Warren Ellis and His Superhero Trilogy
by Robert Leichsenring
Okay, people, let's get started, shall we? I'm Robert, doing a guest stunt here on the infamous CC. For your general information: I'm German, 26 years old, and have read comics for the most part of my life.
You see, I love superheroes. I love the capes, the powers, and the responsibility that comes with it. But sometimes I feel like the basic superhero ongoing is falling flat on the topics of morality, the use of the powers, and the evils that come with it.
Did you ever ask yourself what would happen if your favorite hero would have started a bit different? Or if the government would have found them before they ever started being a hero?
Don't look any further; your questions have been answered. At least partly. Let me tell you of Warren Ellis' superhero trilogy: BLACK SUMMER, NO HERO, and SUPERGOD (not to be mixed up with Grant Morrison's book). These are all published by Avatar Press, the guys known for erotic softcore porn books and today for violent, limit-breaking creator-owned stories such as CROSSED, GRAVEL (also written by Ellis), and many more.
I don't want to go into detail on the author — that shouldn't matter — but let me just say that he was part of the British invasion of comics.
BLACK SUMMER is the first part of the trilogy, beautifully illustrated by Juan Jose Ryp. and it starts of rather surprising with the death of the US president at the hands of one of our "heroes".
The eight-issue limited series focuses on the concept of a group of private heroes with no allegance to a corporation or government and how this would affect their actions. I do not want to go into details of the story as it is something you might want to discover for yourself (and believe me, Warren Ellis has always something up his sleeves). The artwork fits this uncompromising story about a group of heroes trying to do right and ultimately failing from the beginning.
We meet very human superhumans with their own wrongs and rights and personalities — a band of brothers (if you'll excuse the term) who try to protect each other and the ideals they fight for. This might be the weakest of the three, but that says nothing, as it is still an amazing piece of thought put onto paper.
The second part is NO HERO, again illustrated by the awesome Juan Jose Ryp, where we visit a world where all superpowered beings are created by one man, Carrick Masterson. He holds the formula to change the world. The series starts in the late 60s, and we meet up with his team of heroes in the new millenium, but, of course things don't work out as we think they would.
We meet Carver, a young man trxing to become part of this elite group of heroes. He's a straight-edged guy with a strong code of wrong and right. And luckily for him, there is an open position to be filled in Masterson's team, as two members have been murdered.
This might be the most intriguing of the three parts. We meet very diverse characters from all over the metahuman community that we can recognize from mainstream comics, and we learn how one man can use the power at his disposal to forge the world.
I was not prepared for what came in the last three issues. Ellis takes us down a very dark road that is totally believable if you look at the world you live in. Carver seems larger than life, but in a way, he represents the question on the cover ("How much do you want to be a superhuman?") and us. How far are you willing to go? Ellis has a very satisfying answer, and I'm not spoiling anything if I say it: "As far as I have to." Again, Juan Jose Rype does a brilliant job in showing us a world so close to ours but so far far away.
The third part is SUPERGOD, a 5-issue limited series that takes us into a world, again so close to ours, where governments control all metahumans. We start with the first space flight, done by the British before the Soviets even had a guy in space. From there, shit goes downhill in a very beautiful way thanks to
the amazing artwork of Garrie Gastonny.
This book is by far the most challenging as it reads more like a track record/science paper. We join a nameless British scientist after the end of the world, and he takes us step by step to doomsday. For the first time, we can watch how government control could change the world as we know it.
You get superhumans from China, Russia, the US, Iran, and India, all with very diverse power sets and agendas. Ellis takes us on a ride through the reimagination of India, the secrecy and supremecy of the British, and the ignorance of Russia and China in four amazing issues. (The fifth is kind of a downer as it is not as strong as the first four, which kick some serious scientific ass.)
This might be the best of the three if not for the slightly disappointing fifth issue. But still, Ellis is painting a very good picture that is, like NO HERO, closer to our times and cirscumstances. This is not the "dark and gritty" we have been used to seeing all the time since Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' WATCHMEN. This is a scientific thought experiement in comic book form.
The three parts are all a whole and make a clear statement on metahumans, which you have to find for yourself.
This work proved to me that it isn't Grant Morrison who is the heir of Alan Moore when it comes to realism and diversity. Warren Ellis might be one of the few top storytellers in the industry. Don't believe me? Check out how he transformed STORMWATCH and built the AUTHORITY. Look into his NEXTWAVE, THUNDERBOLTS, or GRAVEL (or STRANGE KISSES).
He is not doing it dark because it's cool. He is doing it because that is how the world works.
Robert "Nemo" Leichsenring