Writer: Warren Ellis
Artists: Juan Jose Ryp (p & i), Mark Sweeney (colours)
You know that a book's artwork is especially good when it's the first thing that you want to talk about, and Black Summer's Juan Jose Ryp deserves to be highly commended for his excellent visuals here. People have compared him to Geoff Darrow (and rightly so), and whilst Ryp doesn't quite achieve Darrow's ludicrously high level of detail, he makes up for it with a dynamic fluidity which helps to avoid the sterile feeling that can often afflict such hyper-detailed work. For proof of his talents, you only need to look at the wraparound variant cover for this issue - a standout piece of comics art that will stop any reader in his tracks to pore over the exciting visual - but his abilities extend to smooth storytelling and visual characterisation too, with a real tenderness evident in the flashback sequences which contrast with the harsh (and sometimes gruesome) reality of the present day. There are also some moments of sheer cool - such as the motorcycle transformation of Kathryn Artemis and her ensuing showdown with the military - which make the story as viscerally thrilling as it is intellectually engaging. It's the complete package for a superhero book, and I expect this to be a breakout book for the artist, who will surely go on to bigger projects as a result.
Ryp's intense visuals serve a story which is just as focused, taking the concept of a superhero coup and running with it to bring us a series which dares to address the same issues that were tiptoed around throughout Marvel's Civil War event, namely: should superheroes be allowed to take the law into their own hands; what should a nation do when its citizens believe that their government is acting in a flagrantly illegal and immoral fashion; and the age-old problem of how to police the police (or, indeed, Who Watches the Watchmen?). However, writer Warren Ellis recognises that we've got to engage with the story on a emotional basis as well as an ideological one, and the central players of his story allow us to do just that. I love the fact that we're learning about the Seven Guns - their past and present relationships, their powers, and their history - at the same time as the main story is unfolding. It makes the book feel dense, and the frequent flashbacks to happier times allow Ellis to break up the tense atmosphere of the present-day story with some more considered character-based drama which adds depth to the larger story and helps to draw readers in on a more human level. The various personalities of the super-team's members also allow a variety of points of view on the story's events to be represented without the arguments feeling as though they've been shoehorned into the book and forced onto characters that don't fit them, and I'll be as interested to see how their internal conflicts play out as I am in seeing how the larger political situation resolves itself.
Ellis might risk being labelled as too overtly liberal by right-wing readers (comparisons of the Bush administration to Nazi Germany might press the point a little, but Ellis doesn't shy away from the parallels between Germany in 1939 and the current activities of the U.S. government), but to view the book as being simply a mouthpiece for a dissection of the current state of U.S. politics would seem to miss half the point; there's just as much debate over the extent to which the superhero model could ever be workable in law and in practice, whether it's more important for a government to be democratic or to be morally sound, and the importance of the public being accountable for their government just as much as the government must be accountable for its people. The fact that these subjects aren't always spelled out actually gives the reader a chance to engage more with the material and come to their own conclusions rather than being spoon-fed the arguments, making it provocative food for thought for those readers who want to get more out of this than a simple superhero slapfight. There are genuine moral grey areas at play here, and (despite the focus on the superheroes as the stars of the show) Ellis never tries to tell us how to react to the story or whose side we should be on. In many ways, this is the book that Civil War should have been - a political superhero story which asks some difficult questions and demands that readers think for themselves - and for any fans who felt let down by that event, or who simply love superhero comics in general, I would highly recommend picking up Black Summer.
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