Writer: Warren Ellis
Artists: Juan Jose Ryp, Mark Sweeney (c)
Publisher: Avatar Press
Black Summer #3 kicks off with a bait-and-switch which nullifies the cliffhanger of the last issue, buying the remaining members of the Seven Guns a little more time to argue out their different approaches in dealing with the problems caused for them by John Horus' murder of the President.
Now that the shock of the debut issue has worn off, it has become apparent that Black Summer isn't really about the corrupt nature (or otherwise) of the USA's current administration, or the legality of the war in Iraq. Instead, it's a musing on the conventions of the superhero genre and their moral implications. The holier-than-thou attitude of most superheroes makes them a great choice of protagonist in a story which revolves around overthrowing the government on moral grounds, and the fact that a murder has had to take place in order for that to happen seems more like commentary on the "might is right" mentality of the genre than it does the realization of a genuine desire to kill President Bush. The superheroes of Black Summer are paying the price for one of their number taking the law into his own hands on an unacceptable scale, and the choices that they have been forced to make in addressing the nation's reaction to Horus' unilateral actions make for far more compelling in-fighting than the hollow theatrics of most superhero comics. It's food for thought for superhero fans, and hopefully there's more to come in future issues, as I feel as though Ellis hasn't quite got to the point that he wants to make yet.
Of course, Warren Ellis being Warren Ellis, there are enough imaginative touches of sci-fi detail and characterful dialogue to make this book distinctive and enjoyable, regardless of the subject matter. Tom Noir gets a particular spotlight this issue, and he's quickly becoming the most heroic character in the story. The upgrades that he receives allow him to function as a far more effective physical presence than before, and his declaration that "I can hear everything" is backed up by numerous captions and electronic 'noise' which work well to create the impression that his powers allow him to tap into information and communications networks. Keen-eyed readers will also note that during the issue's climactic scene, Tom's computerized readouts imply that it might not be the military that is in control of the vehicle after all. This puts a whole new spin on the scene, and opens up a lot of possibilities for future issues.
Juan Jose Ryp's artwork is again a major boon for the series, filling many of his panels with a level of detail that has invited comparisons with Geoff Darrow, and a clarity and clean style which recalls the work of Frank Quitely. There are more standout visuals here, notably Tom Noir's transformation and the manner in which his powers manifest themselves visually. I'm also a big fan of Ryp's costume designs for the Seven Guns, which mix retro fashions with modern accoutrements to create a truly unique look for the book. However, despite the generally high standard of art, there's an occasional sense that Ryp has left some of his pages unfinished, or that he has been under time pressures to complete them. The closing scene is a good example, as whilst it provides some suitably powerful and grand imagery to accompany the issue's climax, it also feels a little stark in places. On looking at the panels a second time, it's apparent that many of them have no backgrounds (or at least, that the backgrounds that they do have are very sparse or sketchy). Whilst this might be a conscious device to focus attention on the characters themselves, it's at odds with the extensively detailed look of the rest of the book, making the final pages feel somewhat disjointed as a result.
If there's one criticism that I have of this story, it's that Ellis seems to have kicked things off with Black Summer's most dramatic event, before continually narrowing the focus of the series, undercutting the tense, high-stakes atmosphere of the first couple of issues. In fact, the book abandons a wider perspective on the conflict altogether with this chapter, concentrating almost exclusively on the rebel group of superheroes. This might be an advantage in terms of building up the individual characters of the Seven Guns, but it risks losing sight of the event which was the catalyst of the entire story in the first place. Whilst I'm not averse to Ellis spending time with his characters at the expense of big, hollow action sequences, I do think that the book would benefit from an occasional update of how the world's reaction to Horus' actions is playing out, even if it isn't the main focus of the series. However, this is obviously an intentional choice by Ellis rather than an accidental omission, and I guess that the writer is happy to concentrate on the more personal conflict of ideals between the Seven Guns, and to maintain the mystique of John Horus for the time being. There's still enough going on here to make me interested to see what happens next, and I'm still enjoying the overall story, but I'm hoping that this issue proves to be more of a transitional chapter of repositioning than an indicator of the approach that Ellis plans to take for the rest of the series.
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