In some ways, Black Hammer is a lot like some of the other graphic novel series we’ve covered like Umbrella Academy and The Boys. Black Hammer involves a unique take on classic superhero comics, in their case creating a homage to vintage comic book tropes. But whereas The Boys gives superhero tropes a darker twist, Black Hammer draws direct parallels to the golden age of superheroes and puts them under a modern lens.
The basic premise of the graphic novel is that a group of superheroes has been banished from the universe by a multiversal crisis and they now live in a mysterious and idyllic farming village. The old champions of Spiral City- Abraham Slam, Golden Gail, Madame Dragonfly, Colonel Weird, and Barbalien- are stuck with no memory of how they got there. As they employ their various powers in an attempt to escape, a mysterious stranger is also working to bring them back into action.
One creative aspect of the comic is how it plays around with the artwork style. As we’re reading about the strange little town where characters are presently settled, flashbacks are interspersed to give us background on the different characters. During the flashbacks, the panels and illustrations look very similar to something you’d see in an old Marvel or DC comic. We see lots of thought bubbles, corny dialogue, and sound effects clearly meant to mimic vintage comic and graphic novel styles.
The characters themselves are also imitations of classic comic book characters, in the same way that Homelander from The Boys is basically Superman mixed with Captain America but make it evil. For example, Golden Gale is clearly a reference to the golden age version of Captain Marvel. Golden Gale also gains her powers from a wizard, but whereas Captain Marvel turns from a child into a man, Golden Gale does the opposite. Additionally, Barbalien is a reference to Martian Manhunter, who is also a shapeshifting man from Mars who works as a police officer by day, superhero by night.
Even if you don’t know enough about superhero comic history to draw these parallels, there is still a lot of merit to the graphic novel. Like Doom Patrol, the series builds a group of misfits you can root for and it’s packed with action, mystery, surprises… and a whole lot of weird. It’s also written by Jeff Lemire, the comic book author behind Essex County and Sweet Tooth, which has now been turned into a Netflix series. In addition to the four graphic novel volumes currently in the series, there have also been quite a few spinoffs including Colonel Weird Cosmagog, Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows, Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil, and more.