Black Summer, Issues 0-7

July 24th, 2008 by

Well, the new Black Summer came out today, and it’s time I finally wrote some kind of review about the series.

When I first read issue #0, it really floored me. I’d never been that surprised and excited about a comic, I don’t think. At least, not right off the bat. What happens in that first issue is something I consider to be the stuff of legend. Honestly, I have no idea if other comic books have done it before. Hell, maybe it’s commonplace for comics to be this anti-government, but this was the first I’d seen of it. Anyway, as you can probably see from the Issue 0 wrap-around cover shown here, in that first issue, we see the President of the United States of America, killed by a superhero.

And at first, the premise alone was enough to get me to read the comic. But, as the story wore on, honestly, I started to lose interest. Yes, it’s still good, but in comparison with that one first deliberate act of insane marketing prowess, the rest of the comic honestly just fails to live up to it for me. And that was never more true for me than in this final issue.

Read on for continued discussion of Black Summer, including spoilers.

Again, I want to clarify that I really did like the story. It was definitely good. I think it just felt a little long between issues, and I started to loose interest around the middle. Because you see, this was not, as I’d imagined, the story of a revolution led by superheroes. Unfortunately, the revolution was a one-man revolution, and actually, it was more of an assassination. Executed by a superhero (named John Horus), but, as brought up in issue 7, ultimately he was little more than a superpowered version of Lee Harvey Oswald. Repeatedly, in this issue, he’s asked if there was nothing else he could have done other than kill the president. “You could not think of a smarter way to change the way this country does business than just killing the villian?” John Horus never does answer the question.

Now, Warren Ellis should be ashamed, because this is a cop-out if I’ve ever read one.

The answer to these questions, or at least, the only one that makes sense to me, is that there were horrible crimes being committed, and they had to stop. Conventional means of policing our politicians in positions of extreme power were not working. If I were a superhero, and I went ahead and did something as gutsy as killing the damn president, I’d be DAMN SURE I had some evidence of wrongdoing before I went and followed through. So where was John Horus’s evidence? Where was even some small indication that he’d thought things out? Nowhere. In fact, his only retort amounts to “If you’re not with me, you’re against me.”

OK, so about the rest of the comic, issues 1 through 6, they did not feature much talking by John Horus. But after that explosive beginning, I sure didn’t want him to turn out to be an idiot! (And he is repeatedly called “stupid” in this last comic. I’m pretty sure that’s the impression we’re “supposed” to have of him now that the series is over.)

So what, you might ask, was in those other issues? Well, we get the stories of all these other superheroes. There’s a whole team of them that have had their “guns” for a while. Basically they all have different cybernetic implants referred to as “guns” even though some of them are not directly weapons. Yet almost all of these self-styled heroes are pretty much out of commission by the time this story gets started. Eventually, we sort of get the impression they’ve been manipulated by the main “villain” of the story, Frank Blacksmith, to get bored with their vigilantism. Blacksmith was basically their government funded arms dealer from the very beginning. (Blacksmith, get it?) Turns out, of course, that he’s got ways to “counter” all of their weapons, just not those used by John Horus. Not only that, but Horus is the only one who is still fighting after all this time.

There’s some soap-opera style infighting. The team isn’t really a team anymore. Blah blah blah. Frankly, I wish all 8 issues had been straight up about John Horus and Frank Blacksmith. We didn’t need any of these other characters getting in the way of that killing the president thing.

I should say something about the artwork done by Juan Jose Ryp. You just have to click on one of the covers in this post to see what amazing artwork and detail went into this comic. The inside pages are just as detailed, and just as beautiful. Avatar’s flickr account has a whole gallery with all the Black Summer covers, in case you want to check out more of them. (Or view the ones you don’t have, since I think each issue had at least two variant covers.)

All in all, this is well worth a read. I was just left a little disappointed. But then again, with expectations set by that first issue, it’s possible it would have been next to impossible to follow through.

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