Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews—now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘Black Hammer ’45: From the World of Black Hammer’ #1, out March 6 from Dark Horse Comics.
THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘BLACK HAMMER ’45: FROM THE WORLD OF BLACK HAMMER’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. Jeff Lemire has done something amazing, and he’s done it amazingly well. He’s taken the comic book fan dream of sensical, shared continuity through the decades and applied it to his superhero world of Black Hammer. His central character, and the legacy he establishes, form the center around which all other elements of that reality revolve. It’s what fans have wanted from DC and Marvel, but to be fair the evolution of characters through myriad writers over many decades isn’t a paradox-free process. Lemire set up Black Hammer to tell stories of characters paralleling other established company characters with a cohesion their parent publishers would find impossible. One guiding force and vision, unlimited storytelling potential, and books that have fulfilled that potential admirably.
While characters in Quantum Age explore the literal End of Time in their far-flung future, the latest offering from Dark Horse Comics goes back to World War II with Black Hammer ’45: From the World of Black Hammer #1. Just like the comic book foundations Lemire and company pay tribute to with this series, the heroes aren’t super. They’re flesh and blood and risking both to stop Hitler’s dreams of a Third Reich.
Captain Hawthorne and his Black Hammer Squadron are the scourge of the Axis in Europe. Pilots who will dare anything, prevail against all odds, and leave the enemy questioning that whole Master Race nonsense. In this opening issue, writer Ray Fawkes (along with story-credited Lemire) chronicle the Black Hammer Squadron’s final mission of WWII.
They set the board and poise the pieces for a legendary, three-way free-for all. But as it’s related in flashback, the outcome is inferred to be the stuff of recurring nightmares. The Black Hammers are handed a mission off the books, one that ‘never happened’ once accomplished. It’s a clandestine grab for a Nazi-held scientist before he can be liberated by onrushing USSR forces, his talents turned to their use after the war. Hammer and his men must not only beat the Red Tide special forces to the target. Both must also contend with the deadliest pilot in the war as he preys on anyone not part of his Luftwaffe. This Ghost Hunter and Captain Hawthorne have a history. One that makes what should be a final surgical extraction into a last chance for vengeance.
As the story is framed both in 1945 and in the modern era, Fawkes plays each setting off one another masterfully. A dangerous world at war with living legends looming large, versus a world that’s merely grown larger and a lot louder. Then, all three elements set on an unalterable collision course in the final mission, a leap into duty and destiny. Now, an aftermath that continues to haunt survivors seventy years later.
It’s not just the duality of the narrative that makes this issue work. It’s the truth beneath the veneer of a familiar wartime comics yarn where the heroes do everything but cry “Hawkaaa!” to underscore their connection to another band of diverse fighter pilots. Underscored is a focus on that most dread corollary: “If only.”
I worked in a profession where resolutions were rated, careers made and lost, based on split-second decisions weighed against the “If only” outcome. Black Hammer ’45 explores the actions of a brash and headstrong young man on a vendetta under the guise of duty. Simultaneously, it presents a contemplative, older version of that young man coping with his own, personal “If only” as he copes with the result. I’ve seen that weigh on people in real life. It can ruin them, mature them, twist them, and the creative team has captured one version of that personal hell. Once more, a Black Hammer entry has pierced the comics veneer to assail the jugular.
Matt Kindt’s art, supported by Sharlene Kindt’s colors, bestows a Golden Age brusqueness appropriate to comics of the era emulated. It’s rough and rugged, resonating rawness whether in action sequences or quiet interludes. Marie Enger fashions lettering into a personal diary entry, fitting seamlessly the narrative’s styling. The contributions of each member of the creative team elevate the first issue exponentially. This is what all such collaborations strive for but seldom achieve.
The result is an inaugural chapter that will assuredly add more complexity to the overlapping, interconnected Hammerverse before the series is finished. It sets up the conflict and its long-term effect, then banks into a steep dive to strafe us with the pending sorrows as pride and anger overcome reason to reject wise counsel. All before the primary battle’s even begun. Finally, we’re left with our heroes facing a challenge sufficient to give an Odinson pause and leaves us clamoring for the next installment. It’s may not be real aerial combat, but it’s a top-notch feat of comic book derring-do.
Dark Horse Comics / $3.99
Written by Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes.
Art by Matt Kindt.
Colors by Sharlene Kindt.
Letters by Marie Enger.
9 out of 10
‘Black Hammer ’45: From the World of Black Hammer’ #1 hits stores March 6.
Check out this variant cover to ‘Black Hammer ’45: From the World of Black Hammer’ #1 by Veronica Fish, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics!