I’ve decided that I’m going to stop reading Warren Ellis comics and from now on will just read his work in collected form. Because for the last few years the only comics of his that have been wholly satisfying as comics have been Crecy (a one-shot, so it shouldn’t count) and Fell (deliberately written as stand alone episodes, so again, doesn’t count either).
Because as much fun as Black Summer #0 may have been, it was just a prequel to the series, nothing more than a very good trailer if you will. The way Ellis writes just lends itself more naturally to reading his work complete, especially his lighter, less dense, Avatar titles.
Black Summer as one continuous book reads very well indeed. Ellis is a master of this sort of decompressed, big concept story and Black Summer, although not reaching the highs of Transmetropolitan, Planetary, Crecy or Fell, is a great, nasty, big ideas superhero tale.
These Avatar books tend to be Ellis by the numbers and it’s tempting to start making little checklists of Ellis-isms that we could all fill in along the way. Technology. Some form of body modification or enhancement tech. Lots of weaponry; lovingly detailed. A sense of railing against authority, whilst also retaining just the hint of a romantic ideal of fighting for a better status quo, of turning the clock back to a time when authority figures were good and just and right. Black Summer ticks all those within the first 20 pages. It’s the romanticism of Ellis that is possibly the most surprising. But it’s a common thread running through the majority of his books. The tale of a government sponsored superteam that finds itself out in the cold may not be new, but god bless him, Ellis will always wrench something original and interesting out of even the most tired cliché of storytelling. In this book, it’s the rather graphic opener of the main superhero, John Horus, murdering the President of the United States and then calmly walking out into the White House Press room to do a press conference still dripping with blood.
(Deliberately out to shock and aiming way, way over the top? This would be a Warren Ellis comic then.)
Of course, after this initial jolt, Ellis settles down to essentially tell the story of a rather bad day in the aftermath of this assassination. If one hero declares war on the government, how dangerous has the world suddenly become for his teammates? Along the way he takes the time to fill in enough of the backstory of the heroes to make the whole thing a nicely rounded tale. We get to meet the usual messed up cast of heroes just before the might of the US government decides to start killing them.
The one minor problem? The ending’s telegraphed from about the halfway point, but luckily, it’s done with sufficient style and the usual Ellis blend of cynicism and romantic idealism that he gets away with it.
Juan Jose Ryp does a good job throughout, in what seems to be rather an Avatar house style of heavy computer inking and colouring. But like I said when reviewing issue 0, he scores points for sticking to the Geof Darrow school of hyper detailed panels absolutely packed with detail. (Although, in Black Summer an awful lot of the detail is made up of blood and body parts).
(John Horus becomes a one-man judge, jury and executioner, putting him above even Mega City’s Judges, who only put the president in suspended animation rather than execute him; published by Avatar, written by Warren Ellis with art by Juan Joes Ryp)
I was beginning to think Ellis had lost his way rather; with Blackgas, Wolfskin and Doktor Sleepless all failing to do anthing for me; but with Crecy, Freakangels, Anna Mercury and now Black Summer I’m hoping he’s back to the nasty, cynical and brilliant best that we know and love.
Richard Bruton is a founder member of the Rural Yorkshire Warren Ellis Appreciation Society