Black Summer #2

by

Or – “Sometimes A Book Will Come Out Of Left Field And Surprise You…”

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Black Summer is one of those books that I wasn’t entirely sure about, dealing as it does with the murder of the President of the United States (and it doesn’t pull it’s punches, making it clear that the Prez in question is unequivocally the sitting Commander-In-Chief.)  My usual goal in life is to strenuously avoid discussions of politics, religion, or alternate lifestyles, but the setup to this issue (and the Warren Ellis writer credit) piqued my interest.  Issue #0 was as interesting as the premise promised (say that ten times fast) and #1 just flat blew me away with it’s detailed art and excellent character work.  Usually when I buy my weekly comics order, I set up a pile to buy, a pile to buy if the buy pile doesn’t exceed the budget, and a pile that can wait for payday, but the awesome cover of Black Summer #2 made certain that it was the first thing in the Must-Buy category, and the innards once again exceeded all expectations…

Previously, on Black Summer:  They say that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and John Horus agrees with that aphorism.  The problem came when he took it upon himself to BSum1.jpgbalance the scales.  A powerful superhuman, one of the premiere members of The Seven Guns, America’s first-line of metahuman defense, John walked into the Oval Office, confronted a president that he saw as corrupt, and killed him.  Moreover, he took the initiative to also murder the entire cabinet, then went on television to announce what he had done, explaining that he regrets his actions, but that he did the only thing he thought he could do to save America.  The people and the remaining branches of government were told to elect a new president and to purge the taint that has enveloped American democracy, and ominously warned that John would be watching them.  After these shocking events, the government mobilized entire units of soldiers to take in (or take DOWN) the remaining Six Guns, including retired member Tom Noir.  Tom gave up his public persona when an explosion took his leg and the life of his girlfriend, but for the first time in years, he activated his communicator implant and contacted his teammates.  Unfortunately, a battalion has been sent to bring HIM in, as well…  Fortunately for Tom, his old comrades are on the job.

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My word, but Kathryn Artemis looks cool.  But it gets even better.  While Angel One swoops in to make the save, and Zoe Jump brings Tom up to the roof, Kathryn and her motorcycle transform into her superhuman “gun” form, and oh, holy night, the stars are brightly shining, is she awesome.  As the troops mass in the streets, Dominic Atlas Hyde, the de facto leader of the Seven Guns makes a public statement.  “As I record this, the president has been dead for two hours.  At the hands of John Horus, a man I’ve known for a decade…  The remaining guns have no association with his actions, and condemn it utterly and without hesitation.  We’re not involved.”  As Kathryn moves to intercept the troops, Angel One lands to pick up Tom Noir.  I have to say right now, I dig the hell out of the Seven Guns’ naming conventions…

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Stephen says I don’t need to bother with the bleep button, but I figure, since I went to the trouble of having one and all…  Anyway, as Zoe Jump races off and Angel and Noir take to the air, the ever awesome Kathryn Artemis and her super cycle are in action.  Her mission?  Slow down an entire army battalion long enough to allow her teammates to escape.  I’ve always loved motorcycle heroes, ever since the days of “Street Hawk” on ABC, so I’m incredibly gratified to see one who is this awesome (and even her helmet’s stylistic resemblance to the red Power Ranger can’t offset it.)

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Atlas’ words fall on deaf ears, as the soldiers prepare to fire, only to have Kathryn pull a Han Solo on them…  She fires, and the ground beneath them explodes.  Even as she attacks, the face of Dominic Atlas Hyde ironically remarks, “We will not fire against American soldiers.  We are, and always have been, the servants of the people of this great nation.”  It’s a nice sentiment, but far too late, as not only has Kathryn engaged the military, Angel One and Tom Noir are under fire from a flying gunship.  Tom can’t reach his gun, and her magnetic fields won’t keep the bullets away for long…

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Her field breaks down, and Angel One realizes that she has to fire back.  Pulling her gun, she tries to clip their wings, shooting off one of the side wings, and hoping that she hasn’t damaged the gunship too badly.  She watches with horror, as the helicopter spins out of control, and seems to be coming in on a rooftop landing.  “They’re going to make it, they’re going to make it…” she chants, but the ‘copter hits hard, skids to the edge of the roof and explodes into a fireball.  Tom tries to tell her it wasn’t her fault, but Angel isn’t listening.  Shut up, Tom! Just… shut up.  This is all your fault.”  Tom flashes back to the point where Angela became Angel One, remembering the extensive surgeries that tore her body apart, and the extensive pain that came with the implants.  In the present, the news of Kathryn’s attack on the army has just hit the news wires…

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Okay.  I’m torn between admiring John Horus for his straightforward nature and being seriously afraid of what’s going on in his head.  Most frightening of all is the fact that, after seeing two of the Guns in action, I truly believe his assertion that this “is not a war that the Seven Guns would lose.”  Back at their hidden headquarters, Dominic Atlas Hyde watches the television and curses his old friend…  “Crazy #&$ing bastard, screwing us on live @$#*ing television!  I don’t believe it.”  Tom Noir and Angel One arrive as if on cue, with Tom remarking “I’ve got to tell you, there’s a whole line of impossible things waiting for us to deal with them today.”  I like Tom Noir, even if her reminds me of a character a friend of mine created in high school.  Tom tells Atlas of his intent on dealing with the situation they find themselves in.  “I’m going to go out on the street and walk around until the find me and try to kill me again.  And this time, I’m going to let them.”  Um…  bad plan?

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His triggerword activates Atlas’ “gun,” and he powers up to his hulking alter-ego.  Tom DOES get the drop on him, but Zoe Jump’s speed is the deciding factor, as she disarms Noir quickly, allowing Atlas to get in a quickly shot at his head, and oh my god does it look like it hurts.  Tom goes down hard, and the tension in the room dissolves with his consciousness.  Kathryn suggests that they need a plan, and Angel One has an idea…

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Dominic Atlas Hyde (didn’t he play Niles on ‘Frasier?’) tells her that the only sane response is to completely disassociate themselves from John Horus, but she replies that he’s talking crazy.  “JOHN’S crazy!  John did something completely unconscionable…  WE don’t agree with him, right?  Right?”  Kathryn is silent for a moment, and Atlas presses his point, insisting that you don’t KILL a president because you don’t like the way he operates.  Kathryn remarks that people have, but Atlas isn’t hearing that either.  “Dom…” says Kathryn.  “We take the law in our hands every day!”  Atlas insists that there’s a line that they cannot cross, and overthrowing the government is that line.  She goes for the jugular, asking him if he’d believe that if this was Germany, 1939, and Atlas gets even angrier…

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The government troops mass right outside the doors while the five non-murdering Guns continue to argue, and the tension is unbelievable.  The cliffhanger comes at a terrible time (and it surprised me, given that Avatar groups all their advertisements together in the back of the book) leaving me seriously wanting more of this story.

Warren Ellis is one of the writers whose work fills me with awe and jealousy at the same time, taking characters who could easily be the people we know and work with, and extrapolating what superpowers would actually DO to the human psyche.  The tone here is hard to convey, ending up somewhere between Watchmen and Thunderbolts, with a matter-of-factness that conveys a much more realistic take on superhumans in a few pages than ‘Amazons Attack’ and ‘Civil War’ have done in their combined issues to date.  The art by Juan Jose Ryp is absolutely breathtaking, detailed, expressive and unique, reminding me a bit of Geoff Darrow’s ‘Hard Boiled’ work.  The overall effect of Black Summer #2 is enthralling, pulling me in from page one and taking what could have been difficult political overtones and making them an integral part of a compelling story rather than beating us over the head with “Patriot Act” parallels.  It’s a great ride, and may be one of my favorite single issues this summer…  Black Summer #2 nails the landing, earning 4.5 out of 5 stars, and a permanent spot on my hold list.

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