Writer: Rick Remender
Artists: Mat Broome (p), Sean Parsons (i)
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
EDITOR’S NOTE: The first issue of Dark Horse’s End League arrives in stores this Friday, January 4.
Matthew J. Brady
Maybe I’m alone in this opinion, but I think if you’re going to tell a non-Marvel/DC superhero story these days, it needs to have some sort of unique hook, something that hasn’t been done before, or some sort of different perspective on the same old good vs. evil costumed adventures that have been done to death over the past 70 years. Sure, Superman and Spider-Man can keep up with their regular old adventures in their books, but if you’re going to build a new universe and create a bunch of characters to populate it, at least do something different than the normal shenanigans. Luckily, Rick Remender definitely has some ideas about different uses for superheroes, namely the fact that the vast majority of super-powered individuals would probably use their powers for selfish reasons rather than to benefit humanity. Couple that fairly subtle change from the norm with a setting in which humanity is trying to survive after an apocalyptic disaster, and you’ve got an interesting place to start for a superhero story.
But while it seems that Remender certainly has ideas about what to do with these characters, I don’t know if I’m that interested in spending time with them. For one, they’re mostly all the same superhero types, from the Superman stand-in Astonishman, to a goddess, an unfrozen super-soldier, and a Flash-like speedster. They do seem to have interesting aspects to their characters, with Astonishman taking center stage with his guilt about the state of the world. As the leader of a band of survivors fighting to stay alive in a devastated world, everyone relates to him, whether as a father figure, a leader, or a rival. But he just doesn’t seem to have enough personality to make the interpersonal relationships interesting.
There’s also a plot point that seems to get a very slight amount of time compared to its importance: Astonishman’s colleague Thor plays an important role in the story, but his entire involvement in the pre-disaster story is told in captions; we never get to see him or know what his deal is. So when we’re told how important he (and his hammer Mjolnir) is, it’s hard to take it seriously. You know the old cliché: “show, don’t tell”.
On the art side of things, Mat Broome does a good job delivering dynamic action, but his technique of depicting characters’ faces is offputting. Most of the time, characters have a sort of plastic sheen to their skin, looking like they’ve been dipped in latex. It’s kind of reminiscent of Steve McNiven’s work but a bit more artificial-looking. Strangely, this effect sometimes disappears, often when scenes take place indoors or in dimmer lighting. It certainly distracts from the story, and that’s too bad; Broom is generally pretty proficient with facial expressions and setting scenes. A different coloring choice might have been less bothersome.
Another artistic choice that could have made a difference is Broome’s depiction of characters’ outfits. They all look like regular superheroes, clad in bright-colored spandex; showing them as more tattered and war-torn would have helped “sell” the desperation of their situation much better. As it is, they look like regular old superfolks, going about their evil-fighting business; the gravity of the situation is left to be delivered in captions and speech balloons.
So while it’s an interesting concept, it doesn’t seem fully-formed enough to make me want to keep reading. Who knows, Remender might pull the rug out and come up with some really good stories, but I’m just not interested enough to come back for more. But that might just be my own preferences; if you’re intrigued by the unique concept, it might be worth a look.
The End League #1 suffers from that all-too-common bugaboo of first issues: it’s all concept, no execution. Well, to be fair it is nearly all concept, very little execution.
And writer Rick Remender has my sympathy here – there is an awful lot of concept to cover. The crux of the book is this: Decades ago, a cataclysmic event – for which our Superman archetype was responsible, unbeknownst to almost everyone – killed most of the planet’s population and bestowed superpowers on a good percentage of the survivors. Now the planet is run by the supervillains, us mere mortals live in perpetual hunger and fear, and the few remaining supergoodies have gone underground to fight back when and where they can.
Yeah, that’s a lot to cover, but the way Remender goes about it is simply tedious – we get 14 pages of exposition to start, with a lot more scattered throughout the remaining 9 pages. The actual point of this issue – some of the heroes go on a food run and fall into a trap – would have been a better focal point, creating a more cohesive and entertaining read. We could have gotten occasional flashbacks – for simply a panel or two – to hint at the complicated and disturbing backstory. In other words, we could have gotten to the point much more quickly. Yeah, I know, that’s ironic coming from me – there’s the third time I used that word incorrectly this week – considering how I tend to go of on completely unrelated tangents, but, hey, do as I say and not as I do. Besides, I’m working on that.
My parrot died two days before Christmas, and my ex-best friend is now no longer talking to my wife, either.
Where was I? Oh, yeah…
Another way this issue might have worked better is if Remender had chosen to focus on the back story for this initial outing rather than cramming it into 14 pages of exposition. He could have actually taken that story – the story of how “Superman” – known as Astonishman here – nearly destroyed the world – and spread it out over 21 or so pages, actually letting us meet Dead Lexington and Thor, characters integral to the ending. As it is, Astonishman merely mentions these two in passing, so their appearance at the end is not nearly as effective as it should be. Then, in the last page or two, we could have “fast forwarded” a couple of decades and gotten a glimpse of the horrible future in which these heroes live, and left them as they prepared to depart on their perilous mission to retrieve food for their team. That way we would have some more developed bad guys, a more intimate glimpse at what Astonishman has gone through—it’s always more effective to show than tell—and gotten the gist of the book’s premise.
Instead, we get a decent enough first issue with loads of exposition that simply gets tedious.
Let’s look at the good: Remender’s dialogue is decent enough, artist Mat Broome does a fine job, and, again, the premise is intriguing. I’m going to give this book another try as it has a lot of potential, but they didn’t live up to that potential this first time out.
While art styles may change, character designs appear to remain the same. I’m not sure if a team book would function without Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman…and this book proves my point. Make no mistake about it, this title takes characters we all know and love and sets the blender to puree.
Thankfully, this team is put to good use in the hands of the very capable Rick Remender. I was treated to a well-paced and beautifully-drawn issue bringing yet another post-apocalyptic world, this time at the hands of its greatest hero.
Of course, depending on the characters you’ve identified with in your time with comics, you may see the characters in this League differently. I saw it consisting of Supes, Diana, Bruce (or Captain America, depending on how you saw Soldier American playing out), Spider-Man, Flash, Ghost Rider, Martian Manhunter and Hulk (although he’s named Thor in this book). Again, please don’t mistake me labeling these characters as criticism. Books such as these serve the same purpose as DC Elseworlds issues: twists on the capes we grew up reading.
While I enjoyed the read, I can just as easily see many taking this book as clichéd and droll. There was a lot of exposition and very little action happening. My argument to that would be this: trust me, I know clichéd rehash jobs done by some of comics finest, and this is not one of those. The opening scenes were quite necessary for establishing Astonishman as the tragic hero that will be used later in the story arc. Also necessary is the obvious team friction that is the result of 12 frustrating years of survival after the super villains sent the world to hell. There will be plenty of time for galvanizing moments where the team comes together, but for now the team is in that hand basket headed for down below.
Mat Broome’s interesting character designs also brought flair to the book. It wouldn’t really have been that nice of a twist on our favorite heroes if they looked just like the originals. I think the book was crisp but still had an indie feel to the piece. I particularly liked his Arachnid, Prairie Ghost and Black designs. In the coming issues, I think we will be treated to many more villains, and something tells me I’m going to like those designs as well. Tim O’Shea also conducted a very nice interview with the artist about this title; you should check it out to further peek behind the wizard’s curtain.
Speaking of which, I think the open letter Remender writes to fans about the series should be required of every writer when they start a new story. It accomplishes the task of further wetting our whistles for upcoming issues. It’s also great to be reminded that even comic greats are sometimes forced to work on an idea for five years before it can become a reality. It may seem easy from our end to do their job, but trust me these creators earn their pay by having to go from publisher to publisher to get their labors of love printed.
Simply put, I’m in for this series. Since The End League is an on-going, it won’t have to cram too much story into one mini-series. I’ve always said to every comic shop owner who runs my pull list, “Everyone needs at least one good team book in their monthly box.” Those who are tired of Marvel’s and DC’s latest attempts can rest assured that another option is on the way.
After the first few pages I had a lot of hope for this book. There was the promise of a Superman story that DC cannot reasonably tell (well … not well, anyways). A thinly veiled (very thinly) Superman clone named Astonishman destroys the Earth. Not so much in the Superman-Prime way of blowing up Earth-15, but more in the releasing a disaster that kills one third of the population and creates super-powered mutants. The best part is, no one knows but him. The story jumps forward 12 years later and humanity is still trying to recover, even the heroes have suffered their own losses and cannot feed themselves. It is all pretty grim and has great promise for a pretty interesting story. Unfortunately, a number of huge missteps in both the story and the art that leave me with the low rating, and I simply cannot recommend this book for a read. The following are the things that jumped out at me in this book:
- On the story side, we have a lot of talking. That isn’t such a bad thing, but parts of it describe things that could be better told in the art. In a comic you do not need to describe the desperate straights of humanity in an inner monologue. The worst part is that in terms of backgrounds the artist does a great job communicating this desperation.
- When the talking isn’t discussing the current crisis in the world, it is page after page of Astonishman brooding about what he did.
- In a post disaster world I have a lot of trouble believing that everyone has shiny costumes, while one poor guy, Solider America is stuck with a makeshift costume.
- In a post disaster world I have trouble believing that any sane woman would wear a miniskirt, let alone one that allows me to see both her butt crack and her left cheek.
- Some panels don’t allow you to actually see any detail of the action that is going on. The teleportation scene is a complete mess.
- No one has any food, but they are all hale and healthy specimens of perfect humanity, with none of them with that “I’m starving” look.
- Crazy spider like guy who does nothing (okay … I wanted to see him do something cool).
- Overtly pointed out lesbians. I’m happy to have lesbians in any book. I think that the kiss in the background was perfect without the idiot spider guy pointing out to everyone that they were gay. It could have been a great scene to introduce a couple like that without making it a “special occasion.”
- Lesbians who are scared that their partner will change sides if they stand too close to men (stupidest line in the book).
- The plan for getting food is perhaps one of the worst plans I’ve ever read. “You know that place where we got owned last time? Let’s go back and do it again!” That and the revelation of what did happen the last time held no resonance what-so-ever because you had no idea who Astonishman was talking about because you have never had people introduced with a common naming system. (Who is Nick? Why, he is Soldier America of course! Keep up, reader!)
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!