I have developed a bit of a fetish for European comics writers who go after the topic of capital "A" America. Remember when Abraham Lincoln ripped the arms off of Johh Fitzgerald Kennedy in Hellblazer? Remember how in Alan Moore's Watchmen all of America had been mysteriously colonized by a fast food chain called The Gunga Diner? Remember Preacher -- that series where a Southern preacher blows up his entire congregation during Sunday services and then sets out with a vampire friend to settle a disagreement that he's developed with God?
No? Well, I'll do the remembering for both of us. There's something about the effect of watching this big weird country reflected in works of someone who grew up immersed not in America, but America's myths about itself -- its superhero comics and cowboy movies. No actual, day-to-day experience of the frequent boringness of the real America to grind out the hyperbole.
So I had high hopes for Black Summer. Its author, the prolific British comics writer Warren Ellis, wrote one of the most ridiculously fun superteam comics of all time, the elegant and effortlessly strange Planetary. His novel of a few years back, Crooked Little Vein, was all about the aforementioned "America with a capital A." (It depicted a country filled with heroin-addicted CIA spooks, strange and grotesque sexual practices, and lots and lots of meat, in case you were wondering. It had its moments, but was hamstrung by the front and center inclusion of a preternatually sexually available Suicide Girl-ish bisexual goth chick who (naturellement) gets kidnapped and needs rescuing and falls into the arms of the schlubby protagonist in such a hackneyed way that one's only thought at the moment can be "Dream on fanboy.")
Black Summer opens up promisingly, in that it features a bloodspattered superhero standing on a bloodspattered Presidential Seal in a bloodspattered Oval Office in front of a bloodspattered American flag and, well, you get the idea. John Horus, the superpower-endowed bodyguard to the United States president (a never named but clearly implied George Bush, Jr.) has become overwhelmed with the (implied) Bush administration: the secret detention centers, the sketchy elections, the war conducted on bad intelligence, and the passivity in the face of it all. What to do? In the best tradition of Stephen Sondheim musicals, he kills the President.
This could have been interesting, especially given America's historically documented tendency for killing (or assisting in the killing of) the presidents of other countries. Other comic books, most notably Watchmen, have done well with superhero characters who have questioned, given how powerful they are, whether they should work alongside the existing power structure, or opt out of it entirely.
But Black Summer never quite recovers the interesting strangeness of its first chapter. Instead, the focus switches from Horus to his superhero buddies, who are trying to react to various authorities who are trying to kill them now that their compatriot has killed the president. The remainder of the book is all helicopters and explosions and shoot-outs and black and white flashbacks and "Thought I was dead, did you? Well ha! ha!" moments. Weird imaginary America, and those persons, American and non, who love it, will have to wait for better.