Review: No Hero by Warren Ellis & Juan Jose Ryp

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Imagine if the drug scene in 1966 San Fransisco didn't set the way from the Summer of Love or the Age of Aquarius but gave us our first super heroes.  Instead of having Timothy Leery preaching the use of psychedelics to expand our minds, what if he used it to produce his own army of superpowered humans?  What would Vietnam have been like?  Would Watergate have happened?  What would the world be like now if one man had the ability to give others the power of flight, of invincibility or of being able to make things explode with their mind?  In No Hero, Warren Ellis shows us that man, capable of giving powers with one magical pill, the wonder drug FX7.  But the question he asks is "how much do you want to be a superhuman?"

In No Hero, some outside force begins killing members of The Front Line, Carrick Masterson's home brewed group of super-humans who supposedly fight for the good of man kind.  In the debut of his creations, he tells the press, "These are my friends.  They are free, and they want you to be free too.  Free from police brutality.  Free from mob rule.  Free from fear that this world that old men have made will just up and kill us at any moment.  Freedom is a level playing field.  All of us standing together as one."  Sounds almost real, doesn't it?  Sounds admirable?  For 40 years following 1966, that's what the world saw of Masterson and his team, from the hippy 60s, through to disco and eventually to what can only be described as "pervert suits" or "full body condoms" in the current day, The Front Line was there to protect mankind when they couldn't.  The latest person to answer "how much do they want to be a super human" is Josh Carver, a straight edge loner who's only goal was to be super human.  Even more than how bad he wants it, the question is will Carver be the next great member of The Front Line or will he cause the ultimate destruction of Masterson's dream.

Avatar gives Warren Ellis all the room that he wants when it comes to writing.  Sometimes he produces small, little gems like Frankenstien's Womb or even No Hero's predecessor Black Summer.  But that freedom also gives Ellis too much freedom other times, so that he either begins repeating himself or, worse yet, indulges himself too much.  Unfortunately, No Hero feels like the dark side of Ellis' Planetary and The Authority, where from a much more optimistic point of view, Ellis told stories of super heroes potentially running amuck in the world.  Much like Black Summer, Ellis explores the abuse of powers in those who should probably never have them but Black Summer was actually based around a story and a plot.  No Hero is based around a thin idea and reads like the writing of someone who hates superheroes.  It's the distant relative of Alan Moore's Watchmen but lacks Watchmen's humanity or basic plot.  It's about bad people doing bad stuff to other bad people but lacks any context or reasoning behind it.

Ellis is once again joined by his Black Summer artist Juan Jose Ryp, who's still doing his Frank Quitely/Geoff Darrow influenced artwork here.  The level of detail that Ryp puts into each and every panel, never missing the chance to put in one more graphitti tag or drop of blood, is quite impressive.  And he has all the more opportunity here in a 4 double-page sequence after Carver takes the miracle power drug.  For four double-page sequences, Ryp shows the horrifying acid trip Carver goes on as his body accepts the drugs.  The comic equivalent of Heirmonyous Bosch or Francis Bacon, Ryp creates a truly disgusting yet captivating part of the book where you're never too sure what's going on.  Tentacles, prehistoric monsters, chopped off fish heads and human ear, giant floating eyeballs and blood, lots and lots of blood, creates the most visually stunning and exciting part of the book, where Ryp's love of detail pays off. 

I kind of like Avatar because they are a publishing house where writers like Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis and Jamie Delano can do whatever they want.  Maybe in books like No Hero or Black Summer, we're seeing an unfiltered and unrestricted Warren Ellis, uncompromised and free to be the writer he wants to be.  That's been a wonderful writer in Black Summer, Anna Mercury and Freak Angels but No Hero ends up feeling like half a re-worked concept, borrowing the best from Ellis' more popular books but never expanding on them to make this its own story.

No Hero
Written by: Warren Ellis
Drawn by: Juan Jose Ryp
Colored by: Digikore Studios and Greg Waller

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