Posted by: Graeme McMillan on June 6, 2007
Whenever a creator talks about a new project in the context of their old ones, I always get oddly nervous. I can’t help it; I start to fear the worst. Grant Morrison’s pre-release interviews for The Filth mentioned it being the flipside of The Invisibles, and I shuddered (“I like The Invisibles, I thought it was good. Doesn’t the flipside mean that it’ll be bad?”). When Garth Ennis talked about The Boys “out-Preacher-ing Preacher,” I knew it was the end (if only because it seemed as if Ennis was believing his own hype). And, when the hype for Warren Ellis’s BLACK SUMMER #0 started namedropping The Authority, I was convinced that things couldn’t be good.
Black Summer, for those who don’t know, is Ellis’s return to superheroes of his own accord (as opposed to his return to superheroes as lured by Marvel’s truckloads of money and personal connections to Mark Millar and Brian Michael Bendis). In a text piece at the back of this short first issue – despite it being a #0, it’s quite clearly the first chapter of the story and not just filler preview meaningless – Ellis describes it as being “a political take on superhero fiction” like Authority and Stormwatch, and that’s both true and somewhat misleading. Yes, it’s very much in the same mindset of Authority (and, somewhat interestingly, surprisingly reminiscent in a way to the “Coup D’Etat” crossover that the Authority participated in, years after Ellis left that series), but to call it political feels false. The set-up is that the most powerful superhero in the world has, essentially, murdered the President and his flunkies because they lied to the world in order to get permission to invade Iraq, but there’s something… I don’t know… non-political about that for me, these days, if that makes sense – Maybe it’s my filthy liberal spider-sense working overtime or something, but it feels like a curiously safe, toothless, position to me: Not only is the idea that the President et al lied to get us into Iraq a fairly well-accepted one (or, at least, a non-sensational one) amongst the left-leaning amongst us, but the right-leaning have the comfort blanket of the superhero quite clearly being a murdering psychopathic bastard undermining democracy to offset any claim against Bush and his cohorts. Yes, yes, I know that it’s moral ambiguity and grey areas and all of that, but I couldn’t help but feel that it was also straddling the political fence and playing it safe, at the same time. I want my political fiction to pick a position and argue it out, you know?
Ignoring the political aspect, this is pretty much what you’d expect from a Warren Ellis superhero book – the cynical smoking bastard who’s really a secret idealist, the hokey sciencetalk (“John, what I’m talking about is a second cerebral cortex. Let me put it this way: In the future, will five senses really be enough?”), the romanticized superhero with impossible ideals… Ellis, for all his bluster and true hatred of what the superhero genre has done to the market, clearly loves the genre in and of itself, I think, and he tends to do – if nothing else – interesting work in it. It gives his writer’s tics something to work against, and reins them in. Give him a good artist (and Juan Jose Ryp is definitely a good artist) and enough space to work in, and at the very worst, you’re not going to bored. This isn’t the very worst; as a shorter, cheaper opener issue, it’s too short to make any grand pronouncements as to how the series is going to work overall, but this in and of itself was a Good tease for the future, and worth your 99c.