Review: The LAST DAYS OF BLACK HAMMER
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Author: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Stefano Simeone
Colors: Stefano Simeone
Letters: Nate Piekos
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Review by: Derek McNeil
The Last Days of Black Hammer: The Last Days of Black Hammer details the exploits of Joe Weber – the original hero known as Black Hammer – at the height of his power, along with the rest of Black Hammer’s main heroes such as Golden Gail, Abraham Slam and Barbalien in the final days leading up to their cataclysmic battle with the cosmic villain Anti-God and their imprisonment in limbo farm!
When Black Hammer and his allies battled the cosmic villain Anti-God, this event, known as the Cataclysm, triggered the events of Jeff Lemire’s Black Hammer series. The flood effect was also felt in many of Lemire’s sequel and spin-off series. So we’ve seen this defining event told and retold from various angles. Now Lemire finally presents the Flood and the events leading up to it in detail.
Unlike Lemire’s previous Black Hammer works, The Last Days of Black Hammer was not released in print as single issues. Instead, it first appeared in his Substack, and this trade collection is its first print edition. While I’m not opposed to paying for a subscription to his Substack, I welcome the opportunity to add a physical copy to my collection Black Hammer collected editions.
Lemire uses an interesting conceit for the chapters in this book. While the collection is titled The Last Days of Black Hammer, each chapter is presented as the final four issues (#234 to #237) of a fictional Black Hammer comic starring Joe Weber, the original Black Hammer. These issues are apparently from 1986, with the Dark Horse Comics logo of the time. Oddly, if these issues actually existed in 1986, they would have been among the publisher’s first offerings, given that Dark Horse was founded that year.
The first chapter begins with the heroes defeating an alien invasion. However, during the Battle, Joe sees a vision of his dead body floating in the Para-Zone. Later in the issue, Colonel Weird takes Joe on a visit to the Para-Zone, confirming this as his fate. This raises the question of whether or not one can avoid one’s fate. Unfortunately, it is not possible in this case. For us readers of the previous one Black Hammer books, Joe’s death has already happened. His death is destined to happen as shown here.
After the alien invasion, Abraham Slam and Golden Gail retreat. Joe decides to follow their lead, hoping to avoid his fate as well as spend more time with his family. But Starlok, the cosmic being who gave Joe his powers, refuses to accept Joe’s resignation, stating that it is his inescapable destiny. However, Joe refuses to obey and fights his destiny by giving his hammer and the Black Hammer name to an heir.
It has been established in the main Black Hammer series and in Colonel Weird: Cosmagog that Randall weird does not experience time in a linear fashion. He flits back and forth between different points in his timeline. And he is damned seeing the whole picture of how events should turn out. This often leaves him confused about what point in time he is in and explains his weak grasp of logic.
But it’s also a very useful plot device. He knows what events await and Lemire can use him to drop a hint or give the other heroes the right information at just the right time. b]But it also makes him unreliable enough to prevent others from questioning him about the future.
And Randall Weird fills that role perfectly in this story. It gives Joe enough insight into his fate, which influences his decisions. But it leaves out a lot of details that won’t become relevant until future events mostly Black Hammer titles. And he also informs Joe of the impending threat of the Anti-God. And finally, he returns to warn Joe when the Anti-God’s attack is imminent.
We will also see the classic story of getting a team back together for one last tail. Although Joe tries to be optimistic that they will survive the battle with the Anti-God, there is a sense of finality to the story. Abraham Schlam even states, “Well, there’s nobody I’d rather go out with than you.” And we readers know how it will turn out.
I also enjoyed seeing the brief appearance of the Unbelievable Unteens and the Golden Family. While it’s just a cameo, it’s a nice reference to Lemire’s larger universe. And seeing other heroes in battle marks the Flood as a really important event in this universe.
Also, Golden Gail is probably my favorite character in the Black Hammer comics. And I loved seeing her take on the classic role of the hero who refuses to take part in the battle, only to surprise the others by showing up in time to take part in the finale. It’s a classic trope, but it fits this story perfectly, and Gail is perfectly suited to fill that role.
I also find it interesting to think how this story would have appeared if I had read it in 1986 without knowing the main series that started in 2016. The ending seems to show the death of the seven main characters. And with no sequel in the sequel, it would really seem like the end of their story.
And it would take over three decades for Colonel Ward’s cryptic remark to Madam Dragonfly to make sense. He tells Dragonfly, “You and I… we have some preparations to make.” These plans are revealed in Black Hammer: Age of Doom No. 5 in 2018. Black hammers readers should immediately recognize the significance of this remark, but if we had read The Last Days of Black Hammer in 1986, this would have been an amazing piece of foreshadowing. Looking at the story this way, I feel that Lemire’s choice to present the story as old themes back is a stroke of genius.
This collection, like many of the other Black Hammer collections, includes an Artist’s Sketchbook feature. In this feature, Stefano Simeone shows the progression of certain pages of the story from the original sketches to the final page. It also gives some insight into some of his artistic choices for these scenes. Personally, I’m not terribly well versed in art theory. So I find it very informative for the artist to explain these things to me.
Lemire has worked with several talented artists on previous Black Hammer books, each with their own unique style. And Simeone’s art can stand proudly among the fine works of his predecessors. I will definitely try to check out other projects he has worked on.
I have no complaints about this story. It fits perfectly into the canon that Lemire has established in his other Black Hammer titles. And Simeone’s art is the perfect choice for Lemire’s story. In fact, the only complaint I can think of that anyone might have is that they might struggle to see the point of a story where we already know how it’s going to end.
This is a common complaint with prequels, where the ending is predetermined before the story even begins. However, finding out how the story ends is not the point of a story like this. The point is to fill in the details of the events that led to this ending. Perhaps we already know what awaits these heroes. But what we learn about the last days of Joe Weber’s life lends additional poignancy to his death.
Joe is mostly absent from Black Hammer’s main titles. Mostly we hear others talk about him or see him in flashbacks. But to The Last Days of Black Hammer, we have a better sense of the man he was. And so we can better understand the loss others feel after his death.
by Jeff Lemire The Last Days of Black Hammer is another triumph in his string of titles set in Black Hammer universe. After so many titles, you might expect the quality to drop occasionally, but Lemire consistently maintains a level of excellence that marks these stories as something unique in the comic book world. And he always finds the perfect artist to bring his stories to life, which he has done again with Stefanos Simeone. Looking forward to the next new World of Black Hammer history, Colonel Weird and Little Andromeda.