Because I'd only be rehashing exactly what I said in it anyway, instead of writing a new review of Warren Ellis' eight-part miniseries Black Summer, I have decided to reprint the article I wrote about Issue #0 of the series that I wrote for Undress Me Robot in the summer of 2007. As expected, the Ellis delivered on exactly what he set up in that intro issue: hard-hitting political satire spun through a superhero story that D.C. and Marvel can only wish they'd gotten their hands on. And Juan Jose Ryp's artwork is nothing short of stunning, his attention to the tiniest of details absolutely astounding. My only complaint is that the book cost $26 and is only a scant 192 pages long. But as my friend and editor at UMR, Spencer Sugarman said, "You want an indie comic, you pay an indie price."
But I digress. Without further ado, my review:
In a world as evil and corrupt as our own can be, where are superheroes to draw the line? If they are here on earth to protect us, who, really, should they be protecting us from? From crackheads and pimps and drug dealers? From murderers and terrorists and power-hungry psychotic dictators? Since the Golden Age of comics, heroes of all shapes and sizes have existed, fighting off their own distinct definition of “evil.” Batman had his criminals, Captain America his Nazis, Aquaman his... polluters.
But what happens when the supervillians aren’t wearing black ski masks or flowing purple capes? What if they are dressed in suits and ties? What if these murderers and terrorists and power-hungry psychotic dictators are the people we see on CNN every day, telling us about how important freedom is, and how we need to be over there in Iraq to maintain order, and how we’re doing the right thing, just trust us we’re doing the right thing? What would happen if our beloved superheroes got home from a long day of fighting crime and saving the world and turned on the news and saw what those people in Washington, D.C. were doing and saying? Sworn to serve and protect the good of humanity, could they let that go on? Could they let the leaders of the United States of America continue to lie and cheat and steal and murder their way across the globe in a fashion that would make Lex Luthor proud? Or would they need to bring down their hammer of vigilant justice swift and firm upon those villains in their tailored suits just as they would hostile aliens from distant galaxies.
Warren Ellis’ latest book, Black Summer, aims to answer exactly these questions, and “scathing” does not even begin to describe the political commentary that results.
Ellis, a British writer best known for his Gonzo Journalism-fueled Transmetropolitan and a lengthy run on D.C.’s Stormwatch, is famous for his bitingly sarcastic work, and with Black Summer, he certainly pulls no punches. And while the Issue #0 is only a brief preview of the seven-part series to come (the storyline itself only covers ten of the book’s nineteen pages), I’m already completely sold. Starting in August, Avatar Press will be releasing one full-length part of the series each month, marking their first foray into the world of superhero comics—and one that Avatar Editor-in-Chief William Christensen is quite proud of: “I've always said I'm not going to publish superhero comics at Avatar until I can do them better than Marvel and DC. I just did.”
And why not be? With Warren Ellis at the helm and Juan Jose Ryp (Alan Moore’s Another Suburban Romance, Frank Miller’s Robocop) supplying artwork so vivid in its precision and attention to the slightest details of color and shading that it boggles my mind to think he could do finish it in anything less than a lifetime, the series is off to a sure-footed start. How the public will respond to a book so brutally honest as this, however, I’m not sure. I don’t know the political stance of most graphic novel readers, but if you’ve got any love for the current administration in your heart at all, this book is not going to sit well with you. Lucky for me (and most of the people who I figure would be checking out a new Warren Ellis project), I don’t, and I think that this series could be one of the most sharply-tuned comments on the current political climate I’ve seen come out of the comic world. Sure, the Marvel Civil War is touching on issues that have been raised by the creation of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act, but Black Summer grabs those issues by the balls and yanks with all its might.
The only problem I have with this book is its surprising brevity, but it is just a preview, so I can’t fault it for that—it was just a little heartbreaking to come to the back cover so soon in a story that already had me so deeply involved. But the extras included in this issue (some character concept art and a spectacularly insightful author’s note, most notably) are more than enough to make up for the short narrative. If you plan to check out the series when the monthlies kick off in August, you’ll definitely want this first preview issue for your collection. The scene in the Oval Office is worth the $2.99 alone.
While Black Summer may not be the Next Big Thing out of the world of graphic novels, I hope it will leave an indelible mark on the industry and on the politics of any who read it. There are two kinds of art, no matter what the medium, that are destined to be remembered: that which can be appreciated on such a level that it remains relevant at any time or place, its message never diluted over years and years (George Orwell’s 1984); and that which so acutely captures a specific moment in time and space that it is comes to represent everything involved in that moment (Neil Young’s “Ohio”). Black Summer is one of the latter. In a few years the commentary it makes will probably be meaningless, the United States’ government having moved on into a new administration which will (hopefully) right at least some of the wrongs that the current one has made. However, as an encapsulation of the time it existed, the series looks to be one worth aspiring to, one that will say the things we all have on our minds, and will do so with the brutal honesty that is needed to say them.