Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist(s): Juan Jose Ryp, Mark Sweeney (c)
Publisher: Avatar Press
This issue of Black Summer, more than any other so far, is a showcase for the talents of Juan Jose Ryp. Having maneuvered his characters into position last issue, Warren Ellis seems content to sit back and let Ryp do much of the storytelling this time around, and the artist crafts some intense and highly detailed visuals in his depiction of the remaining members of the Seven Guns as they strike back against the might of the U.S. military.
Often, I find myself disappointed by flashy, style-over-substance artists who seem to think that multiple splash pages produce a cumulatively impressive effect, when in fact they significantly lessen the impact of the device each time they're used. Ellis and Ryp seem to recognize this, and although this issue features more than one instance of an entire page (or two) being taken up by one single image, the pacing has evidently been carefully considered so that the 'wow' factor is maximized for each image, rather than diluted by overuse. In short, the splash pages feel like they're being used legitimately, to serve the story, rather than as lazy, flashy devices. One two-page spread (showing the conflict between the army and the four Guns that were galvanized into action at the end of last issue) contains as much action as you might expect from a two-page sequence composed of regular-sized panels: Rather than focusing on just one character, everyone is given a chance to shine within the single image, and the reader's eye is led around the page to take in the many elements that Ryp has included - especially the multiple images of Zoe the speedster cutting through the crowd. The page is complemented by a later splash which shows the aftermath of the carnage caused by the heroes. It's as solid a use of the device as I've seen in a superhero comic, and Ryp's artwork contains such a high level of detail that readers will pore over the splashpages for a long time, rather than just flipping them over a few seconds later.
However, it isn't just the big moments where the book's artwork excels. Ryp shows his character models to be flawlessly consistent throughout, with his constantly switching perspectives giving them a real sense of substance to go along with the raw appeal of their designs (the red-suited biker Kathryn Artemis is one of the slickest-looking superhero characters I've seen in ages). Ryp has got a great knack for action choreography, and the sequentials which show the military's attack on John Horus are some of the most cinematic in the book. There are plenty of neat minor details which are included in the artwork, too: I was impressed by the meticulously-rendered interiors of the installation which housed the "tactical stream" of the government's response to the Seven Guns, and when Ellis reveals the team, it's evident that Ryp has taken the time to provide subtle differences between the costumes of the seven members, despite their similar overall look. My only real complaint with the art is a minor one: The colouring in the sequences where John Horus is being attacked over the Appalachians is so overwhelmingly dark blue that it initially appeared that he was hovering over the sea. Otherwise, it's a very solid package which should certainly mark Ryp out as a name to watch in future.
Story-wise, there isn't quite as much to chew on here as there has been in past issues, as this installment is basically one big fight sequence. Still, Ellis manages to use the no-holds-barred viciousness of the fighting to show us how morally compromised the Guns have become, and effectively demonstrates how the superior arrogance of John Horus' unilateral act of murdering the President has led to such a dire situation for the entire country. Horus's earlier desire for democracy stands in stark opposition to his wishes for everyone in the country to follow his line of thought and do things his way, and the "might is right" mentality that is evidenced by the Guns' attack on the military makes for a sly indictment of the violent way in which problems are usually handled in superhero comics. Ellis also answers my only real complaints with the last issue by providing a wider view of the national conflict, with news broadcasts reminding readers of what's happening to all of the main players in the story as the writer prepares the ground for his finale. There's a real sense with this issue that Black Summer is building towards a climax which will satisfy on both an intellectual and a more visceral level, especially with the portentous comments made by Kathryn Artemis on the final page.
In many ways, this book is Civil War done properly: A look at what might happen if superheroes really decided to take the law into their own hands on a grand scale, and how the world might react. Whilst I doubt the story can end well for any of the parties involved, I'm looking forward to seeing how Ellis brings it all to a close. With three more issues to go, I know that I've also got plenty more of Juan Jose Ryp's great artwork to look forward to.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!