A cynical reader, such as me, could look at that title and think “oh, good, they’re finally ending this repetitive superhero waffling that never actually goes anywhere.” But that reader would be wrong.
This is not “last” in the sense of anything actually ending. This is a superhero “last,” meaning it’s about something in the past, and retelling a story already at least half-told multiple times before – but now telling it in greater detail. Even more so, what we have here pretends to be the actual issues of the 1986-era comic in which the original Black Hammer snuffed it, with covers that have fake high numbers and everything.
So The Last Days of Black Hammer is actually a prequel to nearly all of the Black Hammer stories we’ve already seen. (Black Hammer ’45 takes place almost entirely before this, as does Barbalien: Red Planet , but I think those are the only ones – OK, maybe Doctor Andromeda , too.)
The whole premise of the entire vast Black Hammer-i-verse was that there was a big superhero fight (cough Crisis! cough) against the “Anti-God,” who looks nothing like Darkseid, in the sky over Spiral City, which apparently also turned the skies of the rest of the world red, because that’s the thing comics geeks still latch onto from Crisis even thirty years later, and that the Greatest Hero of All Time, Black Hammer, whacked said Anti-God with his big, um, Black Hammer, and that made the Anti-God go all “ouchie!” and run away forever and forever but also alas! killed Black Hammer in the same way that every superhero dies at least once.
For the dull ones in back: Black Hammer is the Silver Age Flash. He died so worlds can live. Got it? (Character-wise, he’s actually more like the Black Racer crossed with Thor, but that’s a different kind of derivative-ness.)
This pretends to be the 1986-era issues 234-237 issues of the Black Hammer comic book, including both a “hero no more!” and an “all-new! all-different!” cover, plus the double-sized epic conclusion. There’s also a coda or epilogue at the end, outside that “old comics” schema, to show how Sad it all was, how Important was The Sacrifice of Black Hammer To Save Us All, and that His Daughter had to Grow Up Without a Father, Alas!
Otherwise, though, this is exactly what we already know and what we expect. Black Hammer is conflicted, and wants to give up hitting things with a big hammer to Spend More Time With His Family Before It Is Too Late. But, alas! He Is Needed, because The Bad Guys Will Destroy The World And Only Black Hammer Can Stop Them. The superhero group that still doesn’t have a name – the Spiral City Sluggers? the Saviors? the Bad Guy Whompers? the Fabulous Dudes? – more or less breaks up after the events of the first “issue” here, having stopped what was believed to be Their Greatest Threat, and several of them need to be brought back out of retirement – quickly, perfunctorily – for the big ending.
Reader, there is nothing here you will not predict, nothing that gives a true moment of surprise or wonder, nothing that isn’t entirely derivative and utterly pre-determined. This is a piece of product, an engineered jigsaw puzzle piece that slots in exactly in the middle of all of the other pieces to make a bland picture of people punching each other.
I usually praise creator Jeff Lemire’s writing when I talk about these books, though I know it feels like faint praise. (He can, and does, do a lot better than this. But the Black Hammer books are professional, and the characters are as dimensional as anything in generic superhero-dom can be.) This time, the art is from Stefano Simone, who has a looser, sketchier line that might not quite say “1986 Big Event Comics” to me, but it’s energetic and fun and doesn’t look like fifty years of superhero comics, so I count that as a plus.
But, as always, I question the whole point of the exercise. We know everything here already. Last Days adds nothing.