Best Shots Advance Review: BLACK HAMMER/JUSTICE LEAGUE: HAMMER OF JUSTICE #1 - 'Quite Literally the Best of Both Worlds' 10/10

Hammer of Justice covers
Credit: DC
Credit: DC

Black Hammer/Justice League: Hammer of Justice #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Michael Walsh
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse Comics/DC
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

”Once upon a time, there was a man named Clark. He lived on a farm and he liked it there.”

Dark Horse Comics’ indie darling superhero universe of Black Hammer pairs beautifully with the DCU in the debut of Black Hammer/Justice League: Hammer of Justice. Penned by Black Hammer creator and part-time DC contributor Jeff Lemire, this Dark Horse/DC co-production is a marvel. Not only is it a wonderful introduction to the vast Bronze Age-inspired Black Hammer universe, but it also manages to be a damn fun crossover event that keeps the weird tone and look of its Black Hammer side intact thanks to Lemire’s dreamy scripting and artist Michael Walsh’s painterly pencils and colors.

A mysterious stranger has come to The Farm, offering to buy it from Abraham Slam and his “family” of former superheroes, releasing them from their super-exile. At the same time, in Metropolis, the Justice League, sans Aquaman and Hawkgirl, are dealing with a pop-up Starro invasion when the same mysterious stranger approaches them, offering a shady chance at “relaxation.” Readers will surely have an idea of who this stranger is, but that doesn’t diminish the sheer fun of the character’s inclusion — one of the major pitfalls of these company crossovers is trying to justify the story itself, but Lemire’s feint here is devilishly simple and just as effective.

Lemire also finds strength in simplicity when it comes to introducing his creations. The opening pages of this crossover could very well be another #1 issue for Black Hammer. In just a few panels, Lemire gives readers a sense and flavor for Abraham, robotic hero Talky-Walk, former space-age heroes Barbalien and Colonel Weird, and magic, pulpy characters Dragonfly and Gail- the latter providing a sharp Umbrella Academy-like self-awareness as she is a 60-year-old powerhouse trapped in the body of a 10-year-old.

From there, Lemire neatly folds in the most recognizable members of the modern JLA — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Cyborg — all of whom find themselves in a bucolic prison, recognizable to Black Hammer fans. It’s a super simple narrative hook, playing on literal decades of dimension hopping crossovers between teams, but it’s fun nevertheless. Lemire has long been an “ideas first” kind of writer, taking large concepts and then making them human with an ironic voice. Using that voice is what makes Hammer of Justice shine as he takes this large scale crossover and makes it feel intimate thanks to simple set ups and keen characterizations.

It is also nice to see a crossover this strange sounding be just as strange looking. And I mean that as an absolute complement. Eschewing the usual “blockbuster crossover” visuals, artist Michael Walsh takes a much more low-key approach to this story. Drawn in a much looser, more surrealist style, Walsh keeps the odd visual cues of the Black Hammer books, coloring The Farm with gray-blue tones to heighten its “otherness” apart from reality. That same surrealist nature is represented, but not as pronounced in the Metropolis scenes, as the character models are much tighter and the lighting scheme matches the sunny disposition of Superman in golds and amber.

Walsh even shows a neat versatility between the styles. Once the actual “crossing over” happens, Walsh paints the opposing characters with the other “brush” as it were. Now the Justice League are rendered in that dreamy, Lynchian art style while the Black Hammer characters have a whole new sheen to them, looking as “normal” as they ever have standing on a whole new Earth. I know I have thrown the word “simple” around a bit in this piece, but it truly is just such a little change that makes all the difference and just adds to the plaintive power of this debut.

Cross-company titles are always a novelty, but I am hard-pressed to think of one as true to itself and its sources than Black Hammer/Justice League: Hammer of Justice. Leaning into the cinematic weirdness of Black Hammer, which is itself a sort of a love letter to the various subgenres of comics, as well as the mythic stakes of the Justice League, Jeff Lemire and Michael Walsh somehow pay loving tribute to both. All while delivering a welcome entry point for both franchises. Quite literally the best of both worlds (or multiverses?), that’s Black Hammer/Justice League: Hammer of Justice #1.

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