As Spiral City looks to its next era of superheroes, some of the old guard have to come to terms with being replaced in Black Hammer Visions #3. Mild Spoilers Ahead
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Illustrated by Johnnie Christmas
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Nate Piekos of BLAMBOT
Abe Slamkowski, best known to Spiral City – and the world – as the superhero Abraham Slam, has retired from that life. He trains boxers at the local gym, he has a loving girlfriend, and life in general is pleasant, and yet, something is missing. He doesn’t know what it is until the day that the Spiral City mayor announces that the federal government has sent them a new superhero to replace Abe. A new, much younger hero with a military background has taken up the mantle of The Slam. From the outset Abe is uncomfortable with this new guy for a slew of reasons.
The Slam is nothing like Abe and seems to actively flip all of his ideals on their head. He is a soldier, carries a gun, and seems to more of an authoritarian figure rather than a helpful hero. None of this sits right with Abe, but what is he going to do; get back in the suit and show this new guy how it should be done? Already in his 50s, Abe knows he should just let it go and move on with this new chapter of his life. He is truly happy, but as his every day life becomes bombarded with the constant discussion of The Slam and verbal jabs thrown his way, he can no longer sit idly by.
This inner turmoil is the backbone of this story. It’s this type of story that can be easy to concoct, but executing correctly will always be a challenge and writer Chip Zdarsky (“Sex Criminals,” “Daredevil”) is up to it this one. He makes Abe’s dilemma compelling as if it isn’t something we have seen a hundred times before. And it is so easy for us to find ourselves in his shoes; whether you are a middle-aged man or not, a superhero or not. He has a lot of questions swirling in his head, each with their own laundry list of answers. Is this problem his burden? Should he still be Abraham Slam? Or Should he just kick his feet up, have a beer, and spend his nights at home with Cassie, leaving the bad guy beatings in the hands of someone else? Even if their ideals and beliefs don’t completely gel?
Most people can understand what he’s going through. It’s a whirlwind of logic and emotion and there is not always a full, all encompassing correct answer. In superhero terms, this call is too great for someone like Abe to simply ignore. He HAS to put the suit back on. He HAS to face The Slam, and call him out for the things he’s done that drag the Slam name. It doesn’t always seem clear as to whether or not Abe would have simply moved on if The Slam held up the legacy he worked so hard to establish, but that doesn’t really matter. That isn’t the story we are given.
As with nearly every character in “Black Hammer” Abraham Slam has his roots in the real world golden age of comics. He is an amalgamation of a few classic heroes, but his Captain America DNA has never been clearer than in this story. I also can’t help but truly believe the release of this issue was planned to drop right in the middle of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, just as a lot of the casual Marvel fan masses get their first taste of John Walker/Captain America/U.S. Agent. Zdarsky does an incredible job of bringing a story parallel that honors not only one of the comics to inspire “Black Hammer,” but everything that makes this comic universe so incredible. It’s everything that Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston set out to do when first creating “Black Hammer.” It’s a homage, a critique, and wholly original brainchild and each issue of Visions has honored that idea, full stop.Continued below
If you are a long time “Black Hammer” reader you know that backstories come in dribs and drabs, so getting this part of Abe’s life is a huge reveal adding to his character as a whole. It fleshes out the even older Abe we met way back in 2016. Some ideas never get old with the right storyteller behind it, and sad, old superhero is one that the right people have returned to more than once. There is a lot of pain and heartache in this issue, but it never loses sight of the lighter touch that is present in classic superhero comics. It’s an incredibly smart and emotionally drive one-shot that will make you appreciate Abe all the more. He’s part grumpy dad, sad superhero, and tragic character all rolled into one. I mean, who isn’t a tragic character in “Black Hammer?” Each issue of “Black Hammer Visions” has been a great, well told story, but issue 3 is a must buy.
Zdarsky is one of those writers who knows exactly how to walk the line between skewering classic comics, their tropes, and archetypes, and showering them with undying adoration. He is a perfect choice for helping expand the Black Hammer universe. The script is fleshed out without ever getting wordy. He knows how to team up with an artist allowing for the story to unfold not only in dialogue, but through the images. Exposition, and story crafting has to be a little bit of a juggling act. A comic writer that can’t balance the two has ultimately failed.
Illustrator Johnnie Christmas (“Tartarus”) puts forth some of the best work he has ever done for this issue. A fantastic artist who has dabbled in various genres of comic books has never felt more at home than in Spiral City. His style feels like an extension of every other artist that has worked in this universe. His work here feels to grasp both a modern style, but he also throws in a designs that would be at home in both the Golden Age and Bronze Age of comics. Especially in a book like this, a blending of eras will always be welcome when produced by the right artist. Christmas’s work is exceptional and his ability to morph his style to fit into whichever book or genre he is working in has never been more evident than here.
On colors is the ever unbelievable Dave Stewart. As always Stewart seems to have the supernatural ability to simply know how to color a book. Working in a beautiful, bright palette on this issue really lets light and life fill every inch of every page. Even in the darkest moments, there is a brightness to the whole work.
There has never been a bad issue within the “Black Hammer” universe, but some have been more successful than others. “Black Hammer Visions” #3 is a winner front front to back, and is deserving of multiple read-throughs. As with its best counterparts, the story gets richer each time.
Final Verdict: 9.0, As this universe has done from the start, “Black Hammer Visions” #3 both challenges and embraces the superhero genre.