Black Summer was announced a few months back, and is something of a rarity: A full-colour superhero book published by Avatar Press, home to Lady Death and the more eccentric projects from Ellis and Garth Ennis. The concept is pretty blockbuster: A superhero named John Horus unilaterally decides that the president of the United States has led the country into an illegal and unethical war, and he takes it into his own hands to execute the man and his advisors.
If you’ve been following the interviews Ellis has given, there’s not a lot of new information in this very affordable (99 cents) #0 issue. It does, however, convey the information much more effectively than an interview. The main character thus far appears not to be John Horus, but his former teammate Tom Noir, whose superhero career came to an end in a car bomb that killed his girlfriend. While Horus is meeting with the president and looking pretty darn spiffy in his shiny white costume, Tom is sitting in his dingy apartment with a bottle of whiskey and half a leg less than he used to.
Ellis gets things out of the way quickly: After a brief bit of background info regarding the history of superheroes – sort of a cross between science heroes and two-gun vigilantes – Horus interrupts what should be a routine press conference by walking into the White House press gallery, covered in blood, and announcing he’s just executed the President. Tom watches it happen on TV, and fields a phone call from another former teammate.
As I said, it’s a hell of a concept. And thank god Ellis did it on his own ground instead of slipping it into the Marvel Universe; while it’s not too hard to see this sort of thing working as another chapter of Civil War, there’s no way it would be as effective. If, say, Spider-Man killed the president, we’d more easily be able to narrow things down: Maybe the President is a Skrull, or Spider-Man was being mind-controlled by, oh, let’s say the Shadow King.
But in Black Summer, anything could happen. This series is going up to eight issues, not “forever.” No one has to appear on lunch boxes or appear in a motion picture next year. Anything can happen, anyone can die, anyone can be crazy or evil or right or wrong.
In John Horus’ case, there are obviously several options, but no sure thing:
- He’s crazy. If a man drenched in blood told you he’d just murdered the president because of a criminal conspiracy, you’d certainly consider the possibility he’s gone nuts.
- He’s wrong. What if a great hero committed an unspeakable act he thought was for the greater good, but screwed up?
- He’s being manipulated. Like the last point, but there’s some evil mastermind behind it.
- He’s right.
The first three options are somewhat cliché. Ellis could probably pull them off, but I have more faith in him than that; they’ve all been used to some extent. The final option recalls his work on Authority: What if superheroes, with all their power, really tried to change the world instead of just fucking about with petty crooks who also happen to be wearing spandex?
Ellis sets things out fairly clearly in Horus’ announcement to the press:
We’re supposed to fight evil.
You let us fight injustice. You don’t have to pay for us. We do this because we are driven to do it, and because we developed the skills to do it.
Your politicians don’t touch us because we’re dynamite: We save lives, and have caused not one collateral death in the last three years.
But we’re supposed to stand by while this administration commits crimes.
Ellis has a reputation, largely cultivated by himself, as a cynical curmudgeon who hates superheroes. But in Black Summer, he’s got right to the core of why we love them: They do the right thing. They try, at least. People with great powers, abilities, or technology who are trying to make the world a better place. It’s the sort of thing writers who are considered superhero traditionalists never seem to consider; changing the world always seems secondary to punching another guy in spandex.
Ellis is joined in this exploration of idealism and bloodshed by Juan Jose Ryp, who previously worked with him on Apparat: Angel Stomp Future. If you’ve seen his covers or read the Apparat book, you know he’s a madman: Detail crazy with an affinity for the gruesome; a poor man’s Geof Darrow, if you will. His interiors don’t quite live up to his gloriously excessive covers, but there’s no denying the guy’s got game: The reveal of John Horus walking into the press room is wonderful. There’s little question he’s not working with the ideal material here: There’s a lot more talking than carnage in this issue. He’s certainly good enough, though, and the previews and sketches suggest there’s lots of carnage to come.
Black Summer #0 is effectively a teaser for the rest of the series. Eight pages of story, a text piece by Ellis setting out his manifesto, and some sketches and previews from Ryp. For 99 cents, that’s a pretty good deal, and it accomplishes its goals: I want more. Right now.
This could be very, very good.