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Comic Book / Black Hammer

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Black Hammer is a Dark Horse Comics series created by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston.

Described by Lemire as his tribute to the superhero comics he grew up reading, Black Hammer follows a group of former superheroes who, upon saving the world from a multiversal crisis, were trapped in a sleepy rural town from which they can't escape. Forced to pose as an average family, the heroes eventually settled into their roles and began functioning as though they were actually related, further complicating things.

The main cast of Black Hammer includes:

  • Abraham Slamkowski / Abraham Slam: A Golden Age brawler and grandfatherly patriarchal figure of the family.
  • Gail Gibbons / Golden Gail: A middle-aged woman forced in eternal youth as a by-product of the the superpower given to her as a child.
  • Mark Markz / Barbalien: A shapeshifting, gay alien warlord from Mars fulfilling the role of cool uncle.
  • Colonel Randall Weird: A cosmonaut desperate to return to his old life; the weird uncle to Barbalien's cool uncle.
  • TLK-E WLK-E / Talky Walky: Col. Weird's chatty robot sidekick, and the only one who can't pass for a human.
  • Madame Dragonfly: A green-skinned swamp witch with questionable motives who sometimes masquerades as Gail's mother.
  • Joe Weber / Black Hammer: The (posthumous) title character who is eulogized annually by the heroes who was super-strong and wielded a hammer to battle.
  • Lucy Weber / Black Hammer II: Joe's adult daughter who finds the lost heroes and takes up her father's mantle.

In true superhero fashion, Lemire has expanded the scope of Black Hammer to include side stories and tie-ins set within the same world, featuring titles like:

  • Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil (2017-2018)
  • Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows (2018)
  • Black Hammer: Age of Doom (2018-2019)
  • The Quantum Age (2018-2019)
  • Black Hammer: Cthu-Louise (2018)
  • Black Hammer '45 (2019)
  • Black Hammer/Justice League: Hammer of Justice! (2019): A canonical crossover with the Justice League of DC Comics, whom Lemire has written for in the past.
  • Skulldigger + Skeleton Boy (2019-2021)
  • Colonel Weird: Cosmagog (2020-2021)
  • Barbalien: Red Planet (2020-2021)
  • Black Hammer Visions (2021)
  • Black Hammer Reborn (2021-2022)
  • The Unbelievable Unteens (2021)
  • The Last Days of Black Hammer (2022)
  • Colonel Weird and Little Andromeda (2022)
  • Black Hammer End (2023)

In November 2018, it was announced that Lemire signed an overall development deal with Legendary Pictures, which includes potential television and/or film adaptations of the Black Hammer universe, of which he will be closely involved with.

This series provides examples of:

  • '90s Anti-Hero: Parodied in one issue. To "keep up with the times", the aging Abraham Slam commissions a new armored costume straight out of the Dark Age, complete with bulky shoulder pads, numerous pouches, and a visor reminiscent of Judge Dredd. It just gets in the way and makes him look ridiculous to onlookers, and after wearing it once he decides to never use it again.
  • Ambiguously Evil: Madame Dragonfly. Most notably when Lucy, Black Hammer's daughter, somehow teleports into the dimension the heroes are trapped in, Madame Dragonfly wipes her memory.
  • Artistic License – Religion: In Age of Doom #11, as Anti-God returns to the now-hero-less Spiral City, the news reports that The Pope says the strange events may be the beginning of the Rapture. Catholicism explicitly does not believe in a Rapture; that's more in line with Evangelical Christianity.
  • Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence: Black Hammer's spirit survived the death of his body and now resides in New World alongside Starlok. It's implied that he ascended to godhood.
  • Balance Between Good and Evil: the ultimate reason for the heroes' predicament. When Black Hammer killed Anti-God, he unwittingly broke the cosmic balance between Evil and Good. The universe is trying to correct this imbalance by bringing Anti-God back, and the only way to stop that from happening is for the heroes—who now represent Good as Anti-God represents Evil—to remove themselves from the universe.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: In the first issue of Visions, Gail stops Madame Dragonfly from wiping the memories of Eunice, a teenage outcast who figured out her identity, because Eunice went out of her way to befriend Gail when she first enrolled at the local school.
  • Big Red Devil: When Lucy ends up stranded in Hell, she meets what is heavily implied to be The Devil: a towering red demon with spiraling horns and enormous bat wings.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Anti-God returns to Spiral City, so to stop him the heroes decide to seal themselves back in the farm and wipe their memories so they can never break out. It works, but they are a lot happier now that their issues are dealt with.
  • Blank Book: Shortly after she arrives on the farm, Lucy goes to the Rockwood library to look up the town's history, only to discover that all the books on the subject are blank.
  • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: After a long and difficult battle with many casualties, the heroes managed to kill Anti-God and save the universe. Unfortunately, killing him upset the Balance Between Good and Evil, which the universe tried to correct by bringing him back to life. The only way to prevent this was for the heroes to restore the balance by exiling themselves to another dimension. They can never go home again, lest Anti-God return and destroy everything.
  • Cast of Expies:
    • Abraham Slam = Captain America/Wildcat
    • Anti-God = The Anti-Monitor/Darkseid/Galactus
    • Barbalien = Martian Manhunter
    • Black Hammer = Superman/Thor/Steel
      • The New World is a pantheon of god/aliens akin the Asgardians and New Gods. There are direct expies of Mister Miracle and Lightray in particular and the leader of the New World is a mix of Highfather and Odin. Another member (who doesn't have an obvious counterpart) also has a blatant stand-in for Lockjaw as a pet.
      • Black Hammer foes Jackhammer and the Demolition Squad are pretty much Thor villains The Wrecking Crew.
      • His backstory of a normal man receiving a powerful weapon from dying alien in a back alley is a combination of how Hal Jordan and Kyle Rayner got their powers.
    • Colonel Weird = Adam Strange with shades of Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen.
    • Golden Gail = Shazam!
      • Gail's old nemesis, Sherlock Frankenstein, is basically a Zombie Lex Luthor.
    • Madame Dragonfly = An EC Comics-style host of a house.
      • Her monstrous love interest from before the farm is one for Swamp Thing.
    • Doctor Star = Starman. This example was so obvious that, as of Black Hammer Encyclopedia, his name was changed to Doctor Andromeda.
    • During Lucy's journey through Dreamland, Lonnie James is a loose expy for John Constantine and the family in the land of Nod is a pretty obvious pastiche for The Endless.
    • The Quantum League is blatantly meant to be the Legion of Super-Heroes, being a group of teenage heroes in the future whose name all featured variants of "Boy, Girl, Lad," and "Lass." Also, Hammer Lass is a very clear equivalent of Supergirl; she even dates Archive V who is a Brainiac 5 analog. That The Quantum Age focuses on the League 25 years after most of them died serves as an homage to the infamous "Five Years Later" Legion arc. However, this was so blatant that in the trade collection of The Quantum Age the Leaguers all had their names altered except for Hammer Lass.
    • Sherlock Frankenstein features more homage characters.
      • Wingman is one for Hawkman, made blatantly clear by his appearance in his youth, which one could easily mistake for Hawkman.
      • Concretestador is a burly Rock Monster hero with blue eyes, suggesting influence from Ben Grimm/The Thing.
      • The villain Manaconda, while not featured in person, is shown to have clear visual similarities to Batman foe Killer Croc.
    • Doctor Star/Andromeda and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows introduces the Star Sheriffs, an organization of aliens inspired by James Robinson's exploits. They are shown to be a diverse group of aliens in close to matching uniforms who all wield the same signature cosmic tool to travel through space and protect the innocent. Hmm, why does that sound familiar?
    • The "Pulp Age" heroes each take inspiration from Proto-Superhero characters.
      • Doc Steele is blatantly a stand-in for Doc Savage.
      • The Crimson Fist is less obvious, but he clearly fills the role of characters like The Shadow.
      • Tazara is a Jungle Princess a la Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, with elements of Tarzan, such as her name. The obvious divergence is that she's actually a Congolese woman instead of a Caucasian woman.
    • Skulldigger is a controversial, non-powered violent vigilante who kills criminals and wears something depicting a skull (though in his case it's a mask instead of on his shirt, which has a skeleton pattern). His costume really does look like an alternate take on Frank Castle or his brief successor Carlos Cruz. Unlike them though, Skulldigger forgoes guns in favor of a weapon themed after his symbol and has a sidekick/helper in Skeleton Boy, giving him some Batman elements.
    • Mr. Grizzly, for what little we see of him, is very reminiscent of Wolverine.
    • In the first issue of Visions, Eunice and Barbara are blatant expies of Enid and Rebecca from Ghost World.
  • Cosmic Retcon: When the heroes finally leave the farm and return to the real world, it somehow "reboots" reality to create a world where they never became superheroes and superheroes never existed. In this new world, Abe is just a night watchman working at a museum, Mark never left Mars, Colonel Weird was a normal astronaut who went MIA in 1959, Gail is a senile old woman living in a retirement home, Lucy works at a pizza parlor instead of as a journalist, and Madame Dragonfly is (seemingly) a normal soccer mom with two kids.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Colonel Weird's girlfriend was messily torn apart when she tried to enter the Para-Zone. Her skin was ripped right off her body, and her organs went flying everywhere. Black Hammer died in exactly the same way when he crossed the farm's boundaries. This is not a coincidence.
  • Deconstruction: Of superheroes in general. Each issue of the opening arc tackles the psychological and emotional effects of being a superhero.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Played with, since the cast is not family per se. Since the heroes are trapped on the Farm, they decide to disguise themselves as a family. Unfortunately, their personalities all strongly conflict with one another's, making them this.
  • Eldritch Location: The Para-Zone is a weird dimension located outside of time. It resembles a starry void full of oversized eyeballs and neurons, and it contains many portals leading to different points in time and space. Anyone who tries to enter the Para-Zone without protection will die a gruesome death, with Colonel Weird being the sole exception for reasons unknown.
  • Escaped from Hell: Lonnie James strands Lucy in Hell, leaving her at the mercy of the Devil. However, Lucy just recently became the new Black Hammer. She promptly uses her new powers to beat the ever-loving shit out of hordes of the Devil's minions and threatens to continue doing so unless he lets her out. The Devil opens a portal to another realm for her and meekly tells her to "just... just go".
  • Fatal Flaw: Black Hammer's love for his family, particularly his daughter. He once ignored a desperate summons from Starlok because he didn't want to miss Lucy's tenth birthday, an act which implicitly allowed Anti-God to kill off the other Lightriders and put the whole universe in jeopardy. When the heroes later wound up on the Farm, he was so desperate to reunite with his family that he charged into the strange energy field surrounding the Farm without letting the other heroes analyze it first, leading to a gruesome and avoidable death.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: According to The World of Black Hammer Encyclopedia, Sherlock Frankenstein started out as a superhero in the late 1800s. He turned to villainy after a personal tragedy and spent several decades terrorizing the world, only to give up on this and go straight. Now he's an Honest Corporate Executive using his scientific and medical knowhow to benefit all mankind.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Black Hammer sacrificed himself to kill the Anti-God. His hammer is all that's left of him.
    • Also the decision made by the heroes in the series finale.
  • Incompatible Orientation:
    • Barbalien made advances to his former partner in the police, who reacted very negatively. When he attempts again with a priest he thinks is closeted, the exact same thing happens.
    • Gail has feelings for Barbalien, which he's oblivious to. Unfortunately, when he does pick up on them, he attempts to lightly turn her down by pointing out her physical body - a sore spot for her - and his sexual orientation, but she leaves before he finishes.
  • Intangible Man: Colonel Weird can float through solid substances like a ghost thanks to his connection to the Para-Zone.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Gail, already tormented by being stuck in her child form for ten years, decides to end it all after Mark rejects her. She writes a brief Suicide Note and prepares to walk into the boundary around the farm, only for Mark—who found her note—to swoop in and stop her at the last moment.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Lucy wants to find out what really happened to her father and the Spiral City heroes.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Black Hammer died almost instantly after being transported to the farm by immediately ramming the force field before Talky could get an idea of what they were dealing with.
  • Martians: They're red-skinned humanoids with antennae and innate superpowers that include shapeshifting and flight, amongst others.
  • Non-Linear Character: Colonel Weird constantly drifts in and out of the Para-Zone, a strange dimension where time is wonky relative to the outside universe. He sees and experiences events out of chronological order as a result, and he is often confused when interacting with his more linear friends, since what is recent for them might be a distant memory or future event from his perspective.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: When Colonel Weird actually manages to pull himself together and act coherently in the present timeline, the rest of the cast notably freaks out.
  • Pocket Dimension: the farm and the town.
  • Posthumous Character: Black Hammer.
  • Powers via Weapon: Black Hammer's powers come from his mystical hammer.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: One issue revolves around a bizarre Para-Zone creature which latches onto people's faces and takes control of their bodies.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Gail.
  • Red Sky, Take Warning: In the backstory, the skies turned red during Anti-God's universe-threatening attack on Spiral City. When the skies above Spiral City start turning red in the alternate reality created when the heroes left the farm, it's a clear sign to everyone involved that Anti-God is returning to finish what he started.
  • Repetitive Name: The Martians have a naming scheme wherein the last name is the same as the first name, but with a z tacked on. Mark Markz, Lok Lokz, Kev Kevz...
  • Shout-Out: Doctor Star (the Starman Expy) is named James Robinson.
  • Speech Bubbles: Several of the characters have distinctive speech bubbles. Colonel Weird's speech bubbles have a frayed border and light grey text, reflecting how he's physically and mentally not all there. Talky-Walky has grey bubbles with angular borders and blocky text to emphasize her robotic nature. And Anti-God has black speech bubbles with red borders and text to highlight his nature as the God of Evil.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Played with. Gail exhibits this, but she's a 55-year-old woman trapped in a 10-year-old's body.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: It's strongly implied that Black Hammer refusing to come to Starlok's aid so he wouldn't miss his daughter's tenth birthday is what allowed Anti-God to gain the upper hand and kickstart the Cataclysm. This was confirmed in The World of Black Hammer Encyclopedia.
  • Year Outside, Hour Inside: When Joseph Weber first picks up the hammer, he is whisked off to New World for a short chat with Starlok and the Lightriders. Upon being sent back to Earth, he goes home to tell his wife Lorraine about the crazy night he just had—only to learn that he was actually gone for four months.
  • Yellow/Purple Contrast: The brother gods Starlok and Anti-God wear gold and purple armor respectively. They are bitter enemies who respectively embody light/good and darkness/evil.