No doubt about it, Warren Ellis definitely wants you to question who your heroes are. From the benevolent dictators of The Authority to the outright destructive pseudo-deities of Supergod, Ellis has made a career of casting varying levels of doubt upon the prudence of putting blind trust in those who are high and mighty.
No Hero, the 2009 Avatar mini-series now collected in trade paperback, is cut from the same cloth as those other Ellis efforts. In it, weíre introduced to the Front Line--men and women granted super-human abilities through the use of a mysterious wonder drug. Beginning in the 1960s, the Front Line serves as a force for justice throughout the subsequent decades of an alternate American timeline.
As a new recruit is welcomed into the Front Line family, more is discovered about the true nature of the team and the extent of their power--and the greater that power is revealed to be, the less comfortable one is led to feel regarding the groupís role in society. Itís all masterfully executed to play perfectly into the hands of Ellisís overall theme.
However, one need not subscribe to Ellisís theories on heroism, or even completely understand them, to get a thrill out of this tale. The seasoned writer employs plenty of his trademark techniques here to reel in readers who are simply looking for a well-done superhero thriller.
No Hero is filled with terse lines of dialogue that are smartly placed so as to ramp up suspense for an upcoming scene or chapter. Frequently, a character says something that not only made me extremely eager to turn the page but also gave me equal amounts of nervousness about doing so. The payoffs to these moments of suspense consistently live up to the expectations set by their buildup.
The narrative is punctuated by moment after moment of absolute shock, many of them graphically violent--and while this aspect will rule out the story for some, it should be noted that Ellis never uses blood and gore as a crutch. Rather, Ellis's use of violence ensures that these scenes are supported by a firm psychological foundation.
Joining in the presentation of these signature moments is artist Juan Jose Ryp on his second collaboration with the writer on an Avatar series. While he does a good job throughout the entire work, Ryp is especially suited for those climactic scenes when the tension finally explodes into an intense or surreal visual.
Sure enough, Ryp is called upon often to produce bloody dismemberments, psychedelic visions, or merciless beatings. The great thing about his presentation of these unsavory events is his ability to render them in an exaggerated, over-the-top manner while still infusing them with the stone cold seriousness the story requires.
Ryp would be a wonderful choice for any writer seeking to create a hard-edged comic that takes a turn or two for the weird. In other words, heís the ideal fit for Warren Ellis.
Now that itís in a single-volume format, I hope that word of mouth can propel No Hero up the sales charts and onto bookstore shelves. It honestly belongs alongside popular modern classics like Sleeper and Wanted, weaving a blockbuster-styled tale while exploring complex ideas about the nature of heroism and villainy.
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