The world of Black Hammer gets bigger and jumps well into the future with “The Quantum Age” and begins exploring two important aspects of cape comics: teenagers and doing good in dark times.
Written by Jeff Lemire
Illustrated by Wilfredo Torres
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Nate Piekos
Set in the world of the Eisner Award-winning Black Hammer series—but a thousand years in the future—a collection of superheroes, inspired by the legendary heroes of Black Hammer Farm, must band together to save the planet from an authoritarian regime. A young Martian must find a way to reform The Quantum League to save the world while solving the riddle of what happened to the great heroes of the twentieth century.
Black Hammer creator Jeff Lemire (The Terrifics) is joined by Wilfredo Torres (Legion) in illustrating while Dave Stewart (Hellboy) adds his colorist skills to the mix.
• Based on Jeff Lemire’s Eisner Award-winning series!
“Masterfully plays with all the many tropes and genres of superhero fiction over the past few decades.” —Entertainment Weekly
The world of “Black Hammer” is built on knowing homage to the various characters, creators, and storytelling tropes of superhero comics. The basis for the latest spinoff series, which propels things a thousand years into, “The Quantum Age,” is clearly DC’s “Legion of Super-Heroes.” As with most “Hammer” spinoffs, it being Jeff Lemire and company riffing on some property or idea isn’t a bad sales pitch. It isn’t like the Legion is being used all that much currently, and there is a paucity of optimistic teen hero books – the closet might be the Jim Zub era “Champions.” Going off what was published in the Dark Horses’ Free Comic Book Day offering, which you can read on here on Multiversity, that would’ve likely been an enjoyable experience. Lemire with artists Wilfredo Torres and Dave Stewart capture the zany sense of optimism that brand of science fiction and heroism is built on. It also would’ve been a bit of an exercising in lamp shading everything, and for all the homage at the foundation of the Hammer-verse there is a desire to do something more. “The Quantum Age” features optimistic teen heroes protecting the universe, but it also features a dystopian future and questions what happens when that youthful exuberance runs into a darker reality.
In the first issue, Lemire and Torres establish a ping pong narrative separated by twenty five years. In the far flung future, the universe is in harmony thanks to the Federation like Quantum League. Then everything changed when the Martians attacked. Now, in the slightly further flung future, utopia has given way to dystopia. Earth has become a xenophobic police state and there are no longer good people to make things right. As the hardened former Hammer Lass puts it, “it’s too late to dress up in costumes and play games. The universe is fucked.” The cynical outlook and dystopic setting can feel a little too heavy compared to the other narrative, but it also lays the ground for Lemire and Torres to potentially investigate and question the usefulness of superheroes. Prior Hammer series approached the superheroic figure as something of a given or constant, in a world where this is no longer the case there maybe room to comment on their seemingly immortal status within our popular culture and why we constantly search for them.
With two separate time periods and tones a more noticable stylistic shift between the two would have made sense. To continue using “Legion” as a comparison, it would be like looking at the Joe Slaton or Curt Swan era with the Keith Giffen one. Wilfredo Torres doesn’t go that far in contrasting the utopian and dystopian settings. Everything is visually unified by the overall Silver Age representative style, think his work on “Jupiter’s Circle” with a bit bolder lines and more cartooning. This being a “Hammer” book, colorist Dave Stewart is back punching everything in. Much like Torres’s modern application with this style, Stewart’s palette turns everything up a bit making color brighter and more solid. The big difference between the two periods for Stewart seems to be using more midtones, to work with the heavier use of black on the part of Torres.Continued below
The key to the book distinguishing between these two eras is how Wilfredo Torres uses page design and paneling to represent ideas of open and closed, with some minor added detail. After the Martians invaded and the League fell, Earth slowly morphed into a police state, it is a closed society. This leads to pages in this period having very oppressive perspectives and segmented page designs with strict paneling. The mega skyscrapers of Spiral City 3041 loom in the background and lock a young League fan, and illegal Martian, in place. The perspectives used in these panels are claustrophobic, when they do pull out beyond a medium length it just reveals the militarized police apparatus that surrounds everything. If there is one upside to this style, it is the emphasis on eyes and Torres and Stewart’s ability to represent them. Their work with a hardened Hammer Lass’ eyes sell the characters fiery spirit as she bartends, even though she is speaking in cynicism like an old Bruce Wayne.
In contrast, the period with the League is characterized by openness. Page design in these sequences tend to lack heavy paneling and have a splash like quality to them. The League’s introductory page is a single page splash that shows various League teams doing their job, protecting the universe. The battle for Manhattan is rendered in similar fashion. Even when there is paneling to represent leader Archive V communicating with everyone, it helps to shatter the notion of closed space as he runs comms during this crisis shattering spatial difference. The few interior spaces we see have a sense of scale to them compared to the broom closet Hammer Lass eventually finds herself in. Ironically, when Hammer Lass and Archive V go off for a private debrief closed off from everyone is the moment everything begins to go downhill.
Since this is the period with all the supers, Torres design sticks to the quintessential Silver Age aesthetic and composition. While fitting for the mood the book is trying to create, there is a stillness to the figures when it comes to action. As Hammer Lass brings down her mighty hammer, there isn’t a feeling of weight to it, it seems posed. All hell is breaking loose on the page, but there doesn’t feel like much energy. I don’t see this as an entirely bad thing, it’s just a byproduct of working in that aesthetic.
“The Quantum Age” #1 is an effective start to the latest spin-off into the world of “Black Hammer.” Lemire and Torres setup the world this story inhabits efficiently and set themselves to ask some probing questions about the superhero going forward. While there are obvious comparisons to make and read this with, “Quantum Age” is putting enough of its own spin on things to be something more.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – “The Quantum Age” has begun, for readers of “Black Hammer” it provides a different view into this ever expanding line of titles. For new readers it’s self-contained riff on superheroes with a Silver Age wink and smile.