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Trading Up: Black Summer

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Due to the ever-changing landscape of both the industry & its printing practices and the reader & his habits, Broken Frontier has decided to start a new regular feature. Welcome to Trading Up, where we take a look at collected editions of previously released comics. Instead of a retread of past reviews, Trading Up will take a look as how the collection works as story, the idea being that some books may read better in trade or that there's a new audience out there for these collections.

To kick things off, Lee covers a recent release from Avatar: Black Summer, the controversial political super hero thriller that was a runaway hit for the publisher...

When John Huros, a member of the super hero team known as the Seven, decides to kill the President of the United States the line between vigilante and criminal is blurred.

Often in speculative fiction, characters are lost behind big ideas. To be certain, there are big ideas at play in Black Summer, but the characters are the driving force of the book. This is a fact that wasn’t as prevalent when the book was being released in single issues. The scathing indictment of the current American regime found the zero issue set the tone for how the audience felt about the book for the rest of the time it was in its initial release. It was hard to see anything other then political grand standing and big explosions.

While those elements were breathtaking, reading it as a collection reveals some subtleties of the script. While the big cliff hangers were the reason to keep reading the more familiar comics, the Gun known as Tom Noir takes on a much more prominent role in the trade paper back. At its base, this is a story of revenge. John acts out what he sees as an affront to his sensibilities, Frank is acting out of jealousy for not being in the loop on the formation of the Seven, but it is Tom Noir and his particular vengeance that becomes the thrust of the story as a whole.

This is fitting given that the story starts with him contemplating his life as a civilian and ends with him reporting the lesson to be learned from beyond the grave. As a founding member of the team and the closest to the assassin of the story, he is the thread that ties all things together. From the flashbacks to the revelation of why the situation gets out of hand, he is central to it all. Brilliant despite his alcoholism and nihilistic opinion of his former team, what we see as a broken man in the introduction eventually becomes the most clever of a group of smart people.

However, those big ideas are important and allow the story to happen. The paranoia of a country is turned into minute fear amongst friends. Of course, these friends have their sanity in question, but the fighting quickly turns to infighting as everyone wants to find their own way out of the mess that their ex facto leader, at least to the public’s eyes, has found for them. The media doesn’t know who to believe and agonize over the tapes they receive. The friends turn on each other. Even the military begins to question its orders. It all makes for the kind of piece that Phillip K Dick would be proud of, full of conspiracy and future tech. In other words, it is Mr. Ellis at his best. Choosing to show us not a dystopian future but showing us how unimaginary it might all be.

The story is just as thrilling and provocative as when it was anxiously awaited for the over a year period it took to wait it out. In fact, the lack of delay between issues helps the story move forward in a fashion that only a graphic album can provide. The only real loss to readers who are just discovering the book in the collection is that the cliff hangers do not pack the same punch. There is something less exciting about turning the page after the explosion as opposed to imagining what will happen for the next indeterminate period of time.

Warren Ellis (W), Juan Jose Ryp (A), Avatar Press, $24.99

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