Writer: Warren Ellis
Artists: Juan Jose Ryp (p & i), Mark Sweeney (colours)
Publisher: Avatar Press
Fantasy is often at its best when it has something to say about the real world. Allegory and metaphor have allowed writers of even the most implausible and unrealistic stories to reflect ideas which are integral to human society and psychology, and readers delight in finding their own interpretation for such stories, drawing parallels between escapist fantasy and the reality of our world. As Warren Ellis observes in a text piece which follows the short story which is included in this #0 issue, mainstream superhero comics have taken a more political turn in recent years, with Marvel's Civil War the latest to attempt to address the freedom vs. security debate via the slightly tenuous metaphor of the Superhero Registration Act. However, Black Summer is far more direct with its politics, as this "taster" issue shows us the event around which the series will revolve: the murder of the US President by a superhero, for his perceived crimes against humanity.
Comparisons to Ellis' ground-breaking Authority series are inevitable: both books focus on the concept of superheroes taking the law into their own hands, with all the arrogance and moral superiority that that implies. However, Black Summer looks as if it will have more emotional depth, as the writer manages to include a lot of character detail for Tom Noir, crippled founder member of the Seven Guns, a superhero society which looks as though it will play a central role in the series. There's quite a lot of exposition, some very human drama, and some high-concept superheroics to go along with the "shock" premise of the series: it's a lot to pack into just 8 pages, but Ellis makes the best of the space he has via a tight layout, often 9-panels per page à la Fell. If Ellis can maintain the same density of storytelling once the series begins in earnest, it should be a very satisfying read.
The book also looks good. I'm not familiar with the work of Juan Jose Ryp, but I was immediately convinced by his work here. The storytelling is clear, and the character designs are solid, and there's just enough fantastical detail (like John Horus' freaky floating eyes) to convince readers of the other-worldy powers of the Seven Guns - an important accomplishment given the lack of any real action in this issue. John Horus himself is a visually distinctive protagonist - even if he does look a little like Magneto in a Sergeant Pepper outfit - and I'll be interested to see how the artist characterises the other superheroes who look set to feature in the series. Ryp's detailed style brings real-world sensibilities to the more traditional superhero vibe in a manner which is reminiscent of the work of artists like Darick Robertson, Gary Frank and Geoff Darrow: that's good artistic company to be in, and I look forward to seeing how Ryp's work progresses once the series proper begins.
Black Summer, then, is Civil War done properly: superheroes taking the law into their own hands, actively breaking it in the service of what they see as a morally superior position, and forcing the nation to respond as it sees fit. Many people will probably misconstrue this book, as it's far easier to interpret Ellis' story as a statement about George W Bush than it is to delve deeper into the psychology of the writer's central character: Horus is a flawed hero, condemning the President's illegal actions but finding no other solution than to commit several murders in order to remove a regime that he sees as corrupt. Don't let the heavily politicised premise distract you: this is a book which has as much to say about the superhero genre as it does about the Bush administration, and I look forward to seeing Ellis examine the moral grey areas that are inherent in the concept of a costumed hero who takes the law into his own hands at the same time as he explores contemporary US politics. It's thought-provoking stuff, and I urge anyone who's on the fence about whether to pick up this book or not to try it out - at just 99 cents, this first issue won't break the bank.
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