Story: Jeff Lemire
Art: Nate Powell, Matt Kindt, Dustin Nguyen, Ray Fawkes, Emi Lenox, Michael Allred
Colors: Dave Stewart, Sharlene Kindt
Letterer: Todd Klein
What They Say:
Illustrated by an all-star slate of guest artists, this oversized anthology issue features five Black Hammer stories from Jeff Lemire, each focusing on one of the stranded heroes. See how Dustin Nguyen, Emi Lenox, Nate Powell, Matt Kindt, and Ray Fawkes take on tales about Abraham Slam, Golden Gail, Colonel Weird, Barbalien, and Madame Dragonfly.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
With Black Hammer as an ongoing series taking a bit of a breather before it moves into its next exploration in March, Jeff Lemire has come together with a fun team of artists to bring out this giant-sized annual, harkening back to the days of old for such things. I’ve been digging the main series a whole lot and this really is just a side story, one that adds a little more nuance and background to things but doesn’t radically change it. What it does offer, delightfully so, is a chance for Lemire to work with a number of other artists to tell some fun stories and let them play in his work that he and Dave Ormston have put together this past year. It’s a fun little romp with each of the artists distinctive styles showing a different way that it could all look. Which is just that, fun, but not what I want from the main book as Dave is the only one that captures the tone for it just right at the moment.
The binding piece to this extended and largely standalone tale is Colonel Weird as he’s floating around as normal and discovers that something new has been born into the Para-Zone. This is unusual in and of itself, or at least he thinks so, and that causes him to go and investigate it after a brief encounter with some of the others in and around the farm, which provides for some minor context and contact with everyone amid the ongoing storyline. The Para-Zone is a fun place where it really does harken back to the kind of surreal science fiction of the sixties and seventies with its look and design but with a richer color palette that just makes it all the more interesting. The Colonel’s time there has him following this strange eyeball-like parastici creature about as it floats along and begins to insert itself into normal space here and there.
And that’s where the book really digs into things and allows for the different artists to showcase things. While Powell works to blend alongside what Ormston has set in the main book, we see how this alien has interacted with each of the group over the years at different times and the artists provide their own take. Kindt’s story with the first encounter with it through Abraham has a distinctive 1940’s style feeling in a lot of ways, showing him at a boxing match and stepping up as Abraham Slam. We also get another one from Dustin Nguyen that gives us a tale of Barbalien in mostly human form dealing with it, and while I love his artwork this is the weakest of the group in how it deals with so much dialogue and less interesting engagement. The push forward through meeting several characters in this way is a whole lot of fun, especially as we finally get a bit more time with Black Hammer as well as they go to Madame Dragonfly for help, but my favorite is Allred’s work with bringing Weird back to meet his Randall self years ago, closing the loop as it must.
While I’m totally loving the main series, well, I’ll admit that I only “liked” this. It’s a fun book in seeing more of these characters from their past lives before everything went south as it showcases their times and styles more and I loved the various interpretations by the artists assembled here. The connective tissue of Colonel Weird works right and everything is solid. But at the same time it doesn’t feel like it adds anything truly new, which admittedly is what the classic giant-sized annuals of old were like. So it’s a fun romp that adds a few new touches but little of significance. It’s entirely worthwhile for fans of the property and it showcases the cast fairly well in some ways, but it’s a distinctive work that’s not likely to be an easily accessible entry point for anyone.
Age Rating: 17+
Released By: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: January 18th, 2017