Black Summer was written by English comic book writer Warren Ellis, known for the comics Transmetropolitan and Hellblazer, as well as novels like Crooked Little Vein. The comic was illustrated by Juan Jose Ryp, who also worked on Alan Moore’s Magic Words and Wolverine: The Best There Is.
Black Summer opens with CNN news coverage at the White House, anticipating the appearance of the president, and briefly discussing certain misfortunes that occurred to the defunct superhero group known as the Seven Guns. Suddenly, vigilante superhero John Horus appears to the crowd of reporters in the stead of the president. Completely blood-soaked, Horus calmly announces to the crowd of reporters that he has murdered the president in the name of change for the country’s sake. In the meantime, ex-Gun member turned messy-haired, stained-t-shirt drunkard shut-in Tom Noir watches as the events unfold on his TV screen, wherein he’s interrupted by a knock on his door. His visitor turns out to be Frank Blacksmith, the believed to be dead creator of the Guns’ artificial enhancements, i.e. the enhancements that gives the Guns’ super powers. Blacksmith, now working for the government, intends to kill the Guns in order to protect the rest of society. Thinking that the immobile Tom would be an easy start, Tom leaves his new Gun enhanced test subject Vince to finish off Tom.
After Tom barely survives his encounter with Blacksmith’s subordinate Vince, Tom is taken back by the remaining Guns to their hidden base. The other Gun members consist of super-speed mathematics student Zoe Jump, anger-prone armor-clad Dominic Atlas Hyde, levitator Angel One, and motorcyclist Kathryn Artemis. They are now faced with difficult moral decisions and clashing solutions. The only thing tying most of the members together is their motivating from their former living conditions in a ghetto. Problems happen when the American forces attack the other Guns, thinking them to be allied with John Horus. Tom attempts to surrender on his own to the approaching military, but is quickly blown up by a tank for his actions. The remaining Guns, after witnessing Tom’s attempt and failure, decide to hunt down Horus, even if doing so means slaughtering millions of soldiers to defend themselves.
Despite what the first few pages would have you believe, Black Summer isn’t any more engrossed in its political statements as a slug is to saltwater. The comic is extremely action focused, and quick to lay out the central conflicts needed to keep the story moving. At the same time, don’t think this comic is completely mindless action and explosions. Despite its length and pacing, Black Summer still manages to deal some degree of complexity in the actions and motivations of its characters. The male characters get the bulk of the general characterization, while the females aren’t quite as distinguishable; specifically, Zoe and Kathryn are characterized by their hobbies, while Angel is characterized by her crush on Tom. I would go as far as argue that a certain deceased female character, who is never actually shown in the comic proper, has more influence on the plot than most of the other female characters, who seem to be distinguished only by their powers and costumes. If you’re expecting a very deeply-entrenched political commentary-based storyline, or extremely fleshed out, multidimensional characters, you may find this comic only lukewarm to your needs.
By far the best aspect of this comic is the art. Ryp has some pretty bitchin’ character designs, particularly for the female characters. The action in the comic never feels muddled or messy, which I’ve noticed can be an easy aspect to screw up many comic artists, regardless of skill. The chapter splash pages and the action spreads scattered throughout the book do an excellent job of highlighting the carnage and violence that frames the better part of the comic’s plot. Ryp also added a few Easter eggs for sharp-eyed readers; my personal favorite being the burning statue of East Asian the adored cat from the future Doraemon, who is visible in the corner of a two-page spread following a fiery massacre initiated by the Guns. At times, the characters themselves do look awkward. Particularly in flashbacks, when close-ups are frequently utilized. Fortunately, these hiccups aren’t too distracting, and usually don’t appear for multiple panels at a time.
Pros: Awesome character designs and excellent art that captures the tone of the plot without being messy. Characters and general story have a degree of complexity that prevents the comic from veering too far into being a mindless action comic.
Cons: Because of its length and fast pacing, the story doesn’t dwell too much on its political aspects, nor are the characters exceedingly multidimensional, which may disappoint readers expecting more substance; the female characters in particular get an uneven amount of focus compared to the male characters. The ending feels a bit blunt compared to the rest of the story.
Black Summer is published by Avatar Press. Black Summer is an excellent read, combining the right amount of action and violence with an intriguing plot and characters, with fantastic art to top everything off. Don’t hesitate to pick this comic up to fulfill your needs for a violent comic with substance.