guttergeek the discontinuous review of graphic narrative

July 2009

Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp,
No Hero (Avatar, 2008- ). $3.99, each.

By Jared Gardner

Last year’s Black Summer was typical Ellis—a great concept, a weak, wishy-washy finish. With all the grandiosity of middle-age, Ellis sees himself as the man who discovered superhero comics were essentially political, and he wants to make sure you know it by spinning out a series of ethical half-finished meditations on the overlabored “what if superheroes were real?” premise. Black Summer was at its best in the opening issues, following the assassination of the president by an increasingly omnipotent member of a team of surgically enhanced heroes. Ellis clearly enjoyed (too much?) executing his comicbook standin for George W. Bush, and his heart was clearly with Ozymandias John even though he ultimately didn’t have the guts to end the series without bringing John to a tiresome, monologuing justice. But the real visceral pleasure of Black Summer was the team-up with Spanish artist, Juan Jose Ryp—and I really mean “visceral.” No one does viscera better than this godson of Moebius and the original [French] Heavy Metal, and Ellis makes sure to give him all kinds of decent reasons to scatter the stuff like silly string. No Hero, the latest collaboration between Ellis and Ryp, promises more of the same in every way.

The premise here is, not surprisingly, yet another variation on the old one: if superheroes were real, how far would you go to become one? If your name is Joshua Carver you would go very far indeed, and essentially the project of No Hero is to follow out in gruesome almost sadistic detail precisely what he gives up (his flesh and penis, for starters) for his dream. Instead of being surgically modified as in Black Summer, here our heroes are chemically altered by a brutal psychedelic drug called FX7, which reorganizes each individual’s mind and body differently, giving to each very different powers. And one only gets this drug by being invited into the team by the man who started it all, Carrick Masterson.

The pathway to super-humanity is, predictably, draped in psychedelic gore—an extended nightmare trip in which one’s old identity and body strip away and a new one takes shape. Unfortunately for Joshua, what takes shape ends up looking a whole lot more like the hallucinations than it should—and pretty much unfinished. He is a monster, a fleshless freak, but he is a superhuman—and that is enough for him to forget the loss of his face.

As with Black Summer there are people who don’t want these superheroes around any more, and the members of the team are getting bumped off one by one, spraying lots of guts around various rooms and vehicles in the process and keeping Ryp very busy in the process. And as in that earlier series, there are all kinds of moral gray lines to be crossed while determining who is gunning for the superhumans and trying to jumpstart the career of the quite visible bad FX7 experience that is/was Joshua.

To be honest, it is pretty darn good. Better than it should be, because Ellis remains a very good writer. The question is, however, how long will he remain interested in this story? Long enough to see it through to anything like a resolution worthy of the premise? I am not betting on it. But in this case, I don’t much care, as I will pay my pennies just to see how Ryp brings to life the guts and the gory and the very bad trips along the way.