Review: The LAST DAYS OF BLACK HAMMER
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Stefano Simeone
Colours: Stefano Simeone
Letters: Nate Piekos
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Reviewed By: Derek McNeil
The Last Days of Black Hammer: The Last Days of Black Hammer details the heroics of Joe Weber–the original hero known as Black Hammer–at the height of his power, along with the rest of the main Black Hammer heroes like Golden Gail, Abraham Slam, and Barbalien in the final days leading up their cataclysmic battle with the cosmic villain Anti-God and their imprisonment on the limbo farm!
When Black Hammer and his allies fought the cosmic villain Anti-God, this event, known as the Cataclysm, sparked the events of the Jeff Lemire’s Black Hammer series. The Cataclysm’s effect were also felt in many of Lemire’s sequel and spin-off series. Thus, we have seen this defining event referenced and retold from various viewpoints. Now Lemire finally presents the Cataclysm and the events leading up to it in detail.
Unlike Lemire’s previous Black Hammer projects, The Last Days of Black Hammer wasn’t released in print as individual issues. Rather, it first appeared on his Substack, and this trade collection is its first print release. Although I’m not opposed to paying for a subscription to his Substack, I am happy for the opportunity to add a physical copy to my collection of Black Hammer collected editions.
Lemire uses an interesting conceit for the chapters of this book. While the collection is titled as 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 ostensibly from 1986, complete with the Dark Horse Comics logo of the era. Oddly enough, if these issues really existed in 1986, they would have been among the publisher’s first offerings, giving that Dark Horse was founded that same year.
The first chapter starts 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 their fate. Sadly, it isn’t possible in this case. For us readers of the previous Black Hammer books, Joe’s death has already happened. His death is predestined to happen as shown here.
Following the alien invasion, Abraham Slam and Golden Gail retire. Joe decides to follow their example, hoping to avoid his fate as well as to spend more time with his family. But Starlok, the cosmic being who gave Joe his powers, refuses to accept Joe’s resignation, declaring that it’s his inescapable destiny. However, Joe refuses to obey and fights his destiny by giving his hammer and the name of Black Hammer to a successor.
It’s been well-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 among various points in his timeline. And he is cursed with seeing the entire picture of how events must play out. This leaves him frequently confused about which point in time he is in, and explains his tenuous grasp on sanity.
But it’s also a very useful plot device. He knows what events lay ahead, and Lemire can use him to drop hint or to give the other heroes the right information at exactly the right moment. b]But also makes him unreliable enough to keep the others from interrogating him about the future.
And Randall Weird fulfills that role perfectly in this story. He gives Joe enough knowledge about his fate, which influences his decisions. But he leaves out much detail that won’t become relevant until the future events in the main Black Hammer titles. And he also informs Joe of the impending threat of Anti-God. And finally, he returns to warn Joe when Anti-God’s attack is imminent.
We also get to see the classic story of gathering a team back together for one last hurrah. Even though Joe tries to be optimistic that they will survive the fight with Anti-God, there is a feeling of finality to the story. Abraham Slam even states, “Well there’s no one I’d rather go out with you guys”. And we the readers know how it will turn out.
I also liked seeing the brief appearance of the Unbelievable Unteens and the Golden Family. While it’s just a cameo, it’s a nice reference to the Lemire’s wider universe. And seeing other heroes in the fray marks the Cataclysm as a truly major event in that universe.
Also, Golden Gail is probably my favourite character in the Black Hammer comics. And I loved seeing her take the classic role of the hero that refuses to take part in the battle, only to surprise the others by showing up just in time to take part in the finale. It’s a classic trope, but it fits this story perfectly, and Gail is beautifully suited to fill this role.
I also find it intriguing to consider how this story would appear if I actually had read it back in 1986 with no knowledge of the main series which began in 2016.. The ending appears to show the death of the main seven heroes. And with no follow-up coming afterwards, it truly would have seemed to be the end of their story.
And it would take Colonel Weird’s mysterious remark to Madame Dragonfly over three decades to make sense. He tells Dragonfly, “You and I… we have some preparations to make”. Those plans are revealed in Black Hammer: Age of Doom #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, that would have been an amazing bit of foreshadowing. Looking at the story this way, I feel that Lemire’s choice to present the story as old back issues to be a stroke of genius.
This collection, like many of the other Black Hammer collections, includes an Aritist’s Sketchbook feature. In this feature, Stefano Simeone shows the evolution of certain pages of the story from original sketches to the final page. He also gives some insight to some of his artistic choices for those scenes. Personally, I am not terribly knowledgeable with artistic theory. So, I find it very informative for the artist to explain these things for me.
Lemire has worked with a number talented artists on previous Black Hammer books, each with their own unique styles. And Simeone’s art can stand proudly among the fine work of his predecessors. I will definitely make a point of checking out other projects he has worked on.
I have no complaints at all 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 may have trouble seeing the point of a story where we already know how it will end.
This is a common complain with prequels, where the ending is preordained 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 leading up to that ending. We may already know what lays ahead for these heroes. But what we learn about the final days of Joe Weber’s life gives added poignancy to his death.
Joe is mostly absent from the main Black Hammer titles. We mostly hear the others talk about him or see him in flashbacks. But in The Last Days of Black Hammer, we get a better sense of the man he was. And thus we can better understand the loss that the others feel after his death.
Jeff Lemire’s The Last Days of Black Hammer is yet another triumph in his series of titles set in the Black Hammer universe. After this many titles, you might expect the quality to slip occasionally, but Lemire consistently maintains a level of excellence that marks these stories as something unique in the world of comics. And he always finds the perfect artist to bring his stories to life, which he has done again with Stefano Simeone. I can hardly wait for the next new World of Black Hammer story, Colonel Weird and Little Andromeda.