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/Justice League: Hammer of Justice’ #1, out July 10 from Dark Horse Comics and DC.
THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘BLACK HAMMER/JUSTICE LEAGUE: HAMMER OF JUSTICE’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. How ya gonna keep ‘em down on The Farm after they’ve seen Metropolis? That’s a question writer Jeff Lemire will be exploring in his Black Hammer/Justice League 5-issue crossover in July. For heroes who are recognizable facsimiles of DC and Marvel champions, the Black Hammer team members differ from their counterparts. The conjoined sandbox Lemire has access to, one he helped construct with his original Dark Horse Hammerverse, might be described as the denizens of Watchmen meeting Charlton’s Sentinels of Justice. All the character similarities explored, offset by their overall situational differences. Fans of Lemire’s work should expect a sandpit session resulting in silica sprinkled over blankets, sunbathers, and Eskimo Pies. No beachfront can contain his creative uprush.
DC’s Justice League conducts business as usual, scrambling to curtail yet another attempted Earth takeover by Starro. The team is diminished from its usual size due to other League commitments, but it’s not as if this is the first rodeo for Flash, Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, and Superman in dealing with the alien echinoderm.
The Hammerverse veteran superheroes are, by contrast, still lingering in extra-dimensional exile a decade after their Crisis-worthy battle against Anti-God. Like Twilight Zone characters, the champions of Spiral City found themselves banished to The Farm after their victory as quickly as little Anthony teleported problematic people to his Cornfield. Ever since, they’ve been trapped within a quaint Mayberry purgatory called Rockwood. Some have accepted their situation, some continue to rail against it, and all have tried unsuccessfully to escape.
Enter a mysterious figure, a mystical entity based more in the DCU than the Hammerverse but able to perceive both. Knowing a good trap when he sees it, the Nameless One sets about swapping the teams. Not just their locations. Their situations are also reversed. The Leaguers go rural in Rockwood for another planting season, their tenth in a row. The Hammer heroes pop into a Metropolis menaced by the zombie-making kaiju starfish, unaware of who or what Starro is. Before the issue is complete, another DC team appears and interacts with a Hammerverse castaway.
The first issue is a proficient crossover tone-setter, with reader expectation levels elevated accordingly. What other factions and characters from both realities will come into play? Will the Quantum League rub shoulder pads with the Legion of Super-Heroes? Those familiar with Lemire’s work can appreciate the possibilities, given his aptitude for upending familiar tropes while building powerful character introspections. He artfully crafts realistic, human reactions to the strangest turns of superheroic fate. Any disbelievers may consult Doctor Star & the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows. In the crossover series, he has opportunity to do the same between character rosters of both universes.
Michael Walsh’s style lends itself to Dean Ormston’s distinctive Black Hammer art sensibility but remains appropriate for the DC heroes. This was one of my concerns when the project was announced; I personally didn’t want to see a Black Hammer title, even a crossover, looking like a DC book. When samples of Walsh’s first cover appeared, all fears evaporated. The expression on Superman’s face as the League encounters The Farm is entirely a Black Hammer countenance of situations gone wildly askew. Walsh’s interiors propagate the cover’s promise. Especially effective is his reworking of the opening pages allowing for cast changes.
Walsh also provided the colors, and again, the ideal balance is struck. The Farm has its dusty, rural prison semblance. Metropolis is urban and more brightly lit, but the colors are faded and less pure than one expects. The changing of respective inmates and guardians is a natural, harmonious one thanks to the talents of the artist. Nate Piekos gels his experience into a lettering style that fits both settings, and his washed-out, subtle sound effects also bridge the universes. His Colonel Weird rambling dialogues are always a delight, never more than they are here.
By the final panels, the reader has motives aplenty to want #2. Starro may be old hat to the League, but there’s a power level difference and lack of experience with the Hammerverse supers as opposed to the League members. While the JL has a reputation for escaping insolvable traps, The Farm may prove an exception. Or not. Even the Justice Society, confined for years in a Ragnarok dimensional battle loop, freed themselves from a second incarceration there with the addition of a few League members. There are also the questions of who orchestrated the exchange of characters between their realities, and how it furthers their grand, villainous scheme. The introduction issue is rocket fuel for our soaring imaginations. Lemire has a reputation for exceeding recommended absolute ceilings, to reach higher and brush stardust. This is a worthy ascent, one with his largest payload to date.
Dark Horse Comics / DC / $3.99
Written by Jeff Lemire.
Art by Michael Walsh.
Letters by Nate Piekos of Blambot.
8.5 out of 10
‘Black Hammer/Justice League: Hammer of Justice’ #1 hits stores on July 10.
This review previously stated that Dave Stewart and Michael Walsh collaborated on this issue, which is incorrect. Sole coloring credit goes to Walsh, and DoomRocket apologizes for the error.
Check out Andrea Sorrentino’s variant cover to ‘Black Hammer/Justice League: Hammer of Justice’ #1, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics and DC!