Ten years. Ten years ago today since they saved Spiral City and disappeared. To most, they don’t seem real anymore. Like urban legends… ghost stories.

But they were real. I know because I was there.  

Ten years have passed since they walked among the people of Spiral City: Abraham Slam, the original brawler and defender of justice; Golden Gail, the golden child, perpetually in a 9-year-old’s body and America’s crime-fighting sweetheart; Colonel Weird, space hero and reality-jumper. Madame Dragonfly, the terrifying reality-shifting witch; Barbalien, the Martian with shapeshifting powers; and Black Hammer—hero of the streets, wielding his weapon of power.

Ten years since these heroes saved the world from the Anti-God… but disappeared from their home only to awaken in a small, backwater western town from which they cannot escape. Everything is different now for the family of superheroes—literally pretending to be a simple, eccentric farming family. Over the years, the group has come to terms with their new microcosm of reality; they cannot leave the borders of their new home, and none of the folks in the idyllic small town have any recollection of superheroes of any kind.

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But someone remembers them and the golden age when they were heroes. The Black Hammer’s legacy lives on in her veins, and she will do anything to bring them all home.

Like many other readers, I am a big fan of Jeff Lemire. His stories are character-driven, usually have an element of bizarro Twilight Zone awesomeness, and his art is similarly heartfelt and distinctive. This latest graphic novel, Black Hammer: Secret Origins, captures the first six issues of the ongoing comic book, and chronicles the frustrations and ennui of six disappeared superheroes who have saved the world… but are trapped in a new one.

Like most of Lemire’s work, Black Hammer is a potent blend of powerful characterization—including themes of coming-of-age optimism from youth, and jaded experience and wariness from the older figures. (In the figure of Golden Gail, forever trapped in a 9-year-old’s body with an old woman’s consciousness is a particular treat.) This book in particular is so appealing because it is so focused on internal narrative, instead of external action—we see the way these fallen heroes have coped with their new small town existence. Some, like Abe, have adjusted naturally and wholeheartedly. Others, like Gail (trapped not only in town but in perpetual childhood) or Barbalian (an outsider among his Martian people and humans alike because of his sexual identity), have a harder time finding their place. The one thing that all of these characters have in common, beyond their exile, is the fact that they are all outsiders—they either try to play the part to gain acceptance from their peers, or they rebel against conformity. And per usual, Lemire captures these sentiments beautifully in both his art, and his writing.

Of course, there is a larger external crisis and driver trying to find and bring these characters home—involving alternate dimensions, interstellar travel, and, of course, some witchcraft. I don’t want to spoil anything, but suffice to say, it’s pretty badass.

I can’t really remember the last new superhero book that I read and desperately wanted more: Black Hammer is the superhero comic you need. Absolutely recommended.

In Book Smugglerish, 8 reality-distorting hammers out of 10.