If there's one thing Warren Ellis loves to do, it's go totally overboard with a concept. Take his upcoming novel Crooked Little Vein (which I'm not allowed to review yet, but look for it July 1!), a crime noir detective story, which let's just say involves a government conspiracy to hide a second constitution of the United States that's written on alien skin. Oh yes, and there's Godzilla porn. Cover art from Avatar Press' Black Summer by Warren Ellis

Okay, maybe my point is a bit obvious to anyone who has ever read an Ellis book. So it should be no suprise to anyone that his take on a superhero book was going to be anything other than, well, f***** up. Last week Avatar Press published issue # 0 of Ellis' Black Summer, a book that asks to define the limits of a superhero's duty to protect citizens from evil and tyrrany, no matter where it might reside.

Meet the Seven Guns, a group of bright-eyed idealists who concoct a litany of strange abilities for themselves, strap on helmets and begin to clean up the streets--starting with the corrupt police force. Years later, vigilantism has taken its toll on the group. As has 9/11, which they were unable to avert much to the scrutiny of the public. They've separated, drifted apart. One has died. Tom Noir, who's painted as the idealist that turned his visioon of a superhero task force into reality, has lost a leg and sunk into a booze-addled depression.Then comes the day that John Horus--ostensibly the most powerful member of the group who "walks surrounded by a network of floating eyes that render him both unkillable and incredibly dangerous"--decides the "fictional" President of the United States' fictional war in Iraq makes him the most dangerous supervillain in the world. So he kills him. And the Vice President. And some advisers and secret service agents.

If you can get past the gore--and thanks to Juan Jose Ryp, who illustrated Ellis's Wolfskin, there's plenty of it--the book actually strikes an interesting chord. Superhero fiction has always played a role in questioning government policies--it's impossible to miss Millar's critique of the Patriot Act in Civil War--but Ellis is taking his distaste for the Bush Administration head-on.

Much like Moore's Watchmen, Black Summer takes a serious look at both the mental and physical tolls vigilantism can take on a person. The responsibility to constantly draw the lines between good and evil--when, as in real life, they are always anything but clear--is a heavy burden. Who is to say a politician who has started a war under false pretenses that has resulted in thousands upon thousands of deaths is any less evil--and certainly any less dangerous--than a supervillain? It's a question only a superhero can answer. Like the politicians we elect, the people we label as heroes are out of our control. The general public can only hope they act in the interests of a greater good, trust their judgment and stay out of it.

Has Horus suffered a complete mental breakdown? It's entirely possible. Is he wrong? Presumably that's the question Ellis will answer over the course of the next 7 issues, though the book makes a strong case that his actions are at least rational, if not justified. "We are living in a condition of evil," Horus states. "I cannot be true to myself if I let it go. I cannot be true to the people who believe I stand for rescue from evil."

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