Chekhov's dramaturgical imperative states “if you show a gun in the first act, you’d better use it by the third.” This is a great narrative practice, and it is as true in comic books as it is in other fiction. Of course, the idea works just as well for any weapon a character might use. It is a nice shortcut to be able to power-up or de-power your protagonist through possession of a weapon. That’s why the old Super Friends cartoon had Batman & Robin become powerless when they lost their utility belts!
Green Arrow and Hawkeye have neat trick arrows, Black Knight uses the Ebony Blade, and Cyclops has his visor. I'd argue that without their weapons, all those characters are pretty much taken off the super-heroic scale. Then there are all the characters who gain some, but not all of their powers through a focus. Black Panther’s vibranium claws, Elektra’s sai, and Daredevil’s billy club all enhance their other, main powers. How often over the years has Spider-Man’s web supply been a plot point? Taking away a character’s weapon or focus is easy, effective drama.
So, if we can accept that giving a character a focus for their power is a useful tool, what makes the hammer superior to all other tools? Captain America’s shield is a pretty great weapon, albeit a defensive one. Without Iron Man’s armor, what is he? A rich, smart guy? These guys get a ton of value out of their weapons, but I’d argue that even these central tools are not as cool as a hammer.
It all boils down to one central promise inherent in the narrative. If the hero is carrying a hammer, at some point in the conflict, he will smash his opponent with it. Thor is clearly the standard-bearer when it comes to hammer-wielders, but there are others. During Mark Schultz’s underrated run on Man of Steel, Steel routinely knocked baddies around with his hammer. What is better than Superman or Iron Man? Superman or Iron Man with a HAMMER.
Look at Marvel’s recent Fear Itself crossover. In order to power up The Worthy, the Serpent’s chosen antagonists, each one received a gigantic, savage looking hammer. Strong characters like Hulk, Thing, or Attuma? They look even MORE intimidating when dragging around a hammer. A hammer is a great equalizer, too. The Grey Gargoyle is suddenly a very threatening presence when he’s got a hammer.
In addition, comics and movies constantly play down blunt trauma wounds. Hawkman’s mace and Thor’s hammer deliver devastating blows, but usually not a lot of blood. It is a lot harder for Black Knight to use the Ebony Blade, because there is only one way to really show the use of that weapon. You can only use the flat of the blade so long. With Mjolnir, Thor can smash away at his foe and never have to show any blood. Scorpion’s tail and Thunderball’s wrecking ball are other good examples of comics’ blunt damage weapons.
Mjolnir is clearly the best hammer in comics, since it not only smashes, but Thor actually flies by holding on to a leather strap when he throws it! It also has the best security system of any weapon in comics, only the worthy can lift the hammer! Factor in the ice-chip missiles from the first movie, and Thor gets a ranged attack out of it too! I’d argue that Ronan’s universal weapon is the 2nd best hammer in comics, since it is a hammer that can DO ANYTHING. (Technically, it is capable of various effects such as energy blasts, force fields, flight, and changing the structure of matter.) Now that is a hammer!
(Heck, I’d argue that Justin Hammer is one of Iron Man’s best villains, and he’s just got “hammer” in his name!!!)
So, in conclusion, the next time you see a comic with a hammer on the cover, pick it up. Because that cover promises some sweet, face-pulverizing action is inside. That’s what we all came for, right?
Heroes with hammers prove that comics are GOOD!