When we last saw the heroes of Black Hammer Farm like Abraham Slam and Barbalien, they were hurtling through space, unsure if they’d be alive moments later. Now we see them back at home, but seemingly with their histories rewritten. Lucy is making ends meet as a waitress with no hint as to her or her father’s past as Black Hammer. Abraham Slam is a sleepy museum security guard. Barbalien is living under persecution back home on Mars.
It’s not surprising that Black Hammer: Age of Doom has taken another sudden turn given the nature of the series as a whole. This is a book that constantly keeps you on your toes and this issue is no exception. This seems like an alternate reality story, not unlike House of M or Age of Apocalypse, but with a lot less death and destruction. The heroes have been turned normal, stripped of their abilities and memories to live a hum-drum life.
This presents an interesting idea. Sure, there are ups and downs to the life of a super hero, but is this what they’re ultimately fighting for? Are they better or worse than when they were living a lie on the farm? It’s a little tragic in a way. Writer Jeff Lemire presents this altered state in this sad manner, like this is all these characters have amounted to. Knowing what we do about each of them, it is absolutely heartbreaking.
Letterer Todd Klein reinforces this feeling with Lucy’s narration, shown in drab caption boxes. It’s fitting that she laments her boring life in a boring shade of internal dialogue. Klein mixes things up down the line with Barbalien, using a…well…alien-looking font that reminds you we’re dealing with a whole different planet.
Although these versions of the characters have seemingly never donned a costume or fought crime, you get a sense of loss with how they’re portrayed. Artist Dean Ormston captures a feeling of depression and sadness in every image. Something is missing in their lives and it shows. You can see it it the exhausted looks on Abraham’s face.
Ormston sneaks in a fun little detail with Lucy’s scenes. In almost every image, her eyes are closed. It isn’t until the end of the issue where she begins to learn the truth that her eyes are literally opened. It’s like she’s finally seeing that this is not her reality.
Barbalien’s tale is the only one of the three included here that seems to have anything resembling hope. Yes, he’s hated by his neighbors for being different, but he appears happy despite that. Colorist Dave Stewart brings the alien world of Mars alive with shocking reds and yellows. It may be a desert planet, but life is thriving here.
This contrasts well with the dull and dreary lives back on Earth. Judging from this issue, the sun never shines in Spiral City. It’s a never-ending overcast of dark clouds.
Black Hammer will challenge how you view super hero comics. It continues to stretch the limits of the genre, playing with familiar tropes in new and interesting ways. Age of Doom #8 hits in a way that other alternate reality stories don’t in that it feels as if there will be lasting effects from this. These characters have been put through the ringer time and time again. Sooner or later, they’re going to crack.