I love Warren Ellis. He’s one of the many genius British writers that I try to follow as hard as I can, from book to book, from superheroes to creator owned. All of his books are connected by this wonderful string of bizarre yet technically sound ideas and inventions, an addictive cocktail of action and introspection, dark humour and transhumanism, flesh and machines. He’s a writer that always manages to make me feel a little bit smarter each time I complete one of his works.
Yet, upon finishing his latest work for MARVEL comics, once the adventure was over, I found myself not thrilled or satisfied but instead rather puzzled, wondering if I enjoyed the journey that I had just completed.
Avengers Endless Wartime is a stand alone graphic novel meant to attract the possible readership that MARVEL’s blockbusters generated. It presents us a moviegoer friendly team-up, with all the five characters seen in the Avengers, plus Wolverine, the eternal sales bait, and Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel, who’s receiving a strong push by the company editorial. She clumsily presents herself as a “I am a genetically stable fusion of human pilot and an alien soldier race from a Large Magellanic Cloud”, which shows us the first of many problems this book as. While most of the dialogue is the smart, fast-paced batter you’d expect from Ellis, there’s a lot of little moment where the flow is broken by some really heavy and unpleasant exposition, something you would never hear come out from a person in real life. The two villains in the finale give us another heavy stab of exposition as they tie up all the loose ends before starting the final confrontation.
The batter itself often degenerates into a snark fest where the main target is Hawkeye. I never particularly cared about the purple archer, but in Endless Wartime he’s constantly mistreated by his peers and verbally bullied. It’s funny at first, but the more it progresses, the more you feel like nobody wants him around, as every single character in the team at some point decides to throw his little belligerent remark in his direction. Not that he’s alone in this. Frankly, the way Ellis writes, it seems the Avengers are forced to work together, not because they want to, but because they have too. Captain America straight up slams all of his companions, declaring that without the Avengers, they would be almost nothing, and it’s only because of him that they’re able to remember it. It makes Steve comes across as entitled and unsympathetic.
In general, all the players of this adventure are reduced to a bare boned portrait of their most classic incarnations. Captain America is the guy from the past that doesn’t understand our world, Wolverine is the remorseless killer, Iron Man the smart guy that very few people respect, Thor the brash warrior filled with pride that seems unable to work with others because of it. Hawkeye the guy that everybody hates.
If the characters are problematic, the plot as a whole isn’t that outstanding either. The general idea is wonderfully peculiar and intriguing, as the Avengers are forced to battle against Asgardian monsters powered up by Nazi’s technology, a very comic-booky sci-fi idea, the kind of stuff Ellis would produce for Global Frequency or Secret Avengers. But in those cases, he managed to work the entire thing in a single issue, while here he’s forced to spread it across a hundred. The effect is not the same, the quirky elements looses its edge little by little. At his core, Endless Wartime is yet another story about a nightmare of Captain America’s past coming back to haunt him, like we saw many time during Brubaker’s run on the character. Him and Thor are the real stars, the ones trying to tie up loose ends of their lives.
It’s a rather bleak story, about mistrust and misinformation, the past that won’t stay buried and how the errors of our youth keep coming back to hurt us more. A story about how weapons and wars truly are endless, on how the governments are always secretly working against the superheroes, and how the Avengers and all the other costumed fighters will never actually score a real victory against the system, as they’re really the defenders of an immutable status quo. Practically, the kind of story you get when you try to connect superheroes to the real world.
I’m not against superheroes being used in more modern settings and see how they would work in this environment, but the big problem is, the world wouldn’t be the same as our if superheroes where around, so the story itself doesn’t work. Superheroes would fight for the status quo, but it would be a status quo completely different from the one we actually have now.
Mike McKone’s art is rather incredible in many cases, but suffers in other departments. His action scenes are spectacular, especially the ones set during World War II, where he captures the scale and size of the battles in all their glory, and the rain and colouring work to make everything that much more impressive, that much more epic. He also captures perfectly the horror and terror these mutated titans produce. Flesh and muscles melt in gigantic piles of living goo, skins are torn, revealing a mad construct of metal and cables underneath. It’s powerful imagery, haunting even, too bad we don’t get too see nearly enough of it, as it’s mostly concentrated on the climax of the book.
Yet there’s some moments where the characters feel flat and stiff, rather rigid, and others that are just plain weird. The portrayal of women in comics is often an issue, with the entire talk about sexualisation. McKone does a great job in this department, as Black Widow and Captain Marvel never appear in awkward poses, and are always in the heat of battle look as tough as their male counterparts. Yet there’s a panel, a single one, and because of this even more jarring, where Widow’s back is contorted in a way that she points her buttocks directly at us. The fact that is a single misstep in the entire book makes it all the more strident. I do know it’s a nitpick, but as soon as I turned the page, it hit me right in the face.
Another thing that I found funny was IronMan. I don’t know, in certain panels he reminded me more of Anthony Ainley than Anthony Stark.
Having said all this, what is my closing thought on Endless Wartime? Is it a bad book? No, not at all. The art is great, the ideas are strong, many pieces of dialogue work smoothly.
But it’s not what I was expecting. It’s a book meant for the market of those that don’t read comics, a book that wants to capture those that saw the movies, filled with bright and affable characters, and bring them into the industry. Wouldn’t a more light-hearted, positive and optimistic tone work better as a bait? This dramatic exploration of the inability of heroes of actually do something useful for the long run doesn’t really seem the epic adventure that would bring the average Joe or Jane to check the rest of the Avengers’ adventures.
That’s just me I guess. All I can say is that by the end I didn’t really feel smarter. Just a bit sadder.