The most interesting thing about Black Hammer: Visions #4 is the art. Black Hammer has a very distinctive visual aesthetic, informed by Dean Ormston’s own artistry. Even when other artists stepped in to the Black Hammer books, it would be people following in the line of Ormston’s style that did it. The other Black Hammer spin-offs – Doctor Star, Black Hammer ’45, Sherlock Frankenstein, Skulldigger, all of that – each have distinctive artistic styles of their own. So, too, has the previous issues of Black Hammer: Visions. Just as the anthology has looked for auteurs in the writing sense, so too has it looked for artistic innovators, as well. Scott Kolins, for instance, found mainstream success, but he’s not exactly a guy who works in the DC house style, for instance.
Which makes Black Hammer: Visions #4 interesting, because Diego Olortegui’s art very much is in that DC house style. It’s very finished and traditional – there’s none of that artistic innovation that is so prominent in the other Black Hammer books. Which, then, makes it so fascinating that the book itself, plotwise, is a weird, odd, comic book. In a good way.
If you remember, back at the start of Black Hammer, before the book exploded and the spinoffs started, the comic was so interesting because it stood at the intersection of a sort of Vertigo-style horror-suspense book and a traditional superhero book. The main characters are Captain America and Mary Marvel and Adam Strange, but they’re in a straight up Twilight Zone situation.
Mariko Tamaki keeps on operating in that vein. She writes a comic that switches from being a gothic soap opera, to a space opera, to a The Office-style comic drama. Oh, sure, there’s a bit of a meta-plot, an excuse with Colonel Weird, but the meat of it is the mystery built in to the premise – we don’t know what’s happening, we don’t know why these superheroes that we know and cherish are in this strange situation, just as we didn’t know what was going on back at the start of Black Hammer. And if you’re reading the fourth issue of a Black Hammer anthology issue, then you presumably cherish these guys.
But that authorial skill and thematic consistency, doesn’t make up for that lack of artistic experimentation. Black Hammer lives and dies by its artistic collaborators – it’s just as much Dean Ormston’s franchise as it is Jeff Lemire’s. And Diego Olortegui is no Dean Ormston.
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