Hammerhead is a venerable player in Spider-Man's universe. Introduced in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #113 he's been a stooge, a second rank mobster and a bona fide crimelord. Beaten to near death when a hit went wrong, Hammerhead was rebuilt with a superhumanly hard skull, but he couldn't remember anything of his past life. Styling himself on a 1920s mobster, Hammerhead has always taken the opportunities that presented themselves. He was last seen during the Civil War, when he tried to take advantage of the Kingpin's incarceration. He was assassinated by the Kingpin's hit-man, Underworld, who put an adamantium bullet into his brain. You think that's the end of the story? You think dead means dead?
Hammerhead is lying on a table in a morgue, in the same prison where Underworld shot him. To the surprise of the orderlies, Hammerhead is not dead! The adamantium bullet was not fired with sufficient force to penetrate his thick skull, and now the would-be crime king hovers between life and death.
As the doctors at the hospital try to save him, Hammerhead flashes back to his childhood, and his life before becoming the figure he is today. Forty years ago, he lived in Italy: a Russian kid, in a Russian family that were pretending to be Italian. He was abused by his father, who hit him with hammers to punish him. The kid took the hammer motif into adolescence when he killed a rival and a would-be girlfriend with a mallet while they watched a movie.
It was this act of barbarity that resulted in Hammerhead joining the local mob. He further proved his worth by killing his own father for them. Through this all, Hammerhead maintained the illusion that he was Italian: he was always pretending to be something he was not.
Transferred to America - as presumably all A-star Sicilian mobsters are - Hammerhead fell foul of a perp, and had his skull caved in as a result. Rescued by the sort of rogue scientist who only exists in the Marvel Universe (one Jonas Harrow), he was rebuilt and proceeded to embark upon a crime career that has been ably chronicled in his comic-book appearances to date. Through this all is the spectre of Spider-Man, who has thwarted Hammerhead at every turn.
While Hammerhead is wrestling with all these visions, the doctors in the prison have been murdered and his mortally wounded body has been brought to new Spidey-villain Mr Negative. He and the slightly insane Doctor Tramma are trying to save Hammerhead's life. Mr Negative wants to use him as an enforcer.
Hammerhead is brought to consciousness and he is, at first, unwilling to help Mr Negative. However, eventually the mysterious mastermind is able to convince Hammerhead that his best destiny is that of a blunt instrument. Mr Negative has even provided Hammerhead with a brand new exo-skeletan that will enhance his abilities. Hammerhead agrees to the dangerous surgery, and to becoming Mr Negative's flunky.
To be continued in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #575.
Given all the weird things that have happened to Hammerhead over the years - including becoming an incorporeal spirit, and gaining god-like power on two separate occasions - I think we can assume that Hammerhead now remembers his past. The flashbacks in this story are not, therefore, an epiphany for the character. They are here for the benefit of the reader. I really wish Joe Kelly hadn't bothered.
Before this story Hammerhead's origin was simple. He got hit over the head and left for dead. Jonas Harrow saved his life by giving him an indestructible skull. The attack left Hammerhead slightly mad, and he decided to adopt the persona of a stereotypical mobster with a very hard head. Given the level of Weird in the Marvel Universe, that's the sort of origin story that doesn't even make you blink.
Joe Kelly has taken a succinct piece of work, and bloated it with armfuls of unnecessary silliness. Hammerhead became Hammerhead because he was hit on the head by a hammer and left for dead in an alley. Now it just so happens that his father hit him with hammers when he was a kid? It just so happens that he murdered people with hammers as well? Why? What's the point in this sort of unbelievable nonsense? This goes way beyond coincidence, and serves only to make the story and the character look ridiculous. Well, more ridiculous anyway.
A while back I reviewed Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man Annual #1. In that comic Peter David did to the Sandman what Joe Kelly has done to Hammerhead. I was pretty lenient on PAD at the time. I felt that narrative in the annual could be read on two levels; that the story was a means for the Sandman to justify his villainy with revisionist history. While the same argument could be made for this story, I'm just not buying it.
This story is just pointless. By all means bring Hammerhead back from the dead, but don't saddle him with all this unnecessary baggage. There doesn't seem any need to point out the defects of such a ridiculous story, but I will anyway just be thorough:
I would take issue with Spidey being Hammerhead's nemesis. Spidey saved the life of Hammerhead's sister - something the mobster was genuinely grateful for. And frankly, I don't see Hammerhead as a laughable failure. He worked his way up from nothing to the head of the maggia. Okay, it's not a particularly endearing career choice, but it's hardly 'nothing'.
Ill conceived, unnecessary and largely annoying. Joe Kelly can, does and has written better stories than this. However, Chris Bachalo's is far more coherent than normal so I'll give this two webs.
This story is available for free from Marvel's Digital comics site. It has been renamed Hammerhead: Death of a Wise Guy, but doesn't contain any additional material.