It’s hard to build a new superhero universe that can compete with the rich history of DC and Marvel, but in the pages of Black Hammer, writer Jeff Lemire and artist Dean Ormston create a compelling, sprawling superhero world by taking elements of the genre’s past and reinterpreting them in a complex story rooted in deeply personal conflict. The creative team focuses on emotion over spectacle, and the series has deep roots in both mystery and horror, examining how a group of former superheroes copes with being trapped in a rural town they cannot escape. They’re forced to live ordinary lives, but the memories of their extraordinary pasts complicate everything and intensify the tragedy of their current predicament.
The first Black Hammer series won the Eisner Award for Best New Series last year, and it’s breakout success has inspired Dark Horse Comics to expand the concept into a line of Lemire-penned titles. Spin-off miniseries Sherlock Frankenstein And The Legion Of Evil and Doctor Star & The Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows have put side characters in the spotlight while the main series is on hiatus, and they’ve added layers to this larger narrative while introducing plot points for Lemire to explore down the line. “It is important to me that the spin-offs stand on their own as complete and satisfying stories while enriching the main Black Hammer series at the same time,” says Lemire. “So, we will see the character of Sherlock Frankenstein play a role later on in the new series, particularly his relationship with Golden Gail.”
Next month, the ongoing title returns with a new volume, Black Hammer: Age Of Doom, and as the title suggests, the series is getting even darker by pushing the horror influence. “Age of Doom picks up literally seconds after the ending of the first Black Hammer series and continues the story right from that point,” says Lemire. “The big development at the end of the first series was that Lucy picked up her father’s hammer and took on the mantle of Black Hammer. That is a huge change not only for her but for Golden Gail, Barbalien, Abe and the rest of the heroes on the farm. And of course, Lucy also claims to know where they are and how to leave the farm. So, without spoiling anything, it is safe to say that everything is going to change. But I can’t tell you how things will change without spoiling the series. What I can reveal is that, while the first Black Hammer series explored the history of superhero comics, this new series will similarly explore the rich history of some of my favorite horror comics as well.”
The creepy elements are Ormston’s favorite aspect of this series, and this new series takes advantage of this passion. “I grew up on a diet of old classic universal horror movies and Warren magazine artists like José Ortiz, Gene Colan, Angelo Torres,” says Ormston. “I spent most of my youth trying to emulate those guys, so my art style suits darker subjects and I always prefer the finished result. My lack of experience working in the superhero genre means I’m out of my comfort zone on this series, which is a challenge, but it’s a fun challenge. For various reasons, I struggle to maintain the same look as the earlier issues. I constantly have to look back through the first two volumes to refresh my memory. So anything that looks like I’m attempting a new style is purely accidental!”
This exclusive preview of Black Hammer: Age Of Doom #1 highlights the contrast of superhero fantasy with the quiet rural setting, and even though there’s an influx of excitement with Lucy taking on her father’s mantle, the visual storytelling by Ormston and colorist Dave Stewart is still very subdued and grounded. “Dean has an uncanny way of taking things that should be mundane and rendering them in a way that is full of mood and character,” says Lemire. “He also takes superhero comic tropes and depicts them in a way that is slightly left of center and makes them feel linked to the history of comics and the stories we are referencing, but also they feel new and different somehow at the same time. But the greatest thing Dean does is capture the lives of these characters, and he makes them feel real and alive. He is a wonderful artist and a wonderful collaborator. I feel very lucky to be working with him.”
That appreciation is reciprocated by Ormston, who is especially grateful for Lemire’s support after he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in March of 2015, a medical emergency that affected the entire right side of his body and forced the debut of Black Hammer to be delayed by a year. “I was very honored when Jeff asked me if I’d be interested in collaborating with him, but now he’s just my hero and friend,” says Ormston. “He stood by me when I couldn’t work for over six months, even though the book would be delayed for at least a year. It wasn’t even clear if I would ever be able to draw again, so I would have completely understood if he needed to use another artist, but he stood by me, and I will never forget that.” That personal relationship between the two collaborators has resulted in exceptional creative results, and readers can discover the next phase of this partnership when Black Hammer: Age Of Doom #1 goes on sale April 18.