Black Summer
by Warren Ellis, Juan Jose Ryp (Avatar, 2008)

What if superheroes were just normal people with computer and technological enhancements? Well, that's sort of been done before. What if a superhero became an enemy of the state? Again, done before. OK, what if a technological super-man named John Horus killed the president of the United States (George W. Bush at the time) and strode into the pressroom covered in his blood before giving a diatribe about how he's actually acting in America's best interest? Whoa, now you have my attention.

Don't let the shock factor of this premise mislead you into thinking this is some hyper-political comic that leans liberal or conservative. It actually uses this premise as a jumping-off point to make a comic about how Horus's former partners are impacted by his deed. This is a character-driven comic that encourages the reader not to identify with John Horus or condemn him, but instead try to understand what kind of life could lead someone to do what he did.

Throughout the comic there are flashbacks showing how Horus and fellow teammates gained their powers and how their friend Frank Blacksmith helped them become something more than human. Considering how he appears alive and well within the first chapter, its not a spoiler-alert to say that while they think Frank Blacksmith is dead, he isn't, and he's been making other super-people.

So what is the comic about? It's about people, it's about ideas and it's about action -- lots of meticulously-drawn, gorgeous, exploding action. Juan Jose Ryp draws some of the most beautiful fire I have ever seen and this comic delivers plenty of it. Right when you start to get bored with the action, though, the thoughtfulness kicks back in, such as an amazing scene later in the book where a general, asked what he would do were he faced with John Horus, responds, "Listen."

If I were to point out flaws it would be that Ryp has a tendency to draw all his females the same (attractive, big lips and buxom) to a point where I wasn't sure who was whom in the flashbacks where we don't have helpful costumes to tell people apart. Also, as this is a Warren Ellis comic you are guaranteed a lot of violence, sometimes bordering on the absurd, and plenty of depressing nihilism.

If you think Batman is a wimp for not hauling off and just killing people, or if you are tired of heroes with so much backstory you have no idea what's going on, I'd recommend you give Black Summer a shot, you'll probably enjoy it. And man, that fire.

review by
David Bitterbaum

22 May 2010

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