Review by Frank Plowright
Black Hammer’s world is one of a rich past and a definitive dividing line, that of the Anti-God rampaging through Spiral City and the subsequent disappearance of several superheroes. Two contrasting stories in this oversized hardcover look at events in Spiral City after the heroes vanished. Both written by Jeff Lemire, they share themes of redemption and both feature a quest, but while one protagonist is determined and persistent, the other begins as a broken man, and we eventually see why.
Lucy Weber is key to the main Black Hammer story, and this collection begins with a chapter from that detailing how she grew up determined to discover the whereabouts of her lost superhero father, Black Hammer. With most of his superhero allies now long gone, ten years after his disappearance she determines the person best placed to help is the villain Sherlock Frankenstein, but he hasn’t been seen since 1993. Lemire uses Lucy’s search to tour around Spiral City’s villains, some tragic, all genuinely menacing and concluding with a great segment opening up so many possibilities for a compelling character.
Much of what Lemire’s doing across the Black Hammer-associated titles is loving homage, which would be pure indulgence were he not also producing compelling stories to accompany that. Doctor Andromeda is his version of the 1940s Starman, given a past, a history and far greater attention by James Robinson in the 1990s than anyone had done previously. Lemire acknowledges that influence, but instead takes his character on a different journey, one of hubris, neglect and regret. It’s emotionally drenched, yet also supplies moments of uplifting superhero action.
There couldn’t be a greater contrast between the two artists. David Rubín is a wildly imaginative cartoonist with a unique approach. This might not seem suited to a story calling for shock and menace, but he really sells both, along with the character moments. Rubín tells much of the story in spreads, making for creative movement, but meaning there was the occasional loss of detail as the pages slip into the spine in the paperback Sherlock Frankenstein edition. These bound spreads show the full art. Max Fiumara’s approach is very different. He maintains the downbeat mood common to all Black Hammer material, but in terms of approach this is superior superhero art, maximising the genre possibilities while still selling the character interludes, and the basic tragic circumstances. As with Rubín the larger page size and superior paper stock when compared to the paperback Doctor Andromeda, shows off the sheer quality of his art far better.
Bonus material is provided, but not an awful lot when compared to the two Black Hammer Library Editions by Lemire and Dean Ormston. It’s some character designs from Rubín with comments from Lemire, and some pages showing the progression of Rubín’s art.