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Saturday, June 09, 2007

 
Black Summer #0 -- One weekend sometime about a decade ago, I stopped in to a couple of Albany-area comic book stores and found then-complete runs of the first seven or eight issues of two titles I had been hearing some good buzz about, The Authority and Planetary. Both were written by Warren Ellis, a writer I hadn't encountered before, and both exceeded my expectations in being exciting and entertaining adventure comics.

The Authority, especially, found the writer blending a surprising mix of violence and politics. Surprising not because they worked so well together (which they did), but because the book was published by one of the two biggest corporate comics publishers in North America. If Wildstorm parent company DC eventually stepped in and destroyed the quality of the title (which they did), it was thankfully long after Ellis and artists Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary and Laury Martin created an enduring set of 12 issues that are pretty much the best superhero comics to be published in the last ten years.

Ellis is mixing the kicking and 'sploding with the political again in Black Summer #0, a brief, bloody and blunt introduction to a series that is far more violent and far more political than not only The Authority, but any other title Ellis has written. Seven more issues are to follow beginning later this summer, and thankfully we can be certain neither the violence nor the politics will be moderated by anyone other than the creators involved (primarily Ellis and artist Juan Jose Ryp), because the title is published not by one of the corporate publishers, but by Avatar Press. Avatar has been criticized for reasons ranging from scheduling delays to the content of their titles, their variant cover policies and other issues, and I'll acknowledge all of that (full disclosure: I have in the past sold work to Avatar myself), but I'm relieved Black Summer is at Avatar because 1. I liked this debut issue very much and more importantly 2. Ellis and Ryp will get to tell this story their way.

I want to suggest why I liked the issue without going too much into detail. You may already have heard what the plot involves, but you won't hear it from me and if you haven't learned about what kicks things into action, I'd advise avoiding any spoilers until you can read it and judge it for yourself.

As with Fell, the extra material in the back is both entertaining and informative, and in this case probably a necessary element for Ellis to outline the origins of his story and the reasons it came to be. I'll try to moderate my own ongoing outrage and disgust at the realities that fuel Ellis's creativity, and say that after all these years, it's nice to see someone in comics (or anywhere) making the points that Ellis makes through Black Summer's protagonist, John Horus.

If Horus goes too far for some readers, they would do well to remember that it is the place of political fiction to fuel debate and motivate the reader to think and judge and act for themselves. Political debate and conscientious action are things that have been missing from the United States for years, and in my opinion there's only one truly fictional moment in this entire issue. John Horus's actions may be fantasy, but his reasons, and his specific complaints, all look like a concise, truthful summary of the 21st century to date, as I have experienced it, and obviously as Ellis has observed it.

Things have gone beyond the disgrace of pre-9/11 U.S. politics and well into a surreal era of obscene violence and greed that can all be squarely and fairly blamed on an entire nation that did nothing as its ideals and laws were plucked away like the bottom-most pieces in a game of Jenga. Anyone who has opposed the events of the post-Clinton era has been marginalized or worse, and if it's energizing to watch Keith Olbermann in real life or Alan Shore in fake life (on Boston Legal) remind us what America should be about, well, any change is coming too slow to stop the ongoing death toll nearing three-quarters of a million human lives that have been lost because of the U.S.-created nightmare that is current-day Iraq.

To say nothing of the contempt the U.S.'s own people have increasingly enjoyed from those who have seized power.

Hmm, I said I wasn't going to go into too much detail, and here I am invoking Keith Olbermann and James Spader. Well, all politics is local, and their spirit of outrage and justice is present in Black Summer #0. John Horus's actions are horrific, but they are to the point, and they both beg debate and suggest a powerful piece of political adventure fiction lies before us. Ellis has told enough good stories in this vein in the past that I trust his instincts and creative gifts, and I find myself really, really looking forward to watching this series progress. Ryp's artwork is tighter and in more full focus than I have ever seen him work. And it's more than just the colouring that makes the storytelling so clear -- perhaps the artists feels as passionately about the subject as the writer.

And I'll paraphrase Roger Ebert in pointing out that what matters is not what Black Summer is about, but how it is about it. Ellis and Ryp are making big statements about important things here, things that really matter. I'm open to it as a violent, well-told superhero story, but I'm far further gratified that it's also saying true things about the disastrous state of the world as it exists right at this moment.

Visit the Black Summer website.

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1 Comments:

Blogger CHunter said...

Gah! I need this bad!

09 June, 2007 09:55  

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