Warren Ellis' Ocean was, in my opinion, a bit of a disappointment...but it still was worthwhile to me because of the art by Chris Sprouse, whose assured sense of layout and perspective along with his dynamic figure drawings, even very early in his professional career, added a lot. I've been a fan of his work since I first saw it in the early '90s on the Bierbaum Legionnaires, and the strict Sci-Fi of Ocean takes me back all the way to the dim and distant past of 1992, and one of his very first pro jobs, DC's nine-issue limited series HAMMERLOCKE.
Written and co-created by Tom Joyner, pencilled by Sprouse, and inked by co-creator K.S. Wilson, the first issue of HammerLocke was cover-dated September of 1992, which would suggest that it was actually in comics shops in May or June of that year. DC was not exactly in one of its most high-quality phases- Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns had been in the previous decade, Alan Moore had left Swamp Thing, the Helfer/Baker Shadow was long canceled, the "bwah-ha-ha" Justice League had been popular, but was winding down, and the flagship titles were, by and large, mired in mediocrity. The titles that would soon become the first Vertigo offerings were going strong, such as Hellblazer and Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol, and in all fairness 1992 saw the debut of a few series that would go on to be quite interesting eventually: the Ostrander/Mandrake Spectre, Robert L. Fleming's Eclipso, as well as the excellent one-shot Ironwolf: Fires of the Revolution by Chaykin, Mignola and Craig Russell; but the Image-esque "grim and gritty" Liefeld-style super-hero comic, especially the team book type, was the order of the day. Here's a timeline of DC offerings from that period. Anyway, someone at DC must have felt the time was right to throw a Sci-Fi title at the wall to see if it would stick, and thusly Hammer Locke was born...but DC hedged its bets and promoted the new title with a campaign that made it seem like yet another cookie-cutter superhero team like L.E.G.I.O.N. or one of the many Justice League spinoffs. "Tomorrow's Superhumans are Here!" cried the full-page ad copy, with a random gathering of the book's principals arranged as if ready for battle against the forces of evil or somesuch, on the rare occasions when it appeared in the inside front covers of DC books of that time. But that was totally misleading in regards to what the book was actually about.
On the surface, it's easy to see how the large cast of Hammer Locke could be misinterpreted as a superhero team- they were a interconnected group of people, and some had meta-human abilities. The titular character was a burly, gruff cybernetically augmented man named Sir Archer Locke, nicknamed "Hammer", hence the title, who was the chief architect of a wondrous mechanism named the "Starbridge", essentially a very massive elevator which enabled man to travel to destinations extraterrestrial in a dramatically shorter time.
And there's where I'll leave it for now. Longtime readers will remember that I've been promising this post (or series of same) for almost two years now, and haven't quite been able to get it off the ground for various reasons...but I love this series and want to spotlight it too much to just let it lay fallow in draft status. So this is my plan: as I did with Beowulf: Dragon Slayer, I'll profile each issue, outlining its events without spoiling too much (I hope), and providing three page scans so (among other things) you can see how good Sprouse's work was. This will take me several weeks, since this is a VERY intricately plotted nine issues, with multiple storylines involving multiple characters, and it's not something I'll be able to breeze through. So stay tuned and be patient...this WILL be happening. It may not be today, or tomorrow, but it will be done. I wouldn't post this if it wasn't!