Black Hammer #3 Review
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Dean Ormston
Colors by Dave Stewart
Letters by Todd Klein

Review by John Dubrawa

blackhammer3You’d be hard pressed not to think about a certain shape-shifting Martian from DC Comics while reading through the woeful tale of the Barbalien–aka Mark Markz–in Black Hammer #3. But as has been the modus operandi for this series since the get go, writer Jeff Lemire once again subverts the expectation of the reader by delivering a a slight twist on a familiar narrative. Like last issue’s focus on the character of Golden Gail, this look inward at one of Black Hammer’s complex characters reveals a layered backstory with plenty of pathos and heartbreak. There may not be much forward momentum happening in this series with regards to conflict or plot but as long as Lemire continues to examine his characters in such a compelling way, there’s no rush.

Barbalien’s tale is one of isolation and loneliness–two words that are coming up a lot when discussing our heroes of Black Hammer–but not for the reasons one might expect at first. While the story starts down the fairly well-worn path of a shape-shifting alien facing xenophobia here on Earth, it turns sharply inward on itself by revealing that Barbalien harbors another secret. Suddenly, his quest to “find others like him” requires overcoming an entirely different phobia, one that evidently (and sadly) exists even on other planets. Lemire doesn’t use this secret merely for shock value but rather to add even more depth to this increasingly tragic superhero drama.

Much of the emotion conveyed in Lemire’s script wouldn’t be possible without Dean Ormston’s art. Ormston has shown an unquestionable ability to handle the quieter moments of this series so far and here that gets put to the test since a significant chunk of Barbalien’s interactions are forlorn glances and introspective stares. As a result, there are more closeups being utilized by Ormston in the issue than the two before it, which allows him to chisel in a great bit of detail on the character’s faces. Even the brief bit of Golden Gail we get to see shows her still wrestling with her feelings from last issue. Dave Stewart’s color palette plays a pivotal role as well in discerning where we are in the story as Lemire’s script bounces between timelines in Barbalien’s life. Except for maybe one or two panels, it’s clear where we’re at at all times thanks to Stewart’s use of shading.

Buy. It’s hard to be this excited about a series where the characters are this tragic, but Lemire is doing drama right in Black Hammer. For as much as I want to know who or what is behind what has happened to our heroes, getting the ins and outs of each one has been just as rewarding if not more so. Lemire is continuing something great with Black Hammer, so pick it up if you haven’t already.

John Dubrawa

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