Leveling the Playing Field: Ellis talks "No Hero"

"No Hero" #0, Wraparound Cover

This summer, Warren Ellis introduces a new kind of superhuman, the so-called New Humans, in the pages of the Avatar Press miniseries "No Hero," penciled by Ellis' "Black Summer" collaborator Juan Jose Ryp. CBR News spoke with Ellis just after the writer caught a live performance by Kode9 & The Spaceape and Philip Jeck. His responses to our questions were remarkably coherent considering his "head full of hauntoligical sound" and his recent consumption of the contents of an indeterminate number of red wine bottles.

"No Hero" tells the story of Carrick Masterson, a protagonist Ellis describes as "one part Lex Luthor to one part Timothy Leary," who in the 1960s stumbled upon the secret of superhuman transformation in the form of a designer drug called FX. "The drug FX is a designed alteration of 5-methoxy-diisopropyltryptamine, colloquially known as Foxy," Ellis told CBR News. "It's a less-than-friendly psychedelic whose positive effects include feelings of great strength and energy, intensification of the senses and general unusual stimulation. It also makes you shit yourself and be generally unpleasant to be around."

Ellis' choice of the Foxy as the basis for FX had less to do with the side effects and more to do with the name: "I just thought FX was a nice name for a drug that bootstraps humans into superhumans." He described the FX experience as "singularly disturbing, sometimes permanently deranging and occasionally spectacularly fatal." When it comes to being an FX-based superhuman, in the words of a character in "No Hero" #0, "You've really got to want it."

"No Hero" #0 and the "No Hero Sketchbook"

A drug guru turned superhuman, Masterson decides to harness the secret of FX to create a super team called The Levellers to police the streets of the San Francisco Bay Area. "The term 'Leveller' was originally an insult, a slur used to demean rural rebels - the people who 'levelled' hedgerows during the enclosure riots of the early 1600s," Ellis said. The name was later adopted by a British political movement in the 1640s, whose stated goal was to "sett all things straight, and rayse a parity and community in the kingdom."

"The team in 'No Hero' also took the name Levellers as a statement of comradeship with the radical Digger movement in San Francisco, who also took their name from English rural rebels," said Ellis.

The Levellers' hide their identities behind gas masks, and wear jackets sporting an inverted green axe. "The upright axe is a symbol of law from Roman times," Ellis said. "Inverted, it becomes a symbol of rebellion." Ellis made the logo green to correspond to the color associated with the original Levellers movement.

"No Hero" #0 Pages 1 & 2 (NOTE: Final art will be full color.)

On the fateful day in the 1960s when the Levellers first emerged, the team made it clear they were going to fight corruption on both sides of the law, by cracking down on gangland crime and delivering a punitive beating to racist Oakland cops.

Readers are made privy to the early days of the Levellers in the pages of "No Hero" #0, but these events are largely prologue. "The bulk of the series takes place a few years in the future," Ellis said. "As the years go on, Masterson's vision broadens just a little, the Levellers become the Front Line, a rescue and intervention team comprised of the only superhumans on earth," to whom society's laws and mores do not apply. "The Front Line become the most famous people in the world, the people the world can rely on in their worst disasters." The team's uniform also changes with the times, its members abandoning their gas masks for full-on HAZMAT suits.

The burnout rate for FX-altered new humans is remarkably high, and there is a great deal of turnover in the Front Line roster. But some 40 years after their first appearance, Carrick Masterson still sits at the helm, and the legendary figure has not aged noticeably in the intervening years.

"No Hero" #0 Pages 3 & 4 (NOTE: Final art will be full color.)

Set in the year 2011, Ellis told CBR news that "No Hero" follows "a young man as he gets noticed by Masterson and offered induction into the Front Line. A few days after, the ranks of the team are, shall we say, thinned a bit." Despite the fact that the secret of FX is "jealously guarded" by Masterson, the killer appears to know more than a little about FX-altered physiology.

Ellis insisted that it was a misnomer to characterize membership in the Front Line as a lifestyle. "It's about becoming something that never before existed on earth, that only looks human," Ellis said. "If you choose to take FX, then you are changing everything about yourself. You are by definition no longer homo sapiens." Giving up everything you've ever been down to the biological level is the price of being a superhero in the world of "No Hero," and that price speaks to the central question of the book: "How Bad do you want to be a supherhero?"

"No Hero" #0 hits stands this July, followed by a 7-issue monthly series starting in September.

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