I have a love/hate relationship with Warren Ellisís work. Thatís probably a bit strong; like/dislike is probably more accurate. Ellis himself seems like a pretty cool guy from the various websites, message boards and mailing lists I encounter him on and he seems like heís full of good ideas. Oftentimes when I pick up his comics, though, Iím under-whelmed by their execution. Despite this, I faithfully pick up each new project like some Pavlovís comic-geek in the hope of turning up another Authority or Desolation Jones when all too often theyíre another Ultimate Fantastic Four or Thunderbolts.
In Black Summer, Ellis touches on issues of superheroic vigilantism, asking where the line should be drawn and what is acceptable. They story behind it is that Avatar publisher, William Christensen, challenged Ellis to come up with a new angle on superheroes. Thereís nothing particularly new about the questions Ellis asks in Black Summer, in many ways it serves as a companion piece to Civil War. Indeed, Black Summer would be Civil War if Marvelís big event had kicked off with Wolverine executing the President.
Like the Civil War mini-series, the political and philosophical questions raised in Black Summer take a back seat to the action. Explosions and dismembered bodies replace characterization and depth. Ellis may be holding off on these aspects until the finale of the series but so far itís been largely a smorgasbord of ultra-violence and bad language.
In issue #5, the four remaining Guns retreat to an old safehouse where theyíre attacked by their former mentor, Frank Blacksmithís, new team of Guns. Thereís a flashback between Blacksmith and Kathryn Artemis, wherein we learn that Kathís motivation for becoming a Gun stems from her rather extreme belief that those who contribute negatively to society are better off being permanently removed from it and itís discovered that Tom Noir was in control of the tank that Ďkilledí him at the end of issue #3.
Possibly the most interesting and original aspect of Black Summer is that the Ďheroesí all base their powers around gun-enhancements, I guess making them superpunks, or cyberheroes, or cybersuperpunkyheroes. Superheroes with guns arenít new, though they are few and between, but the way Ellis approaches it in Black Summer is new. Heroes can shoot energy bolts, mind control foes, skewer them with claws or shoot them with arrows but the idea of using a gun is seen as somehow unsporting. Thereís an entire Batman story devoted to why he doesnít carry a gun. In Black Summer, Ellis tramples all over this ideal. His characters have vaguely defined abilities but what they do possess is clearly portrayed as stemming from their weaponry. Whereas with the Punisher, the guns replace superpowers, in Black Summer the guns are the superpowers.
On art is Juan Jose Ryp, whose style is reminiscent of Geoff Darrowís only without the beautiful clean line and detail of Darrow. This leads to a cartoon-y effect that makes many of the panels look cluttered and the action scenes can be difficult to follow.
I donít want to give the impression Iím not enjoying Black Summer, itís just that Iím probably not enjoying it on the level it was intended. As a serious look at superhero vigilantism it has little thatís new or interesting to say. As a rollercoaster ride of over the top superhero violence itís fairly enjoyable.
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