Review: Black Hammer: Visions #1
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Script by Patton Oswalt
Art by Dean Kotz
Colour Art by Jason Wordie
Letters by Nate Piekos
Cover by Dean Kotz with Jason Wordie
“We are the weirdos, mister.”
Heck is other people, or so said some dead guy; we all know that, more specifically, Haitch, Ee, Double Hockey Sticks is school. For me, it was high school. “Best times of your life” they said. “The Glory days!” they said. Aye. Nae bother. Peer pressure, acne, home economics, and the smells? Dear GAWD, those awful, awful smells…
Imagine how much worse it would be though, if’n you had to go back and do it all again. Knowing what you know now, having to sit through that same old song and dance and trying to pretend that any of it really matters. Sounds awful, right? Sounds like… heck. Now, imagine that you’re a “sexually active fifty-year-old, and [you] turn into a ten-year-old superhero whenever [you] say, “ZAFRAM!” But now it DOESN’T FUCKING WORK, and [you’re] trapped in this shit-stain town and [you] just want a cigarette and a solid lay!”
Welcome to the wacky, woe-filled world of Gail Gibbons, a.k.a. Golden Gail… hope you survive the experience!
‘Black Hammer: Visions’ is an eight-issue series set in Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s Black Hammer universe. Each issue focusing on different characters, written by guest artists, and illustrated by guest writers. Or something… ‘Black Hammer: Visions’ #1 is brought to us by stand-up comic, actor, and the voice of M.O.D.O.K. his own self, Patton Oswalt (from comic to comics – the ciiiiiiiircle of liiiiiiife…). Art comes courtesy of Dean Kotz (‘Dungeons & Dragons’, ‘Poe’, ‘The Butcher of Paris’, Warlord of Mars Attacks’), Jason Wordie (‘God Country’, ‘The Butcher of Paris’, ‘Abbot’), and Nate “Blambot!” Piekos (‘X-Force’, ‘Black Hammer’, and, coming in October 2021, ‘The Essential Guide to Lettering’ – I’m really excited for this book, ngl).
‘Black Hammer: Visions’ #1 focuses on a couple of new yet strangely familiar characters, Eunice and Barbara. These two besties have just graduated from high school and are sippin’ their cups o’ Joe in the diner run by Tammy, Abraham Slam’s main squeeze. Comparing “surviving” high school to coming through a war, Eunice reminds Barbara of a young girl they were in fourth grade with… Gail Gibbons.
What follows is a heart-breaking tale of adolescence; trying to fit-in, growing-up and getting out of the dead-end town you live in; growing apart from your closest friend, and accepting that you’re really just a freak, and that’s ok. Eunice, “an amazing weirdo,” and Barbara, the “normal” half of the partnership, reminisce about Gail and her “cousin,” Windy in a series of flashbacks. Here, we get to see how difficult life is for the perennially pre-pubescent punk through the eyes of the two friends.
This being one of the few ‘Black Hammer’ comics written by anyone other than series co-creator, Jeff Lemire, (Ray Fawkes co-wrote ‘Black Hammer ’45’ and Tate Brombal wrote the wonderful, ‘Barbalien: Red Planet’ mini-series) I was curious to see if it would retain the magic of the earlier books. I needn’t have worried. Patton Oswalt brings a fresh perspective (via our two protagonists) to one of the most compelling characters in a brand-new universe choc-full of compelling characters. Not only that, but he also channels the amazing Daniel Clowes and his fabulous 1990’s coming-of-age story, ‘Ghost World’ . Oh, and it’s funny too. Hilariously so.
Whether it’s “ten-year-old” Gail shocking the teacher by reciting Philip Larkin’s, ‘This Be The Verse’ for poetry day, or the easy back-and-forth between our two leads, (“I mean, just order ice cream if you’re gonna put that much sugar in, ya wimp.” “Black coffee tastes like angry crayons.”) Patton Oswalt nails the humour and the heart in twenty-two glorious pages – something more experienced creators can’t manage with a four-hour finale to their trilogy *cough* Zack Snyder *cough*
Dean Kotz’s beautiful linework brings the “action” to life (no boring, mundane, fisticuffs in this book – just a simple, slice-of-life tale in a pocket dimension retirement home for superheroes; y’know, standard stuff). He perfectly brings each character’s personality to the fore (nowhere better than in our introduction to Gail – perfectly showing her exactly as she is, a fifty-year-old woman trapped inside of a ten-year-old’s body – with one sardonic grin and a naff-but-comfortable-lookin’ brown cardigan).
Eunice and “don’t call me” Babsy’s looks are perfectly-pitched homages to Clowe’s Enid and Becky (or Thora and Scarlett if you prefer your comics movin’). We watch them grow up and get a sense of how their small-town Americana upbringing is slowly but surely sending them down different paths (“You two are gonna go in different directions, princess… but you’ll be okay with it…” as Gail tells Barbara). The latter slowly settling into life, post-high school with her blonde hair, Alice bands, and all-round prom queen looks; and Eunice with her horn-rimmed glasses, outsidery, wearing-jeans-and-a-t-shirt-to-graduation style).
Jason Wordie’s muted colours give the whole book a “sleepy, midwestern town in autumn” feel which perfectly suits the nature of not only this particular issue, but of the whole ‘Black Hammer’ series in general (particularly when we find ourselves in Rockwood).
Nate “Blambot! Piekos really ties the book together with his simple and effective lettering. Every background sign, every mean-spirited word on Gail’s science fair project, Eunice’s “Hello. My Name Is…” sticker, and Gail’s Superman-like super-sneezey-save scene are perfectly, subtly realised; exactly what this story calls for.
All-in-all, a pretty much perfect start to this anthology series. Patton Oswalt, Dean Kotz, Jason Wordie, and Nate Piekos have given us a fabulous addition to the world of ‘Black Hammer’ and a great look at the sad, unchanging life of Gail Gibbons in this “paradise” that she finds herself trapped within. I would love to see this creative team given a full series to really show what they can do with the rest of the characters who are stuck on the farm.
It will be interesting to see what the creators bring in the subsequent issues (Geoff Johns and Scott Kollins, Chip Zdarsky and Johnnie Christmas for issues two and three respectively) but so far, ‘Black Hammer: Visions’ is off to a flying start!
Highest possible recommendation.
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