Monday, September 29, 2008

REVIEW - BLACK SUMMER by Warren Ellis Art by Juan Jose Ryp

BLACK SUMMER is a recent mini-series written by Warren Ellis with art by Juan Jose Ryp, published by AVATAR PRESS.

Suppose that there existed, in our current world, 7 Guns; super powered human weapons, intelligent people that figured out how to give themselves seemingly unbeatable super human abilities, and used those abilities in an attempt to make the world a better place, and, for the most part, succeeded, gaining public support and eventually acceptance by the government. Now suppose that one of those 7, John Horus, suddenly decided to kill the President of the United States and demand that the country right itself or they would be at war... with him.

BLACK SUMMER is an interesting, dark, serious, and realistic take on the superhero genre filled with political outrage, ethical questions,and moral dilemma's... that unfortunately falls just short of being enjoyable to me.

It's hard to really pin down where BLACK SUMMER failed for me as a story... I mean, I really like Warren Ellis' writing, and this kind of twisted superhero story is usually right up my ally; but it was missing something for me. I think the main problem I had was that the story felt rushed to me. This is a concept I would have preferred to see told in a more decompressed way, establishing the characters and their world a bit more firmly... 8-12 issues would have been great.

I also think that it was entirely too plot driven, rather than character driven. There was no one I could identify with, and not a single likable character. Everyone was portrayed as being an arrogant, self righteous, bastard, and none of the 7 Guns, the books superhero team, supposedly made up of 7 friends from college, even got along or seemed to have any sort of emotional connection with each other besides mild loathing. A lot of the characters only interaction with each other was just boiled down to "Bitch," a lot of the time. I get that the story is supposed to be a bleak, critical, examination of the kind of arrogant, self righteousness need to proclaim yourself above man's laws, as imperfect as they may be... but I can help but think that could have been better served by contrasting it against the fact that these people as human and flawed as anyone else. There was a hint of a romantic subplot between two characters, and even a moment of tenderness, which was completely glossed over, and then forgotten.

In the end, it didn't feel like there was a sacrifice, or any sort of redemption, because I just didn't care for anyone; which is disappointing, because Warren Ellis is usually so good are writing amoral, monsterous, characters that still have a shred of humanity and empathy. DESOLATION JONES is a perfect example of this. I loved that Jones, as bleak as his world view was, was at least empathetic towards those people he had contact with whom life had shit on. There was a subtle sensitivity to DESOLATION JONES that just isn't present in BLACK SUMMER.

Another problem I had with the book... my biggest problem actually... was the art. I can't say that it was just outright BAD... but it wasn't great. Juan Jose Ryp can definately draw. His background are highly detailed and reminicent of Geoff Darrow's super detailed layouts, and his characters are solidly constructed... but his linework is chunky and has little line variety... it looks like it was inked with a sharpy, and the pages get really busy, and at times I found it hard to seperate foreground and background elements from each other. I liked the costume designs, but the characters themselves are almost impossible to tell apart from each other, particularly the females, who all have the same body types, big porn-star hair, and the same face. Male characters are similarly difficult to differentiate, as they too, all possess the same basic facial stuctures.

The most GRATING thing about the art though? There are a number of instances where a characters body languege or facial expression just do not match what is being said. People look angry when asking a harmless question, or their expressions are too extreme for what's trying to be portrayed. There's no subtlety or range. There are also times when the drawing is just outright BAD. The guy definately has potential, but he's also lacking in a lot of area's.

The coloring definately doesn't help... this is probably some of the most garish and cheap looking computer coloring I've ever seen, and gives the books mostly servicable art a really cheap look.

BLACK SUMMER is a book that feels like it could have been great, but somehow falls short. I can't say it's outright horrible, but it's definately not my favorite Warren Ellis work. It feels like he really phoned it in. There's a lot of interesting concepts and cool idea's, but it's missing heart and character.

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