Or – “My Newest Summer Blockbuster Fave-Rave...”
Most comic writers have a certain thing that they do really well, well enough that you think of it as “their thing.” For Brian Bendis, it’s the rapid-fire-Joe-Friday-vulgar-conversation. For Judd Winick, it’s the moment of tragedy in the middle of goofiness. For Robert Kirkman it’s the completely unthinkable Holy $#!+ moment. And, in my mind, Warren Ellis really shines in a setting where his characters have completely hit rock bottom, only to find that there are sublevels of unpleasantness yet left to descend into. Wanna guess what happens this issue? (Be warned: it involves violence, four-letter words and adult situations…)
Previously, on Black Summer: John Horus, most powerful and popular member of the superhero team called the Seven Guns, (think Superman with a Beatle jacket) has killed the President and his cabinet as a political statement. Horus has announced that he had to do it to get America off a path to disaster, and that the country can now choose a new leader PROPERLY (what with the myriad questions around the elections in 2000 and 2004) but that he WILL be watching. This announcement has mobilized the police and the military to take his former partners into custody, including inactive Guns member Tom Noir, who finds that not only is the man who empowered them NOT dead like he thought, but in fact is spearheading the effort to bring them all in. Tom pulls a fast one on a super-powered hitman, and escapes from the military with the help of his ex-teammates, but once he’s back in the fold, clashes with de facto Guns team leader Dominic Atlas Hyde (love the names in this one.) Dom punches Tom halfway through a wall, while a strike team prepares to bust into the Guns hideout. A tremendous explosion blows down the wall and the soldiers rush in…
…to the wrong place. Luckily for the Guns, Frank Blacksmith’s intel is out of date. Kathy Artemis (the girl in the red leather biker gear) continues to argue that Frank would have found them already if not for Tom, but Dominic blames her for their situation, arguing that they’re only in danger because she attacked the army last issue. Zoe Jump, the team speedster, wonder how Dominic explains the dead superpowered government agent in Tom’s apartment, and Dom proves that denial ain’t just a river in blah blah blah fishcakes. “You’re relying on Tom’s word that 1) Frank Blacksmith came to see him. 2) left, leaving some anonymous goon to kill Tom. What does that sound like to you?” Kath says it sounds like Frank, just as Tom Noir wakes up. “$&#* you, Dominic… you $&#*ing body-dysmorphic porn-addict trust-fund-baby compulsive-masturbation mother$&#*er…” Wow. Tom can really turn a phrase, can’t he?
Zoe whispers to Tom that the entire team is nuts, reinforcing her assessment that all the Guns have been driven insane by their powers, while Dominic digs around in his lab for something. “I need a team that doesn’t have to carry anyone…” Tom is taken aback by the word team, but Dominic blows it off, and pulls a bionic leg out of a drawer and begins attaching it to Tom’s missing limb-stump. Tom confronts Dominic with the fact that the Guns have never HAD a leader before him, and Dom grunts. “Never used to need one… So you think Frank Blacksmith faked his death?” Tom points out that strategically, he’s the best first target: the Gun with the closest connection to John Horus and seemingly the easiest target. “He had to take me out first. Efficiency.”
Y’know, after watching Dom’s mood swings, I really suspect that Zoe is right about his insanity. Dom questions Noir about the status of his powers, and Tom tells him that they’re mostly inactive, and that he managed to take out Blacksmith’s goon with luck and superior fighting skill. Dominic gives his tactical assessment of the situation, and reinforces his unsuitability for leadership. “We’ve got two choices. Maybe three. Maybe one.” They can stay underground, but not forever, and Tom and Kathy are wanted for attacking the army. They can run the army out of town, then come together to take down John Horus. Or they can surrender. Tom can’t believe the last one, but Dom thinks it’s important that they distance themselves from John Horus and get rid of the killers targeting them. “It also positions us as available to help once John’s… well, once he’s dead.” Tom asks for a few minutes to himself, and as soon as Dom is gone, proves that he’s much smarter than anyone seemingly gives him credit for.
I’m not sure what he’s up to here, but it’s a pretty fascinating look at what actual superpowers in the technological world of today might actually be like. Walking to try and get used to his new leg, Tom bumps into the drawer Dom pulled the prosthetic out of, and finds his Seven Guns uniform within. “You sentimental old prick, Dominic…” While the other guns argue about Dom’s plan to give up, Tom puts on his uniform (which, tellingly, is a black variation on John Horus’s silver togs) and decides on a plan of action.
Tom’s searches suddenly give him results on “Frank Blacksmith,” just as he TURNS OFF the security systems on Dominic’s hidden base. Making his was to the surface, he suddenly takes control of something called “Unit 7-Delta-99,” Tom guides it to his location. 7-Delta-99 turns out to be a riot control tank, and as his former teammates realize what’s going on, Tom puts his hands over his head. Zoe Jump races up the stairs with all the speed she can muster, trying to pull the seemingly-suicidal Tom out of the line of fire.
Tom Noir is annihilated in a burst of cannonfire, and Zoe barely misses getting blasted herself. Kathy Artemis, Dominic and Angel One reach the ground level seconds too late, and Dominic wades into the tank, ripping it open with his bare hands, and terrifying the poor soldiers within. “Come here, you murdering little $#!+… he was trying to surrender to you!” With their location compromised, the remaining four guns have little choice but to engage the military…
Dominic takes out a HELICOPTER by throwing a TANK at it. Crazy, yes, but hardcore as well. The gunship crashes into it’s partner and both ‘copters fall to the ground and explode into a fireball, as Dominic berates himself. “I’m an idiot. I’m sorry, Tom. I’m an idiot. I’m an idiot, and I made things bad. But you made them worse. And John Horus started it. So, here’s the new plan…”
Okay… In the immortal words of Peter Venkman, Dominic has gone bye-bye. I’m not sure who they’re actually speaking to in that panel (I suspect the survivors of the tank, even though they’re obviously meant to imply that the reader is their target) but it’s intimidating nonetheless.
Now, the obvious: Tom Noir is no more dead than Superman was circa ’93. Laura Torch’s gun is out there, somewhere. The name “Laura Torch” would imply some sort of pyrokinesis, perhaps even an immunity to fire, which seemingly killed Tom. Tom is the Batman analogue on this world, and for the Superman analogue to commit a crime without being confronted by the Batman analogue in a story like this simply will not do. Every issue of this book is a revelation, in an interesting way, careening from violent act to violent act with the only justification being that these people live in a world of killers and amorality. It’s a Warren Ellis joint to the core, with beautiful art by Juan Jose Ryp, and an interesting look into the minds of some very disturbed superhumans. I’m actually starting to wonder if Tom and John aren’t working together somehow, to bring down the rest of the Guns before they do REAL damage to the world. Either way, this issue is an excellent once, earning 4 out of 5 stars for showing that, even with superheroes, some people are smarter than others…