Missing: 1 Steel-Driving Man

Black Hammer Volume 1: Secret Origins by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, Dave Stewart. Dark Horse, 2017. 9781616557867. Collects Black Hammer #1 – #6. 152pp.

Ten years ago Black Hammer gave his life in the fight to defeat the Anti-God and save Spiral City. The rest of the heroes disappeared. They’ve been living in a small rural town that they can’t leave, trying to be normal. (They’re pretty sure it’s real.) Abe — their leader, the former Abraham Slam — is trying to have a relationship with a waitress, Tammy, but her ex, a local cop, isn’t making things easy. Golden Gail, a magical superwoman stuck in a 9-year-old’s body, is doing a poor job of pretending to be a little girl. Barbalien, a shape shifting Warlord of Mars, is struggling with a secret. Colonel Weird appears and disappears almost randomly, flowing in and out of the para-zone, a meta region of space that’s driven him insane. His robot buddy, Walky, is trying to find a way back to our universe. Oh, and there’s also a witch, Madame Dragonfly, plus back in our world Black Hammer’s daughter is trying to find the heroes.

Lemire says he started the project back when he was working on his insanely good Essex County, about life in small town Canada, and it shows — the town and its people feel realistic, and are a nice contrast to the big city heroes stuck there. Ormston’s art and Stewart’s colors really bring it all alive, particularly during flashbacks to the golden age of heroes in Spiral City. It’s yet another smart way to explore superhero tropes, and more evidence that Lemire is at the top of his game.

I highly recommend Lemire’s other recent work: Plutona (5 kids find a dead superhero in the woods), Roughneck (small town Canadian goodness along the lines of Lemire’s classic Essex County), along with Royal City and his run on Moon Knight. Good stuff.

Schoolyard Superhero

Recess Warriors: Hero Is A Four-Letter Word by Marcus Emerson. Roaring Book Press, 2017. 9781626727083. 144pp.

Bryce is secretly a masked hero known as Scrap. After saving a kid from a few of Armstrong School’s bullies, he gets beat up himself. His friend Yoshi saves him with her her jump rope. (She holds the school record.)

Together they go to investigate calls for help coming from the field by the blacktop. They find a sick boy with pockets full of posies. His cheeks are rosy. Vanilla-bean-frappuccino-loving Juliet is infecting everyone. She loves Scrap, but he never noticed her no matter what she did. So to get his attention she’s spreading cooties. And a little while after the infected boys all fall down, they rise again as zombies.

There are moments in this graphic novel that make it clear this is all just imagined recess fun, but if I was reading it aloud to a kid I’d skip those panels. Every school playground needs a zombie apocalypse.

An Alien in American

Superman: American Alien by Max Landis. Artists: Nick Dragotta, Tommy Lee Edwards, Joëlle Jones, Jae Lee, Francis Manapul, Jonathan Case, Jock. DC Comics, 2016. 9781401262563. Collects Superman: American Alien #1 – #7.

Superman stories are often kinda boring. He’s invulnerable. He’s powerful. He’s immortal. (Remember when he died?) And, cynically, he’s going to win not just for these reasons but because if he died all the Superman merchandise would die with him. A lot of superhero comics suffer from these same issues.

But this book had me from the opening page where a terrified young Clark Kent is rising into the sky, screaming at his terrified mother, clinging to his leg, to not let him go. He’s an alien boy who just wants to be normal. His father tells him weird is better, and, in an amazing chapter, helps him learn to fly.

There are seven chapters here in all, each drawn by a different artist, each with a different tone, each a different moment in Clark / Superman’s life. (Landis’ original series pitch in the back of the book clarifies the idea.) In the second chapter, a teenage Clark uses his powers to help a family held at gunpoint. It’s horrific — he doesn’t have the level of control he needs to keep people safe from his own powers. What’s brilliant is he’s not that powerful (yet). Plus it’s clear that the sheriff and everyone else around him knows he’s different and how he’s different, because how could they not notice something like that in a small Kansas town?

The chapter drawn by Joëlle Jones is my favorite, with Clark accidentally impersonating Bruce Wayne at a raging party in Wayne’s honor on a yacht. Clark hilariously foils an assassination attempt, and he gets the girl, at least for the moment. It sets up Clark’s not-so-epic first meeting with Batman in Metropolis years later, and a bit of Batman-related madness that follows.

No more details because I don’t want to ruin it. I’d say 1 in 20 Superman collections is worth reading, and this is right at the top of the pile with Loeb and Sale’s beautiful Superman: For All Seasons and Morrison / Quietly’s utterly amazing All-Star Superman.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spider

Black Widow Volume 1: S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Most Wanted by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee. Marvel, 2016. 9780785199755.

black-widow-1Contains Black Widow #1 – #6.

Many comics have borrowed the cinematic action style of comics that Darwin Cooke perfected in Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score. (In fact, some pages from Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye run may have one-upped it, though they feel a little grittier.) But only Waid and Samnee seem able to equal Cooke’s sense of fun despite this story’s life-or-death stakes.

The opening sequence is really all you need to hear about to know if you want to read it. Black Widow wades through S.H.I.E.L.D agents trying to stop her from leaving what appears to be an office building. After a fight she drops a bomb, blowing her out a window, which reveals that she’s falling from a helicarrier 40,000 feet in the air without a parachute. Does she panic? No. She has a plan. And those agents in flying cars and with rocket packs are part of it. It’s a ballet that ends perfectly and elegantly. And it’s all because someone is blackmailing her by threatening to reveal her secrets.