Dark Horse’s Black Hammer: Visions #3 follows Abraham Slam, a superhero who owes a lot of his creative DNA to Captain America, as he wrestles with his own retirement. Writer Chip Zdarsky, artist Johnnie Christmas, colorist Dave Stewart, and letterer Nate Piekos show us what it’s like to be itching to get back out into the world. This issue couldn’t have landed at a better time.
Zdarsky makes us understand what it’s like to be in Abe’s skin. Abe feels useless and old. Zdarsky gives us some perspective for this though. He shows us how Abe is haunted by his daring, younger, superhero self. It’s natural for him to feel hit harder than most by his old age. To make things worse, a new hero is cracking heads under the name “The Slam.” Abe has every reason to be angry, but so do the people around him as he lets his life implode. Zdarsky writes about what it means to finally grow up. It’s not always about doing the right thing. Sometimes it’s about being big enough to know you’re not the right person to do the right thing.
Christmas brings a whole lot of humanity to Abe. We see him, furious as people mock him, right next to an image of him looking into the mirror, defeated. In just those two panels, Christmas tells us everything we need to know. Abe has a huge amount of rage in him. He sees what’s wrong and he wants to right it. But he’s depressed over the fact that he just doesn’t have it in him anymore. Yet slowly, Abe learns that being a superhero isn’t as important as he thought. Christmas shows how kicking ass is impersonal and small compared to what Abe could be doing with his life. The fighting all happens in blurs, with faces turned away. No, it’s Abe’s conversations with an old friend, him getting groceries, or making dinner that are shown in great detail by Christmas. These are the things that should be occupying Abe.
And while Christmas shows us what things should be important to Abe, Stewart is showing us how Abe feels about them. His life is pretty colorless at first. His apartment is colored in light browns, purples and beige. But when he springs into action, the page lights up. We see deep blues and oranges. These moments make Abe feel alive again. But the resulting return to normal is bleaker than before. Abe feels even less fulfilled, having tasted a little of the glory days again. But funnily enough, when we see Abe walk out of the gym as the issue ends, his normal life is looking colorful. There are no fist fights or big world threats, just Abe walking down the road. Yet the bricks are a deep red and the windows are lit up in yellow. Abe is starting to see things differently.
When Abe gets into a fight with The Slam, Piekos’ lettering mimics the feel of the fight. The captions are short and spread out. They have our eyes darting around the page. We get the feeling of Abe being hit from all angles, too fast to respond. And later, as Abe thinks back over it, the captions stay even. They don’t move around the page much. Abe’s thoughts are calm and “matter of fact” now. He’s telling himself he’s an old loser like that’s just the truth. But Piekos gets him out of his pity party by placing a word balloon over part of a caption. Throughout this issue, Piekos does a fantastic job of giving us a window into how Abe is feeling.
Dark Horse’s Black Hammer: Visions #3 is a simple and charming story, much like the first of this series. It tells the story of Abraham Slam trying to teach himself it’s okay to retire. It’s a pleasant addition to the Black Hammer Universe. Pick it up, out from Dark Horse April 14th, at a comic shop near you!