This post may be shorter than my previous diatribes about the wonderful world of Black Hammer, for multiple reasons. One, I’ve said most of the things I could say. Two, this is an odds and sods collection to begin with, so it’s small and random and miscellaneous and will not stand the weight of serious criticism. There may be other reasons as well, but I think those two will do.
In any case, I have written a bunch about the previous Black Hammer books – the most recent was the flashback Black Hammer ’45 , and that one links further back in turn. And, frankly, how much background do you need? This is a pastiche superhero universe, with mixed DC and Marvel influences (Legion of Super-Heroes here, New Gods there), and anyone who knows superhero comics from the second half of the 20th century will find all of it deeply recognizable.
So this is Black Hammer: Streets of Spiral . It was the ninth collection of the series, and the one that gathered all of the loose bits of string to that point: one “Giant-Sized Annual,” in case you thought it wasn’t on-the-nose enough about its obsession with ’70s comics; a one-shot called Cthu-Louise; The World of Black Hammer Encyclopedia, a very “Who’s Who”-style compendium of superhero details; and a short story from the Dark Horse Free Comic Book Day issue for 2019. The Encyclopedia was written by Tate Brombal with series-creator Jeff Lemire; Lemire and Ray Fawkes wrote the short story; Lemire wrote the rest solo. Art is by a large number of people:
- Nate Powell, Matt Kindt, Dustin Nguyen, Fawkes, Emi Lenox, and Michael Allred for the Annual
- Lenox with Dave Stewart (who provided colors for nearly all of these pieces) for Cthu-Louise
- Fourteen different people for the Encyclopedia, including many of the above
- David Rubin did full-color art for the short story
The Annual is one of those standard multiple-artists, multiple-heroes “special” stories, which could be assembled piecemeal, showing the whole team dealing with Problem X individually. As was the case with its models, it doesn’t add up to a whole lot in the end. There is a sub-Starro the Conqueror eyeball/squid thing, which appears repeatedly out of the Random Mystical Zone and which has to be punched back out of the normal world. It is, repeatedly – this is a superhero story, after all.
What what does it all mean, ask our heroes in the end?
Well, probably nothing. In a regular superhero universe, it’s either space-filler or a set-up for a crossover. In Black Hammer, it’s just yet another kind of indulgence.
Cthu-Louise is very familiar; the character (and her father, the former supervillain Cthu-Lou) have appeared at least once before, and the plot beats here are very similar. Louise is a teenager with a alien-god squid head, which makes her unpopular, and she wants to fit in. Eventually, she does.
The Encyclopedia is a collection of pages on all of the major characters that have appeared in the various Black Hammer comics to this point, with first appearances and power levels and known family and all that bumf. It is much odder when it’s about a world created by one guy, in one series of stories, over only three or four years.
And the short story is the most forgettable, functioning mostly as a teaser – well, it was in a FCBD comic, and that’s the whole point of the thing – for both past and (I assume) future Black Hammer stories.
If you like Black Hammer, this is a bunch of minor Black Hammer. If you like vaguely ’70s-esque, vaguely Big Two-ish comics, you will like Black Hammer. And god knows there are more of you out there than I want to believe.