When Superheroes Retire

The most famous tale of retired superheroes is Watchmen (DC Comics).  With the appearance of the Comedian’s button in DC’s Rebirth titles and the upcoming Doomsday Clock, now is a good time to re-read Watchmen.  If you haven’t read it lately, you might have missed some of the references in The Button story arc from Batman #21-22 and The Flash #21-22.  Sure, you could watch the movie again, but we are all about reading here.

While the clock ticks towards November, there are other stories about out-of-work superheroes.  Here’s a few to get you started.

Doomsday Clock


Black Hammer, Vol. 1: Secret Origins. Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, and Dave Stewart. Dark Horse Comics: 2017.

Black Hammer is a story about world-saving superheroes who fight the epic battle and then find themselves trapped in a small rural area.  Most of them are unhappy living on the farm and want to return to their previous lives.  Something went wrong and as the mystery starts to reveal itself slowly, we get to learn the origin stories of each character and what that story means now.  A decade has passed. They can’t leave town and they can’t go home.

The artwork is suitably dreary and tired at the farm, dipping into darkness at Madame Dragonfly’s cabin.  All of this is punctuated with short glimpses into their previous world of bright tights and epic monster battles.  Jeff Lemire has grounded the heroes and written them with depth, revealing struggles previously hidden by costumes.

Black Hammer is an ongoing comic from Dark Horse with one trade paperback available so far.

Black Hammer
The domestic life of superheroes without work.

A Once Crowded Sky: A Novel. Tom King. Tom Fowler, illus. Touchstone, New York: 2012.

A Once Crowded Sky lies somewhere between a novel and a collection of comic books in an epic crossover event.  Each chapter is subdivided by comic titles: Ultimate, The Man with the Metal Face #570; Devil Girl #66; The Soldier of Freedom #521.  These stories all tie together as each hero deals with the aftermath of The Blue.  The Blue threatened the world and all but one hero gave up their powers so that Ultimate could close the breach.  Now something is attacking the city again and those who were once heroes need to wrestle with their loss of flight, strength, and invulnerability.  They are normal when the city needs superheroes.

This is a story about comic book stories.  The heroes and villains always come back in the comics.  They have to come back.  No one ever truly dies in a comic (except Uncle Ben).  They come back.  Struggling against the new threat to Arcadia City, the characters fight to maintain their belief that everyone comes back.  The powers have to return somehow.  Everyone comes back.

But not everyone wants to keep playing this game.  Some want the cycle of fighting enemies, fighting mind-controlled friends, and then fighting enemies again to end.  The characters are aware of the pattern, including the need for the big reveal, the epic ending, and the subsequent return.  This time, not everyone wants to come back.

A Once Crowded Sky is partly a visual book and will make sense to comic book fans, but could be a difficult read for others.  The book contains some comic page illustrations by Tom Fowler and a few pages written as actual comic script.  If you have read any major comic crossover events in past years, picking up every title with a tie-in to the main story, then you will be able to see this novel in your head as it shifts point-of-view from one comic title to another.  Do the heroes come back in this book?  Read it and find out.

Tom King is currently writing Batman for DC Comics.

A Once Crowded Sky
Between a novel and a comic, there is A Once Crowded Sky.

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