World War II is coming to an end, but the Black Hammer Squadron has one last mission. The elite group of African American pilots, under the command of Captain “Hammer” Hawthorne, is tasked with rescuing a family of scientists from a concentration camp. They battle through occult German forces, mechanized Soviet soldiers, and come face to face with The Ghost Hunter, the deadliest Nazi pilot in the sky. The world of Black Hammer goes to war in this high-flying adventure from artist Matt Kindt and co-writers Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes.
Black Hammer ’45: From the World of Black Hammer is told in two timelines: the war and the aftermath. During the war, the squadron encounters familiar faces like Wingman and Abraham Slam, but the story belongs to Hawthorne. He’s a courageous soldier and born leader who embodies the term “war hero.” This mission will not only be his greatest challenge, but his last opportunity to take down his arch nemesis, The Ghost Hunter. Concurrently, in the present day, the surviving members of the Black Hammer Squadron solemnly gather in Spiral City for an important anniversary.
This is the fourth Black Hammer spinoff, but the first time Lemire has shared writing responsibilities. Black Hammer ’45 depicts a pivotal moment in the Black Hammer universe (The scientists being rescued are studying the “inter-dimensional mumbo-jumbo” that will birth Project W.E.I.R.D.), but the trade paperback works well as a standalone. That being said, I would not recommend this be anyone’s entry point to Black Hammer.
Black Hammer ’45 is an explosive read, with pages of visually dynamic and over-the-top action. But just like the other books in the Black Hammer series, the real magic is the emotionally grounded narrative. Black Hammer ’45 is a beautifully human story about duty, honor, and bravery in the face of indomitable evil. Lemire and Fawkes deconstruct, reinterpret, and celebrate the wartime comics of the 1940s by making the main character of Black Hammer ’45 a World War II citizen soldier.
Captain Hawthorne is a larger-than-life figure from his first panel. He’s selfless and cool under pressure, and Kindt imbues his gestures and expressions with steadfast, steely eyed resolve. At the end of chapter one, the squadron runs afoul of the Norse God of Thunder, but Hammer knows just what to do and leads the squadron to victory. He stands in lock step with the ever-expanding pantheon of superheroes in the Black Hammer universe, but he is not one of them. He’s an average American, called to serve like so many others during the second World War. His strength isn’t supernatural in origin, it’s derived from his undying loyalty to his men.
This is something I really appreciated about Black Hammer ’45. Lemire and Fawkes crossed the superhero genre with the World War II fiction genre and avoided its biggest trap. Hawthorne’s character might be extraordinary and his actions heroic, but he’s ultimately human. Because superheroes didn’t win the war, people won the war.
Kindt’s unique artistic style is both simple and evocative. The discordant outlines and flatly rendered shapes bring a frenetic energy to the characters and backgrounds. His style is abstract, but not without finesse and detail. Kindt’s use of depth and direction is astounding, specifically in the aerial dogfight scenes. Sharlene Kindt’s watercolors that overlap and bleed into each other pop off the page. And the texture of the pages adds a literal pulpy feel that matches the story well. The trade paperback also includes a sketchbook section, showing the transition of several pages from sketch to colors, with notes from Matt Kindt.
Creative Team: Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes (writers), Matt Kindt (artist), Sharlene Kindt (colors)
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
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