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Comic Book / No Hero

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How much do you want to be a superhuman?

"I'm no hero, Ben."

No Hero is the second super-hero miniseries from Warren Ellis at Avatar Press, and also his second collaboration with artist Juan Jose Ryp. The series started with issue #0 and lasted for 8 issues, from June, 2008 to September, 2009.

Taking place in 2011, the super hero group Front Line has just lost several members to attacks targeted at them, and are rushing to replace them when they find Joshua Carver, a young man who wants nothing more than to be a super hero. And he'll get his wish, if he can survive the process...

No Hero provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Alternate History: It's implied the Front Line has changed history significantly, including the dissolution of South Africa and the institution of "Black States" in the USA.
  • And I Must Scream: Carrick ends the book leaving Earth's orbit. He cannot die of asphyxiation, decompression, dehydration, starvation, or any of the other things he has to look forward to...
  • Anti-Hero: Joshua, he accidentally kills a mugger to impress the Frontline and is actually a government Serial-Killer Killer. Nevertheless he is aware of his flaws (saying his reaction to his accidental murder proves he is not a hero) and do wants to make the world better.
  • Beware the Superman: What happens when you give superpowers to a monster?
  • Body Horror: What FX7 does to Joshua. It makes his skin, teeth and penis fall off.
  • Cassandra Truth: Mandy/The Operator makes this comment about Joshua:
    "I'm telling you. You're seeing what you want to see. I'm seeing something else."
  • Ceiling Corpse: Marsh, after Joshua takes care of him.
  • Code Name: Pretty funny ones used by a couple of government agents for Joshua and Carrick.
    Male Agent: Pigeon One has been caught, and Dick Dastardly's on his way back to the coop, over.
    Female Agent: Are we serious with those codenames?
    Male Agent: Don't get me started.
  • Compensating for Something: Played for Laughs of the Squickiest sort when Joshua rips out Ben's spine and wears it like a strap-on:
    Joshua: There. Now I look like a real fucking superhero.
  • Complete Immortality: Carrick Masterson. He can't age or get killed by external means, but he does feel pain.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Joshua against the Frontline. One of the most extreme cases EVER.
  • Dead Man's Switch: Never explicitly shown, but the fact that the San Andreas Fault around San Francisco becomes active again after The Front Line is taken down does make one wonder...
  • Dead Guy Puppet: Joshua does this to Fasthawk.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Carrick, in spades.
    Carrick: I really wanted people to be able to see [Joshua's] face when we present him.
    Ben Chisholm/Redglare: Hasn't got much of a face, boss. Hasn't got much of a skin, full stop. Tragic little guy doesn't even have a dick.
    Carrick: Well, I wasn't intending to show that to the press, Benjamin.
  • Deceptive Disciple: Joshua actually has no intention to be with the Frontline, despising Carrick's megalomania.
  • Drugs Are Bad: This definitely seems to be a message, if not the message, of the story.
  • Electronic Eyes: Mr. Marsh has computers in his head and it's revealed by glowing eyes.
  • Enemy Mine: Carrick is trying to figure out how their attacker have access to a Russian anti-TFL weapon yet know things that only the Chinese government could know and is trying to wonder which country is working with who or who is trying to frame which country. Joshua, an American assassin, explains that it's an international effort from almost all governments that are done with Carrick's rule. The countries go back to fighting each other even worse over the spoils of the Front Line.
  • Engineered Heroics: In issue 6, Joshua makes a fine impression on the people of San Francisco by redirecting a disabled airliner from slamming into a building and belly-landing it in the bay. Then two other members of The Front Line show up and casually tell him they killed the pilots and threw the plane at the building for him to save.
  • Evil vs. Evil: This is what the story turns into when Josh takes on The Front Line.
  • Explosive Decompression: Apparently how Joshua dies, though realistically he shouldn't have had his ribcage blow open like that.
  • Eye Beams: Redglare has heat vision.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Carrick can't die, so what does Joshua do? He flies him into space so he could drift for eternity.
  • Flat Character: Fasthawk is messily mocked for it by Joshua as he kills him.
    Joshua: No-one even knows who you fucking are.
  • Flying Brick: FX7 seems to induce this power set the most, with occasional other powers (Smokestack Lightning has Intangibility and Shock and Awe talents, The Operator is a Technopath). Notably, Redglare can't fly. Carrick supposedly tweaks FX7 to try and induce other superpowers in his enhanciles as he is uninterested in standard Flying Bricks:
    Carrick: If I'd wanted nothing but strongmen, I'd've spent fifty years putting the brains of trailer park kids in the skulls of gorillas.
  • Freudian Excuse: Joshua's parents were murdered by a serial killer who adopted him and taught him his craft.
  • Genuine Human Hide: The cover of issue #6 shows Carrick sitting in a chair upholstered in human skin. You can tell because of the nipples and stitched-closed faces.
  • Goomba Stomp: Joshua's first in-panel kill, delivered to a mugger from three stories up. The unfortunate man's ears come right off in a spurt of blood.
  • Gorn: Lots of it, the most extreme being Joshua tearing out Ben's spine, and then using Ben's muscles to wrap it around his waist to imitate a penis.
  • Hero's First Rescue: Joshua stops a plane from crashing into San Francisco. But see Engineered Heroics above...
  • Holding Out for a Hero: Invoked by Carrick:
    "It does people good to have super-powered heroes. It makes them think they're incapable of doing anything for themselves. That forms the basis of a society that is useful to me."
  • Homage: Alternate covers for all issues were takes on classic comic covers:
  • I Am a Monster: Josh says as much, claiming to be the FBI's pet monster periodically assigned to kill other monsters like Masterson.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Joshua Carver is this at the beginning. Supposedly.
  • Immortality Hurts: Carrick, in no uncertain language.
  • Immortality Immorality: We don't know what Carrick was like before his FX7 enhancement, except that he was once a chemist and LSD drug dealer during an Early Psychedelic Movement that discovered FX7 by experimenting with drugs and immediately tried to milk it for all it was worth for his own benefit. There's definitely the sense that his manipulating the world is because since he's going to be living in it for who knows how long, he might as well make it to his liking.
  • Inhuman Eye Concealers: Mr. Marsh wears sunglasses to hide his Electronic Eyes.
  • Jumped at the Call: Josh really worked to get Carrick's attention.
  • Kill the Parent, Raise the Child: Josh Carver was raised by the serial killer that murdered his parents. He learned all sorts of... interesting skills from his new family. Which is why the government considers him a suitable Evil vs. Evil when it comes to The Front Line.
  • Meaningful Name: Joshua Carver. Based on his last name, he did exactly that to The Front Line — that is to say, carving it out. After all, it is what he does best. There are Jesus Christ analogies as well: Same initials, Joshua is one possible translation of name Jesus and Jesus's father Joseph was a carpenter, colloquially known as woodcarver.
  • Muggle Power: At first most of the Front Line's attacker appears to be foreign governments putting together their knowledge of the Front Line and what can kill them, most of the World's government are working together to purge the Front Line because of the many transgressions Carrick did toward all of them (he threatened to destroy Beijing at one point.
  • Necessarily Evil:
    • The Front Line, for its many wrongs, are at the same time keeping fault lines stable, are behind several aid efforts, and are also insuring economic stability in some parts of the world.
    • The FBI keeps Joshua, who had been raised in a way that makes him unable/unwilling to stop hurting people, to use as their best assassin when situation demand a Evil vs. Evil. He fully acknowledges he is a monster and knows he belongs behind bars but his sadism shows.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Without Carrick and the Front Line, the last two pages indicate the entire world is beginning to collapse, with economic markets failing, wars starting and the White House being destroyed with a plane.
  • Noodle Incident: Those Two Government Agents discussing Joshua:
    Female Agent: What do you think that crazy little bastard's doing in there?
    Male Agent: Remember Allentown? Probably a bit like that.
    Female Agent: Christ.
  • Personality Powers: Justified since FX7 brings out what is inside as super powers. Josh's horrific transformation after taking FX7 is the first big hint about his true nature — a serial killer with a chameleon-like personality. No face of his own, so to speak....
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Carrick explicitly states that the purpose of the Front Line is selfish as hell. "The more people alive there are, the more people there are to earn money that will eventually be given to me. Also, the more people there are to breed girls whom I will eventually fuck." They save people, shut down Nixon and Vietnam, kept the French from getting nuclear weapons, destroyed Iran's oil reserves to nip terrorism in the bud, etc., because it is good for business and keeps the world stable for Front Line to control as they please. They're assholes of the first degree, but they've made their world better than ours (maybe — the line about "black states" imply that the US went through an apartheid-like stage at some point). And once Joshua shuts them down on behalf of every government on the planet, everything goes straight to hell.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Joshua turns out to be this, mostly because his childhood wasn't exactly kind to him.
    Joshua: (using Fasthawk's head as a hand puppet) Okie dokie Smokie. Time to play.
    • He has a petulant moment later:
    Joshua: (to Carrick) You liked me, didn't you? Say you did.
    (Beat Panel of a speechless Carrick)
    Joshua: (smashing a large heavy table in one blow) SAY YOU DID!
  • Psycho Serum: FX7 gives superpowers— but it's a nasty hallucinogen. Worse, the subject's stress hormones need to kick in in a big way to aid the transformation. Carrick has a special room, inspired by Aleister Crowley's "la chambre des cauchemars" ("the room of nightmares"), to ensure the subject has a bad trip. The heroes tend to come out deeply traumatized, some turning to other drugs to suppress PTSD flashbacks.
  • Real Event, Fictional Cause: The People's Temple in Guyana was actually a CIA front for a lab trying to recreate FX7. The Front Line shuts it down messily.
  • The Reveal: Joshua is actually a serial killer who became an FBI mole sent to infiltrate the Front Line and destroy them from the inside. Charlie Kraft, original member of Front Line who retired in 1985 didn't die six months later but was instead kidnapped by US government and vivisected by an international teams of surgeons for twelve years, so the countries of the world can find what makes FX7-enhanced individuals tick and develop counter measures.
  • Rule of Drama: Joshua becomes a little less deformed after the fourth issue (mainly by having eyelids and lips again). Justified in issue 5: it's the next day, so he could still be changing. But the real change happens in issues 6 and 7 — barely some hours later. This is probably since what happens next is more unsettling if Joshua is capable of showing more emotions.
  • Rule of Symbolism: As if the "Adam's Ale"note  comment Carrick makes ("Very straight edge. The hardest stuff in the Garden of Eden, prior to eating the fruit") when getting Joshua something to drink isn't enough, what does he offer him to snack on? An apple.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Joshua to Carrick when he claims the world will collapse without him.
    Joshua: I lived in a box with my entire world ruled by someone who fucked the wounds of the people he killed. One guy ruling the world? Doesn't make me happy.
  • Shrine to Self: Carrick has a hallway of self-portraits done by various artists — the styles of Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol are the most immediately recognizable.
  • Shown Their Work: FX7 is based on a real-life psychedelic tryptamine, 5-MEO-DIPT, with "unknown" modifications. While it will not turn you into a superhero by way of Body Horror, it is a fairly strong psychedelic discovered by Alexander Shulgin, who Carrick is at least partially modeled after.
  • Super Serum: FX7 See also Psycho Serum.
  • Title Drop: Doubles as a Wham Line as things take a dark turn afterward.
  • Token Good Teammate: Ben Chisholm/Redglare... maybe. He certainly has standards enough to call out Carrick on the Engineered Heroics mentioned previously, and he seems to genuinely think that the Front Line has done what was necessary— though Carrick points out that Ben has also benefited very materially from the way the Line runs things, which suggests that Ben may be Believing Their Own Lies. Either way, it doesn't save him; he's the first one killed by Joshua. Also his main issue is more that he wasn't warned about the staging beforehand and while being genuinely nice he admits twice in the story he won't have a problem burning Joshua to ashes if things go poorly.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: The Front Line. Especially Carrick.
  • Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Averted with a vengeance. Carrick orders all his civilian staff to evacuate his house/Front Line headquarters— and they run straight into troops who proceed to machine-gun every last one of them. If it can be said to be justified, it's that the troops don't know if any of those people are enhanciles.