Monday, October 06, 2008

No Hero #1

Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Juan Jose Ryp
Colourists: Digikore Studios

Warren Ellis may well lament the superhero genre's dominance of the direct market (and rightly so), but evidently he still sees something in there to interest him. Billed as a "serialised graphic novel", No Hero, his latest project for Avatar, is another twist on the genre.

The Front Line are a group of intimidating-looking drug-enhanced vigilantes in the sort of black leather costumes plainly designed not to be reassuring in the slightest. They've been around for years and, despite their appearance, they're apparently rather popular, and so high profile that one has to assume they're tacitly endorsed by the authorities. Josh Carver is a wannabe vigilante desperate to be recruited into the big time; he's not so naive as to be oblivious to the moral grey areas involved, but he still clearly thinks it's a good and worthwhile endeavour

But Ellis is really interested in vigilantism. The superhero genre is a useful vehicle for exploring that theme. After all, an awful lot of superhero stories take it as read that vigilantism is an unqualified good, at least so long as the vigilantes are good people. Following that mentality to its logical conclusion, No Hero seems to give us a city where the Front Line started out plugging the gaps in the system, but ended up becoming the system, and a rather questionable one at that.

Theoretically this is the same theme that Civil War was supposed to be about, but Ellis is actually addressing it. Ryp's artwork is a little over-detailed for my tastes, but works well with the story, steering clear of traditional superhero imagery but getting the point across (well, up until he's asked to draw a woman, at while point it all goes a bit Ian Churchill).

Of course, it's a Warren Ellis Avatar book, and there are some thing that come with the territory here. There's a pervading air of cynicism; there's some rather gratuitous violence; and there are points where he seems more worried about the thesis than the story. And, conversely, some people will be disappointed that, with all the freedom that Avatar allows, Ellis and Ryp have produced another superhero book.

Even so, it's a neat idea - and instead of simply deconstructing the superhero genre yet again, Ellis uses the vigilante angle as an entry point for some broader moral issues. This being an Avatar series, of course, there's always the risk that it'll all go a bit Wanted in future issues - but it's an intriguing start.

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