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DF Interview: Jeff Lemire drops the (Black) Hammer at Dark Horse
By Byron Brewer
For unknown reasons, six superheroes from different parts of comic book history wake up one day after a catastrophic event in their universe and suddenly find themselves on a farm called Black Hammer in a small town. They don't know why they're there, they don't know what this place is. But as in the Eagles’ Hotel California, they know they cannot leave.
This is the situation in which heroes find themselves in Dark Horse’s The Black Hammer, coming in March 2015 by writer Jeff Lemire (Green Arrow, Justice League United) and artist Dean Ormston (Harke & Burr, The Girl Who Would be Death).
To get to the heart of this mystery, Dynamic Forces met Lemire on a farm owned by a man named Douglas just south of Hooterville and put these questions to the scribe.
Dynamic Forces: Jeff, tell us the basic concept of Black Hammer. I hear it has been percolating for quite some time.
Jeff Lemire: The basic concept of the book is there are six superheroes from different eras in comic book history who have been "wiped out of continuity" and wake up together on a farm in a mysterious small town.
They have no idea how they got there or how to get back to their "superhero universe". So we start the book 10 years later and they have been living together in this small town as a weird little family and trying to make the best of it. But the ongoing mystery of what happened to them lingers.
DF: These unique characters you have gathered, they are forgotten Golden Age characters? Tell us a little bit about them and how you developed them.
Jeff Lemire: They are all from different eras in comic book history, so we have ...
ABRAHAM SLAM, Golden Age pulp crimebuster;
GOLDEN GAIL, America’s super sweetheart;
BARBALIEN, Warlord From Mars;
COLONEL WEIRD, Silver Age living "mystery in space";
MADAME DRAGONFLY, Bronze Age horror icon.
DF: Among this group, is there a POV character? If so, why was he or she selected for this pivotal role?
Jeff Lemire: No single POV. Each issues switches between the POV of different characters and in addition to seeing their lives now, on the farm, we are also flashing back to their "in-continuity" adventures to build backstory and explore the mysteries. Much like on LOST.
DF: This will obviously be a character-driven book, Jeff, but will we see any super big-bads or catastrophic events along the way?
Jeff Lemire: The "big bads" are small things. Character things. This is very much a character-driven drama. The superhero stuff is just backdrop for small town life ... or is it?! Bwahahaha!!
DF: With such a diverse cast, it looks like there is plenty of opportunity for commentary on the way superhero stories are put together, both these days and of course in the past. Thoughts?
Jeff Lemire: Absolutely. This book is both a love letter to the past. A love letter to stuff I read growing up or things that have influenced me, but also a commentary and critique on the current state of superhero comics, some of which I still write, which makes it doubly interesting to me.
DF: Did your long tenure with DC reformulate any of the original concept of Black Hammer?
Jeff Lemire: Yes. I came up with the concept long before I ever wrote any superhero work for DC. And now, I've done a LOT of that. So it inevitably changed my original ideas a bit and added to what I want to say.
What exactly changed I won't say, because it is a big part of the second story arc and I don’t want to spoil anything.
DF: Can you discuss the difference between writing creator-owned versus work for hire from your perspective?
Jeff Lemire: That's a tricky one. Sometimes, things just line up on work-for-hire stuff and it doesn't feel any different. I think the best stuff I did, like Animal Man and Green Arrow didn't feel all that different to me when I was writing them. But there are just more people involved. More notes and changes that always need to be made. You are at the mercy of the movements of a line of comics that encompasses 50+ titles. Here, you’re all on your own. You create the world and you control it.
DF: How is the art of Dean Ormston right for this project?
Jeff Lemire: Dean has a really distinct style that doesn't look anything like traditional or a contemporary superhero "house style" So there is no risk of the book being mistaken for the very thing it is commenting on. His work is bold and dark, yet with an intense humanity. I've loved his work for a long time and getting to see him interpret my ideas is a thrill.
DF: Jeff, what would you hope readers take away from this book?
Jeff Lemire: I hope they fall in love with these characters as much as I have. I hope they are moved by them, they laugh at them, they cry with them. In many ways I think this project is the culmination and perfect synthesis of everything I've ever done. I think it's the best thing I've ever written. I'm extremely proud of it.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Jeff Lemire for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. The Black Hammer from Dark Horse Comics hits stores in March 2015!
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