“Black Hammer: Age of Doom’s” return is marked, not with the crack of thunder and the sounds of fists, but with the quiet mundanity of real life. A new twist, a new turn, and nothing is the same as it was before.
Written by Jeff Lemire
Illustrated by Dean Ormston
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Todd Klein
The Eisner Award-winning superhero saga returns! Coming off the heels of the world-shattering revelations of the last issue, the Black Hammer team all are out of their element, literally.
The great strength of “Black Hammer” has been its ability to reinvent itself on a near constant basis. It is the ultimate superhero comic in that it lovingly weaves in the meta-textual history of the genre, deconstructs it, and then builds upon it, all while grounding the story in the lives of those these larger forces affects. With “Age of Doom” #8, it once again does this, placing our heroes in the world outside our window, stripping them of the life they had before as well as any memoirs of it.
Instead of being trapped in a world where they could potentially find happiness, trapped with those who understood the loneliness of the superhero life, they are all left adrift and alone, spread to the many corners of the Earth and beyond. It’s an affecting issue, as we spend the vast majority of its page count with Lucy, Abraham, and Barbalien, simply observing their disillusionment with their current lives and the ways they escape from it: Abraham through superhero comics, Lucy through TV, and Barbalien by building a spaceship to Earth.
What is most striking about “Age of Doom” #8 is that it feels like a reboot ala DC’s Rebirth while also being a fantastic entry point for new readers. The structure of the issue is such that very little prior knowledge is required to be intrigued by the mystery of the narrative. Yes, some of these mysteries would be illuminated by reading the rest of the series while some are still left shrouded in darkness, but the ways in which the creative team doles out information makes it clear that it is attempting, and succeeding, to operate on both fronts.
It is also purposefully reminiscent of issue #1 of “Black Hammer,” with our heroes in a new world, reflective of reality more than a superhero universe, and we follow the disillusioned heroes as they live their lives in this new reality. Our central character, the one we get the thoughts of, opens the issue, and we see the world through their eyes, framing the narrative and influencing the ways we view the other characters. Fitting the change from the farm to the city, from an “idealized” environment to a “realistic” one, however, “Age of Doom” #8 is far more melancholic and mundane, even with the inclusion of Mars, and features not Abraham as its focus, but Lucy instead.
This is reflected in all aspects of the book. Ormston’s characters have always had a sadness to them, a weariness, thanks to his liberal use of inking lines to define the wrinkles and contours of their faces. This, coupled with the reserved body language and hung heads, with the copious amounts of sighs, imbues Lucy and Abraham with a greater sense of loss that they are deeply unaware of. There is a little niggle in the back of their minds, or at least in Lucy’s, that something is awry and missing, but, as with all our lives, it is easy to dismiss that as the wishes of the dissatisfied and not something more.
Klein’s narration boxes captures this feeling. Only attached to Lucy, reinforcing her role as the center, they are all very regular, pointed and a dull green, wrapped tightly around the words within. The text within reads like newsprint, with a computerized regularity and a regular mix of capital and lowercase letters vs the more irregular, all caps dialogue or the alien, almost biblical, script of the Martians.
Side note: I particularly love how readable yet visually distinct the Martian lettering is. It reminds me of Hebrew crossed with some of the older “Thor” fonts.Continued below
Stewart’s coloring is, well, Stewart’s coloring. Always dynamics and always setting the mood perfectly, he utilizes a slightly duller and darker palate to convey the less fantastical nature of this new reality. It stands in stark contrast to Rich Tomasso’s colors of the previous issue or even Stewart’s coloring on “Cthu-Louise.”
That isn’t to say the visuals are dull. The panels all still have a vibrancy and a richness to them. Take the one where Barbalien is standing alone on the plains of Mars. He is tiny, surrounded by the orange/brown desert, more shadow than Martian, lit by the blazing sun but tempered, not oversaturated like a stylized photo. It is a somber image that is preceded by an equally somber and firey exchange between Barbalien and Lok Lokz.
These are the moments that engrave “Black Hammer” into the annals of comics history. These are the moments that make this comic worth reading, even when very little happens throughout the course of the issue. These are the moments that keeps me coming back for more.
Final Score: 9.4 – “Black Hammer: Age of Doom” #8 returns with a slow, quiet issue that showcases just why the series is so lauded. It may not have answered many questions but it made sure the ones it asks are worth our time.