The End League: Volume One trade paperback
Writer: Rick Rememder
Pencils: Mat Broome & Eric Canete
Inks: Sean Parsons & Eric Canete
Colors: Wendy Broome, James Rochelle & Naomi Baker
Editor: Dave Land
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $12.95 US
Rick Remender has slowly but surely transformed himself into one of the more prolific and relief-upon writers in American comics today. He’s always got work on the go from Marvel, DC, Image and Dark Horse Comics, and some of his work is quite strong. A recent highlight was the recent launch of Gigantic, another ongoing title from Dark Horse. Given that track record, it was with some interest that I approach the first collected edition of his dystopian super-hero saga, The End League. Promotional copy on the back of this book bills it “a thematic merging of The Lord of the Rings and Watchmen.” It’s not an apt description at all. Remender clearly has a lot he wants to say about and do to the various archetypes of the super-hero genre; actually what’s really clear is that he has too much to say. This opening storyline — consisting of the first four issues of the series — is scattered, shifting focus repeatedly. The expansive nature of the cast of characters is overwhelming. The unfortunate thing is that the initial premise — what happened when Superman screws up? — is an interesting one, but it’s buried by what seems like a multitude of other plotlines.
Astonishman is the world’s greatest and perhaps most powerful hero, but secretly, he’s also responsible for more suffering and death than any other perpetrator in history. His arrogance led him to make a devastating mistake decades ago that transformed the world into a darker place, and he’s dedicated himself to correcting that mistake as best he can. He’s joined by other superhumans in what’s been dubbed the End League, but the heroes are barely surviving rather than making a difference. The villains rule the world, and the heroes find themselves as desperate and vulnerable as anyone else living under the tyrannical rule of Dead Lexington and other corrupt citystate leaders.
My memory of Mat Broome’s art from the 1990s was that he was one in a long line of Image-artist imitators, young artists who followed in the footsteps of such “rock-star” artists as Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld and Marc Silvestri. His style was in keeping with the Kewl approach that was all the rage at the time. With The End League, Broome demonstrates he’s developed as an artist. His efforts on The End League are clearly meant to establish a more mature tone. At times, his shadowy line art reminds me a little of the style of artist Kelley (Sandman, Batman) Jones, though far less exaggerated and stylized in nature. It’s also reminiscent in tone to Salvador (Invincible Iron Man, newuniversal) Larroca’s recent efforts. Of course, the large of number of new characters with which the reader has to become familiar makes for a lot of cramped panels, and Broome’s desire to provide detailed and realistic backdrops makes for even busier visuals. The character designs are disappointingly generic as well, and the appearances of some characters are difficult to discern.
Eric Canete provides some fill-in art for a handful of pages at the back of the book, and it makes for a jarring shift in style. Honestly, Canete’s more exaggerated look seems more in keeping with the over-the-top genre elements that make up The End League, and I wonder if I wouldn’t have been more intrigued had Dark Horse set aside efforts to offer realistic, detailed visuals and gone with an artist with a more intense style.
The first issue of the series seems to be about Astonishman’s need to atone for his sins. The second shifts to a climactic conflict between him and his one-time ally, Thor. The plot shifts focus again after that to become a story of revenge, as lesser heroes consider what they must do to honor a fallen colleague and to prevent villainy’s ultimate victory. Amid it all, Remender tries to establish who these characters are, what they mean to each other and what motivates them. It’s the opposite of decompressed storytelling. Instead, we get super-compressed storytelling, an ultra-dense mishmash of genre plotlines and character-driven moments that rush past the reader in a dizzying blur. The writer offers up too much, too fast.
Remender’s plot is an ambitious one, and given some positive buzz for the series in the online comics community, it would seem to indicate that there are a number of readers for whom the story has clicked. Still, I found this sort of apocalyptic super-hero story to be too familiar. I think it compares easily to Kingdom Come, for example, but it also pales in that comparison. Projects such as KC at least actually play with the icons needed to make the story work; The End League is stuck with their stand-ins. 5/10