The Hammer: Kelley Jones’ Complete Series

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Ugh this book. It was a trap. “Oh yeah, you should check out The Hammer. It’s a parody horror comic about this guy possessed by an alien thing who has to eat cheeseburgers to fuel his magical fight against Lovecraftian horrors. Good stuff.”

Someone told me that years ago, and I wish I remembered who it was, so I could exact my terrible revenge. Screw you, comic shop guy who accidentally tricked me into suffering through this book. When I saw The Hammer on the IDW list, I thought “Oh, a tongue-in-cheek horror book by a guy who did pencils on Sandman? How bad could it be? Plus, it’s the complete collection of an eight issue series. I should be done with it in an hour or two.”

Some people might be rolling their eyes at me right now. “Really? You think of Kelley Jones in terms of his handful of Sandman issues, rather than his supremely influential work on Batman and Deadman? You disgust me.”

Well, hold your horses, fictional person I made up just to argue with. In a lot of ways, this book showcases both his superhero and supernatural work. You can see that this is the guy responsible for the famous “Bane Breaks Batman” cover of Knightfall part #11, and the guy who drew someone having sex with a muse and then scraping his fingers to the bone writing his ideas in blood on a brick wall. Improbably-muscled action heroes and screwed-up psycho-sexual mysticism skip merrily down the lane hand in hand in this book. Maybe that sounds kinda cool to you? Or at least vaguely promising?

Yeah, me too.

This book has PROBLEMS, y’all. Sexist problems, racist problems, problems in every flavor. So. Many. Problems. I’m constantly thinking “This came out in the nineties? The LATE nineties? What?” There’s an entire story near the end of the book about the perils of “reverse racism”, with an African American character whose character design is just… no. Just no. I spent 80% of this book cringing. I wanted to like this so bad, you guys. I’m a big fan of old-school horror comics: your Houses of Mystery, your Tales from the Crypt. The Hammer, though? The bad strongly outweighs the good.

Yet at the same time, I can understand what that dude in the comic shop was saying. Every once in a while I get to a moment where I’m like “HA, Kelley you clever bastard.” On page #37 our alien warrior is scrying with bones from KFC. Okay, fine, nice little pop culture reference. Whatever. On page #123, he’s reading the influence of great and powerful evils into the movement of sugary kids cereal in a bowl.

“Notice the way the cereal groups together. The purple Fruit Loops are merging with the orange Trix, and the Cocoa Puffs are all grouped to the right of the yellow Fruit Loops and Trix. All the other flavors have sunk in the bowl. These are not natural phenomena!
And this final point: the secret prize in each box of cereal was found at the top… not buried at the bottom”

“And that’s not good, right?”

“Obviously not. These things don’t just happen! Evil lurks behind them.”

Dammit, this is what I wanted the whole time. This was the experience I was looking for, something kooky and twisted and modern (for the 90’s, anyway). But most of the comic is the same old horror beats, with the same old nihilistic overtones, ingrained misogyny, and persistent intrusion of the author’s personal issues. It sucks, because it mars the genuine cleverness of some of the bits, and the art is pure grim and grisly horror of the classic stripe.

I read the whole damn thing. I read it so you don’t have to. Now I’m going to go binge on sugar cereal and go to sleep.

 

The Hammer is available from IDW Publishing.

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