Comic Book Review: Black Hammer #6
“Black Hammer” is a series that I can’t get off my mind. Each issue has been a beautiful exercise in pushing the boundaries of the superhero genre. I haven’t been this enamored with a new series in a long time and it’s easily the best new series of the year. To close out the year, “Black Hammer” delivers a final origin issue as Madame Dragonfly takes the spotlight. It’s another excellent issue that takes a bigger step into delivering answers than any previous issue.
“Black Hammer” #6 is structured like an old horror comic book with the narrator talking directly to us and asking us to turn back before the horrors of this issue are shown to us. We’re warned, because what we’re going to see isn’t going to be something that we’re going to like. We stay, because we’re warned, and now our curiosity is piqued, which is why this approach works so well. What follows is the tale of how Madame Dragonfly became Madame Dragonfly and what brought her to the farm that she’s seemingly trapped on.
If this were another series, I’d be here complaining that I’m tired of origin stories and I just want to get to the point but “Black Hammer” isn’t another series. Jeff Lemire’s approach to the first arc has been heavy on origins but these stories haven’t been told in a vacuum. Like previous issues, Madame Dragonfly’s story mirrors or hints at something in the present day and we get to understand her more as she’s spent much of the series so far looming over everything. It’s an origin that doesn’t give everything away and doesn’t read as paint by the numbers as typical superhero origins read.
“Black Hammer” has this huge mystery at the center but what’s made the series so special is the focus on the characters over the plot. Despite a slow burn central mystery, “Black Hammer” has remained incredibly compelling due to its characters and each of their internal struggles. However this issue ends with things taking a very interesting turn and revealing something potentially major about the nature of the confines these characters are in. Lemire has approached this bigger mystery in a slower way and because of this, we as readers become a part of this slow, quiet life the characters lead. When something big does happen, it carries more impact because it does shake up the status quo. It reminds us that this story has much more going on and it’s very effective.
Dean Ormston’s art continues to blow me away. I am in awe of how many different things he can do. Each issue has carried almost a different genre with it because of the way the origin stories have unfolded. Madame Dragonfly’s story is a horror story and so Ormston does some really great things with the backgrounds and the creepier aspects. The cabin has this perfect desolation to it and there’s urgency in how things move along. I won’t spoil some of the finer details but Ormston creates some gorgeous, romantically gothic pages in the Dragonfly origin and we get treated to some great creature designs that are reminiscent of what you’d see in classic horror comics. Loneliness is a running theme throughout this series and the way Ormston conveys this is staggering. In every close up shot, it comes through. In each conversation, it exists in a subtle way through expression. None of these characters are okay and Ormston conveys that through more obvious ways (like long shots of characters being alone) and through quieter ways like a look.
Dave Stewart is the final touch on this issue that really sets the tone. Stewart’s darker palette during the Dragonfly origin feels like old “Swamp Thing” stories. It’s quiet coloring with a moody feel that strikes the right kind of sadness for this story. Stewart, like Ormston can do everything. When we return to the farm, there’s this still, Americana look to the colors but under it is this darkness that’s bubbling up. We sometimes see it in the shadowing but it isn’t obvious. Like the writing, this is layered in how it tells the story of these people.
“Black Hammer” continues to be working on a level higher than every other series in this genre. Lemire, Ormston and Stewart are doing something so special here and every comic book reader should be taking notice.