[Guest Blogger Streebo continues his look at Ellis's Black Summer. For more posts by Streebo click his name in the tool bar on the right.]
The artwork by Juan Jose Ryp is very solid. He combines a hyper-detailed Geoff Darrow approach with fleshy form filled Frank Quitely figures. It's not necessarily spectacular – but it presents the world of Black Summer in believable and ofttimes excruciatingly detailed manner. Ryp seems to revel at the task of drawing Tom Noir's crumbling environment with countless pieces of rubble, kipple, and cigarette butts littering his surroundings. The coloring is workmanlike and true to reality. Aside from his attention to small details – Ryp has done an excellent job in designing some of this world's four colored superheroes. I particularly like the design of John Horus – all in silver – surrounded by a floating swarm of spheres. His head is adorned in a silver hawk shaped helmet and the eye of Horus stares off his back inside the ubiquitous symbol of the New World Order and every conspiracy from John Dillinger's escape to JFK' assassination – the pyramid. It is interesting to note that in magickal circles – the eye of Horus is meant to symbolize individual, group, and mass consciousness. What better way to forcibly break superheroes away from an almost century long discourse of political hegemony than with a symbol of newfound consciousness? I'm not sure if Ryp designed these characters with strict direction from Ellis or not – but the end result is that John Horus is a superhero designed for a new age. With fanboyish glee, I welcome John Horus to the fold. Now, who wins in a fight between Wolverine and John Horus? Superman and John Horus? Osama Bin Laden and John Horus? Just kidding on that last one, Mr. Miller.
Warren Ellis explains his intentions with this series in the back matter of issue zero:
“In a situation like that, there are no sides. Not any more. It's about who survives and who doesn't. It's about whether the idea of America lives or dies.”
This seems like a rather noble concept and one certainly worth debating, however the way Ellis chooses to remove John Horus – the catalyzing agent – from subsequent issues makes me wonder if that is his true intent. I think another quote from the back matter is a bit more revealing in light of his decision to basically play his new politically empowered superhero off-screen:
“This is the freedom of doing a piece of superhero fiction outside the auspices of company ownership or the weight of continuity: the big questions can be asked in a very direct and brutal manner. In this world, masked adventurers on the run are not going to be pursued, tricked and trapped by their estranged colleagues. Every last one of them is going to be hunted by the combined forces of the US military structure.”
Warren Ellis basically seems to say that Black Summer is his answer for Marvel's Civil War and that the consequences should be deadly not merely transitory. This saddens me somewhat as I feel the premise of a politically charged superhero going in direct opposition to the current administration is a fantastic concept that deserves to be explored. This is what what superhero comics can exist for – not just to replay endless variations of fistfights with the same participants merely switching allegiances back and forth over the course of sixty years. Comics can and at times should talk about the perceived injustices of our world.
Black Summer contains a lightning-in-a-bottle concept. The design of the new superhero, John Horus, is fantastic. The artwork is strong and very detailed. The characters are interesting. However, the execution at this point tells me that Warren Ellis would rather avoid the very political topic he created the series around, rather than using it to take superheroes to shining new heights. The debut issue of Black Summer was an instant classic in my book. For now, the jury is still out on the rest of the series. I am definitely along for the ride and am still very excited about the potential outcomes that future issues may bring.
[This is Ellis all over -- he has great ideas, but does not always fully follow through with their potential.]