Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The Quantum Age by Jeff Lemire and Wilfredo Torres

So it's Black Hammer time again! This one doesn't have "Black Hammer" in the title, but it's the next story in the series, following somewhat directly from Age of Doom, Part II, which presented itself as the big, final, absolutely definitive ending.

But we all know about endings in superhero comics, right?

Thus we come to The Quantum Age, written by Jeff Lemire (like all of the Black Hammer books) and drawn by Wilfredo Torres. This one features Lemire's take on the Legion of Super-Heroes, though, in this timeline, they're only one hundred years in the future instead of five.

(There is also what seems to be an unfortunately ham-handed, and awfully late, metaphor for Muslims post-9/11 dumped in the middle, which drives a lot of the larger plot but is badly explained and defined - the George W. Bush figure clearly has some kind of motivation, but it seems to be all in Lemire's head and not on the page.)

Anyway, we start with the bright, shiny happy future one hundred years on, with an interstellar polity of some kind defended by a big team of super-powered young people, including a really obvious Brainiac 5 type. (There's also clear versions of the original three Legionnaires, and more-or-less clear versions of a lot of others; as usual, Black Hammer is largely about reworking someone else's IP.) A new Black Hammer - Hammer Lass, who I mistakenly thought was the same Black woman legacy Black Hammer as the one before, but is actually a different Black woman legacy Black Hammer, which I should have known because her costume is somewhat different - appears near the end of the first issue to tease the same goddamn "what happened to the heroes who died in the not-Crisis?" story as every other book in the series.

But then issue two drops us into a crapsack future twenty-five years later, which we gradually learn was caused by a humanity-first genocidal totalitarian state led by a ex-not-Legionnaire, who took over, in some way the book never event hints at, after a massive Martian invasion. Apparently, when Earth was invaded by one alien race, that made all humans everywhere, or at least enough of them to utterly change society and government, immediately hostile to all other races everywhere in the galaxy, and most of them are being exterminated. Well, this is superhero comics: so it looks like that, but it may just be overstated for dramatic impact in the moment.

And we follow yet another new character, who gets the uniquely stupid name of Barbaliteen later on. Again, Lemire has an infinite universe, where he can create anything he wants, and he just keeps ringing obvious changes on other people's fifty-year-old stories for children.

Now, I have to spoil the earlier Black Hammer stories to complain adequately about this one, so stop reading now if that bothers you. You see, the end of Age of Doom II absolutely required the lost heroes to go back to their pocket universe, and stay there forever. It was the usual "needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" stuff - very serious, very superheroic. There was no other option, Lemire told us there, very seriously: none of them could ever go back to the real universe in any way, for any reason, or the Anti-God would saunter back in and do whatever vague horrible thing Lemire never quite described.

But then the two of those heroes who stuck the rest of them in the pocket universe are back in the normal universe in this story, with no explanation. So the "you absolutely need to stay there or else Anti-God will eat the universe" is more of a possibility than a real thing, and the ones who did it all just quietly left the others behind to rot on a lousy farm with each other.

(Oh, one other character got out, somehow, but that's a separate spoiler, so I'll avoid complaining directly about that.)

So the story I thought was bullshit for one reason is now retroactively bullshit for an entirely separate reason. Does that make me happy? Well, happy is a sliding scale. I'd prefer that the whole Black Hammer saga make somewhat more sense and not be so obviously Lemire playing with other people's toys - there's glimpses of his serious style throughout Black Hammer, and if the whole thing wasn't so deeply self-indulgent, it could have been a lot better. This is one of those comics in which a lot of strong, true moments add up to nothing at all because the overall plot is a weird combination of second-hand, half-assed, and just plain silly.

Every time I read one of these books, it manages to annoy me in new and different ways. That's impressive, so I think I'll keep going to see just how many ways there are. I have faith in Lemire and the boundless childishness of the default superhero universe.

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