Here’s my advice to you, if you ever find yourself in the vicinity of Ball Peen Hammer, slowly back away and then when you are a safe distance run for your life. Don’t let this confusing, dreary, dreck suck you into it’s whirling vortex of confusion like I was. Let my pointless waste of time not be in vain. Please.
Ball Peen Hammer takes place in a post-apocalyptic city where people are dying because of a strange plague. We’re not quite sure how they got the plague, just that it’s killing people. We also know that there is food and an antidote beyond the viaduct of this mysterious, chaotic city. Why the main characters aren’t high-tailing it to the viaduct is never addressed. Neither is why there is so much chaos, or how long they’ve been living in this condition, or why we’re spending our time reading a story where the creators haven’t bothered to answer any of the questions they asked.
What we get is a decrepit building where guitar-strumming Welton, who is dying of the infection, lives in the basement. He lives in the basement, I think, because of his mysterious job that someone told him he had to do. It involves dead children, mostly black children. At the top of the building, in the clock tower, is Exley, a young woman who seems to be in charge of caring for Horlick, a thirteen-year-old (even though he’s drawn like he’s nine) kid. Thing is Exley’s pregnant and looking for the father of her unborn child. The father, he’s in the basement telling his tale of woe to a new basement-dweller. Yeah, it’s Welton.
What follows, I think, is supposed to be a story about how these star-crossed lovers will risk everything in this crazy mixed up world to be together. Only they don’t really do anything besides state the desire to be with their mystery lover. Mostly this is a graphic novel that depicts two different sets of people sitting in a room talking. Riveting, both visually and narratively.
The problem with this novel is the author and the artist never grounded us in the reality of the world Exley and Welton were living in, leaving us to flounder in some post-apocalyptic indistinct city in America at some indistinct point in history. The journalist who joins Welton in the basement is toting an Olivetti typewriter. Why? Because there is no electricity? Because this is 1984? I have no idea. I grasped onto the typewriter because it was the only image that provided some sort of context for this confusing story.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve read a book that felt so utterly pointless. It’s hard not to be angry at a book where it seemed the author nor the artist had any idea what was going on. Who is The Syndicate that seems to be behind all the chaos? Did they cause the plague? Who is behind the murder of children? Why? Why mostly black children? Why doesn’t Exley take Horlick and haul ass to the viaduct to get the antidote? What about Welton? And these are just a few of the questions that are asked in the book and never get answered.
If they creators don’t know the story or why its being told why should anyone bother reading it? They shouldn’t.