Or – “Not Precisely A Retro Review…”

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A couple of weeks ago when I was blown away by Black Summer #2, I mentioned that if enough people were interested, I’d go back and touch on issue #1.  Due to unprecedented fan response (which means somebody responded…  Thanks, Lou!) and a delay of this week’s comics due to the Labor Day holiday (you’d think after reading the things for decades and working in the industry since ’98 I might get a clue on holiday shipping delays, but alas…) I’ve decided to go back and cover this one.  And while I’m certain that most of our faithful Spoilerites don’t worry about such issues, I have actually struggled with whether or not to label this one a Retro Review…  The main reasoning, for those interested in such ephemera (both of ya) was that this book is still an active concern at the time of writing, whereas previous R.R.’s have always covered a book/creator run/storyline that was complete.  Thus, we’re going to treat it as a current book, and leap like a Kzin towards a restroom after fifty-four triple salsa black bean burritos…  (It should be noted that there is some serious adult content within, this is your warning.)

BSum1.jpgPreviously, on Black Summer: In a world not unlike our own, a superteam called the Seven Guns fought against evil and injustice, but even their awesome powers can’t defeat everything.  A questionable presidential election, some dicey business deals, and a war in the middle east have dropped the presidential approval ratings to record lows, and polarized most of the country along the lines of political bias.  Then, in a horrifying and stunning move, John Horus (roughly an equivalent of the Superman/Apollo archetype) took it upon himself to expand his mandate to fight injustice, and walked into the Oval Office, offing the commander-in-chief and his cabinet, then making a public address telling the nation that he has freed them, and telling them that they may now choose a new leader.  In the wake of this startling morning, the entire country is up in arms, and the military has been mobilized to try and find Horus and the other six Guns, assuming that they were all involved in the assassination…

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The question on every commentator’s lips, repeated as nauseam, is “Where is John Horus now?”  As for Tom Noir, we are suddenly thrown into a black and white flashback of the day when Tom met with the Guns’ armorer about his powers.  “You’re facing a police force that’s little more than an army of kill-squads, and insane level of crime, private security forces placed by the city government…  You’ll need to carry [a gun.]”  Flash-forward a few years, and we find Tom and Frank once again engaged in conversation, this one about Tom’s retirement and Frank’s seeming death.

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“You haven’t been able to switch them on in years.  We monitor you.”  Frank introduces Tom to his bodyguard, a ‘next-generation gun-style enhancile’ in the form of a giant blonde goon.  “Your mom taught you that hitting cripples is bad, right?” asks Tom Noir nervously.  Heh.  Frank interrupts and tells Tom why they’re here: it’s about Horus.  Tom quickly figures out that ‘Vince’ is here to kill him, and amazingly lets them in to end his life, asking only that he be allowed a drink first.  Vince agrees, and Tom hobbles away, commenting “Great.  It’s in the kitchen.  Follow me in, you wouldn’t want me to pull some ninja cripple trick…”

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All the things that they may have enhanced on Vince don’t seem to include his sub-standard brain, as even *I* know that alcohol and fire make for a potent combination.  Tom breathes flames into Vince’s face, and speaks his word of power.  “Bakerstreet.”  His entire nervous system bursts to life, and Tom searches for Vince’s weak point, as his body starts to transform.

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Three quick punches drop the flaming goon to the ground, and Tom smashes his liquor bottle.  Here’s where you know it’s written by Ellis, folks…  Squeamish readers need not apply.  Tom Noir slashes his broken bottle into Vince’s…  Eh, why euphemize?…  into his genitals, but gets a good shot for his troubles.  Tom is bounced across the room, and an enraged Vince stalks over to rip him to pieces.  “Any clever ninja cripple tricks now, you one-leg mother#@&er?”  Tom yanks his super-gun from beneath the bed and replies, “just the one $#*@face.”  Three shots leave Vince an incredibly graphically bloody heap (with a hole in the middle) and Tom triggers his communicator implant for the first time in years.  The answering voice is that of Zoe Jump, fellow Gun, and her voice causes Tom to flashback to HER origins…

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Tom snarls that he wants every one of the remaining guns online, warning them that the government is coming, and that someone needs to pick him up, NOW.  Another voice comes through, ridiculously calm, given the circumstances.  “This is John.  Hello, Tom.”  John Horus explains that he did what he had to do, what the rest of the squad would have done if they could see straight.  When Tom asks what he means, Horus tells him that he’ll find out, and switches off his Mainline (interesting term, that.)  The answer to the question of “Where Is John Horus?” is answered, as well as the man’s mental state.

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Yeah…  John’s gone bye-bye, what my grandfather used to call “Bug#@# Crazy.”  Moments later, in Tom’s apartment, he suddenly finds that he’s not alone.  Zoe Jump has arrived, super-speed and all.  Unfortunately, as a runner, she can’t carry Tom out herself.  “Angel’s en route… and Dom wants to talk to you.”  Tom angrily laments that he has nothing to do with any of this, and all he wants is to get out, but complication after complication keeps occurring…  Zoe suddenly realizes the state of her former teammate, and is horrified.

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She removes her goggles, showing her eyes to be monstrous sunken holed, red-rimmed and malformed, and tells him that things have changed.  “For one thing, there’s Army on the streets.  And I’m pretty sure they’re waiting for us.  But what you don’t know is, they’re all crazy Tom.  The team, I mean.”  Her creepy mutated eyes really drive the point home, as she tells Tom the truth.

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“But I’m feeling muuuuch better now.”  Somehow, Zoe, I’m not certain that you are any saner than the rest of them, even if you’re NOT assassinating world leaders before breakfast.  We fade to black, with the questions of who Angel, Kathy, and Dom are unanswered (though if you’ve read the review of #2, you already know the truth.)  Tom Noir’s situation seems about as hopeless as it can be, and it’s obvious that Tom Noir (the Batman/Hades archetype that some would call a ‘Gibson’) is the only one who will be able to stand against John Horus…

This issue is a very good one, with detailed and occasionally gross art by Juan Jose Ryp, that reminds me again of Geoff Darrow’s work on ‘Hard Boiled,’ and the usual brilliant combination of psychological intrigue and ultra-violence from Warren Ellis.  It’s an intriguing title, reminding me a bit of ‘The Authority’ and Grant Morrison’s run on JLA.  The book works, both on its own terms, and as a metaphor for superheroics in general.  Some have opined (Tom Grice for one) that I’m not a big fan of the dark and gritty superhero genre, but when done well, even I can get into a story where nobody is terribly heroic.  Black Summer #1 rates an impressive 3.5 out of 5 stars, proving that the grim hyper-realistic take on superhumans can be done and done well without slavishly aping Dark Knight or Watchmen…

Rating: ★★★½☆

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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5 Comments

  1. Mark I.
    September 5, 2007 at 11:44 am — Reply

    Thank you sir. Looks like a good story shaping up.

    Ryp loves dem veiny arms, huh?

  2. September 5, 2007 at 12:27 pm — Reply

    Congrats on the first review to actually make my opinions go off-balance. I was in a sort of ‘anything works’, balanced mood, but seeing this (and issue 2) suddenly threw me into a blood-boiling, fist-pounding maniac. ‘YES! THIS is what we need! Less FANTASY! More REALITY! This is TEN time better than a cosmic space-story about impossible rings in matching colours gleamed off the works of Alan Moore!’

    Then I went and set a table, and it left. But still…Ellis does that to me.

  3. jman
    September 6, 2007 at 3:18 pm — Reply

    I just picked up issues #0, #1 today (after winning both of these and #2 on ebay; dammit if I only checked the local store first!!). Both of these issue blew me away…John Horus has really called down the thunder on the rest of the Seven guns with his actions . Yet, some may see this book as a rather blatant vehicle for Warren Ellis’s own personal views of the US goverment, so be warned…

  4. Brad
    September 7, 2007 at 7:36 am — Reply

    Glad you posted #1, I’ve been really enjoying the comic reviews, and you my friend have a great pull list!

  5. Lou
    September 8, 2007 at 10:51 am — Reply

    Thanks Matthew, I appreciate the review, retro or not. I think I will go and pick up 1 and 2, then sign on for the rest. I agree that I am not always into the grim and gritty (the smell of vomit makes me ill, even when they are just talking about it on a comics page), but a good story is a good story. Thanks for fullfilling my request, even if no one else asked!
    Take care,
    Lou

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