Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Hammer of God #1

Hammer of God #1, February 1990, First Comics
writers: Mike Baron & Roger Salick
artist: Steve Epting
letterer: Diane Valentino
colorist: Les Dorscheid
editor: Bob Garcia

Sometimes I wonder if A Comic A Day is fueled by pure cosmic intervention. I read Hammer of God this morning and was surprisingly impressed, and when I came home from work, I wanted to seek refuge in an old, familiar comic book, something that I wouldn’t have to pick apart like a Thanksgiving turkey before bedtime. I dug up Captain America #19, which I reviewed way back in July, for sheer nostalgia’s sake, not to mention that Cap is always a reliable character for dynamic characterization and action-packed page-flipping, the two qualities I look for in a casual read. However, when I glanced at the credits, I literally smirked at the sight of Steve Epting’s name – the artist also responsible for the visuals in Hammer of God, published sixteen years prior. Of the thousands of comics in my collection (I really should count them someday, just to know), what are the odds that I’d encounter such a coincidence? But that’s what I’m saying. Maybe it isn’t a coincidence.

Despite its title, Hammer of God is less reliant on deistic intervention. In fact, the characters in this comic book are rather bestial in nature; our hero, Judah “the Hammer” Maccabee, is a humanoid baboon with a pompadour, traveling the universe as a freelance hero for hire. In this issue, the first of a four-issue miniseries, the Hammer’s clients are turning up murdered, as someone tries to frame Judah for their deaths. He suspects the Gucci, a mysterious alien mob, and in the end, when a ship full of innocent partygoers is destroyed, the Hammer vows to drop his vengeance on whoever is responsible. From the supplemental material I read throughout this issue, I’ve concluded that Hammer of God is a spin-off of Nexus, a popular superhero title by First Comics. Jacob’s spotlight is thusly long overdue, as the character’s look and personality dominate the book and maintain an intrigue all his own. In fact, how this character was resigned to a supporting role until now is beyond me, considering the assertiveness his creators infuse throughout all of his actions.

As I said before, tonight I sought the solace of an old, familiar comic book. Honestly, I’d prefer a new one, but with so many comics in line for a daily review, I must resist their siren song to preserve their sanctity for this project. In other words, it’s killing me not to read all of the books I buy as soon as I buy them, because of the thousands of comics already in my collection, I so devoured them throughout my youth that I feel like I know them too well. I can watch certain movies ad nauseum, and I can read certain issues over and over again, but it’s always good to take a break so the material seems fresh the next time around. A Comic A Day was inspired in part by these feelings toward my whole collection. I’ve simply read my comics too many times, because I treasure their role in my development as a collector. All this is to say, if I had this issue of Hammer of God ten years ago, I don’t think my young eyes could’ve been ripped away from it. Epting’s art is so . . . pure, it appeals to both one’s inner child and the more sophisticated reader, capturing the drama, attitude, and perspective this story needs to be effective. The characters are so expressive, the speech balloons sometimes simply aren’t necessary – but they help. Even the first page strikes me as something of a modern Kirby incarnation. Hammer of God is familiar in an entirely new way.

Comparing this early Epting work to Captain America #19, I can see the evolution of the artist as a visual storyteller, but to be fair, the material is so different, I wonder if the contrast speaks more to Epting’s sheer diversity than his mere development. That issue of Cap is rather urban and most definitely terrestrial, while the Hammer gives us a virtual tour of space – and this isn’t Star Trek space, with awkwardly prosthetic-caked humanoid alien races. It’s Star Wars space, with weird, animal-looking creatures all its own. (Really, besides Tribbles, did Star Trek ever present an alien that wasn’t so humanoid looking?) We’re talking floating amphibian heads . . . and with other characters like Fang S. Drool bullying around, writers Baron and Salick keep things interesting. I smell a conspiracy brewing behind the seemingly harmless subplots of this establishing issue, but without even reading the rest I assume this is one Hammer that has a hard time getting nailed.

Interestingly, as I’ve scoured back issue bins for obscure comics to add to this blog’s ranks, I’ve often neglected to consider that I’m literally adding issues to my already extensive collection. I’m shooting myself in the foot, as it were. As much as I want a new breed of titles to devour, as much as I long to step out of my capes-and-tights comfort zone to see what else this wonderful medium has to offer, I’m merely blowing my self-contained bubble a little bigger by incorporating these books into my ever-expanding collection. At the end of the year, as much as I’ll have all of these unique reading experiences under my belt, I’ll also have more comics that, eventually, I’ll grow tired of, as well. I wonder, is this cosmic destiny, or a cruel fate? Is the hand of God guiding A Comic A Day . . . or his hammer?

I’d prefer the baboon.

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