Comic of the Week: Black Hammer Cthu-Louise, an Original Idea in a World of Homage

Black Hammer: Cthu-Louise is out now.

By d. emerson eddy — For a few years now Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston, along with a host of other talented collaborators, have been building a universe at Dark Horse in Black Hammer, founded on a deep love for Silver Age comics, paying homage to many of the characters and characteristics of that era. The series began as a kind of mystery about the disappearance of a Justice League analogue, but quickly spiralled out into spin-off series, including a far-flung future with teen heroes and a focus on one of Black Hammer's arch-enemies and his legion of villains. It was in this spin-off, Sherlock Frankenstein & The Legion of Evil, that we first met Chtu-Lou, and his cute little daughter, Cthu-Louise.

While the homages to the Silver Age Justice League, Legion of Super-Heroes, Legion of Doom, Vertigo, and beyond are wonderful, reading through The Quantum Age #5 this week as well got me wondering if the Black Hammer universe would work as well without the pastiches and homages to DC Comics. For my money, yes. I actually find that the non-homage, original characters and story elements are even more impressive. Such is Black Hammer: Cthu-Louise, a one-shot from Jeff Lemire, Emi Lennox, Dave Stewart, and Todd Klein.

This story plays hard into one of Lemire's favorite themes, the importance of family, but it does so from a unique perspective. Louise doesn't have a loving family. Her father, Lou, was a super-villain, and now is just a lazy, abusive father taking out his frustration on his relatively innocent daughter, who is only looking for love and acceptance. Her mother is absent most of the time, working, but is equally emotionally abusive to Louise. When you add the problems she has at school due to her monstrous appearance, Cthu-Louise doesn't have an easy life. But she does have her “grandfather”, the elder god who granted her father his powers and thereby hers, and it's interesting how Lemire massages this into an “Eye of the Beholder”-type story.

Lemire's Plutona collaborator, Emi Lenox, handles the line art for this story and, combined with the greens and purples of Dave Stewart's colors, presents a fairly light-hearted, cartoon-like style. It works well for Louise's age, giving it a colorful, deceptively-simple appearance, covering the darkness beneath the surface.

On top of that, the lettering from the legendary Todd Klein adds overall to the feel of the story, giving us some unique fonts and word balloons for Cthu-Louise, Cthu-Lou, and her grandfather. It's particularly interesting the gradation of the word balloons that the style of Cthu-Louise and Cthu-Lou's is about halfway between the normal human balloons and that used by her grandfather. It's a subtle way of showing that Cthu-Louise is an intermediary between normal and the beyond.

Overall, this is an excellent comic that shows the possibilities of the Black Hammer world outside of the main narrative, that the universe itself has legs of its own, and that the characters within it can carry a story without necessarily working within the meta-narrative of Silver Age homage and nostalgia (even if Cthu-Louise herself is a twist on a Lovecraftian pastiche). Lemire, Lenox, Stewart, and Klein give us a story that stands on its own tentacles.

Black Hammer: Cthu-Louise
Jeff Lemire
Artist: Emi Lenox
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letters: Todd Klein
Publisher: Dark Horse
Price: $3.99

Check out past Comic of the Week selections on the list page.

d. emerson eddy is a student and writer of things. He fell in love with comics during Moore, Bissette, & Totleben's run on Swamp Thing and it has been a torrid affair ever since. His madness typically manifests itself on twitter @93418.