater community.
As a note, I am told that the book is liberally inspired by the movie Ghost World, with Oswalt actually crediting that movie in the opening pages of the book. But I am not familiar with said movie, and I enjoyed it just fine. I don’t know how the rest of the series will work out, it being an anthology and all – but this issue, if you’re already a fan of the Black Hammer universe, is very much worth reading.
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