Monday, January 28, 2008

The End League #1

The End League #1, December 2007, Dark Horse Comics
writer: Rick Remender
penciller: Mat Broome
inker: Sean Parsons
colorist: Wendy Broome
letterer: Rus Wooton

Blogger’s note: Entry for Saturday, January 26, 2008.

Regarding his experience collaborating with Argentinean brothers Enrique and Ricardo Villagran on Time Jump War, which I reviewed yesterday, writer Chuck Dixon described, “The artist takes this drawing to the writer and together they discuss the character’s motivations and reason for being. What sort of world does he live in? Why does he do what he does? From this informal discussion comes the germ of an idea that gives birth to a series. But it always goes back to the character. The title character is everything in Argentina.”

I couldn’t think of a better statement to summarize my thoughts about this January series of “number one issue” reviews. A dynamic plot concept or an intriguing setting are definitely effective baits for hooking an audience to a new comic book series, but the most successful stories are always anchored by a compelling, empathetic character. The timeless examples are the best examples: for every fleeting multi-title, direction-changing crossover the likes of Superman, Batman, Spider-man, or the Hulk have endured, the most popular epics are always the tales that capture their original essence. The Ultimate and All-Star brands, or their cinematic incarnations, are the best examples, because, even the in the 21st century, writers are still drawn to the moments of dire circumstance and motivation that made these heroes iconic in the first place. Yes, independent, sans superhero titles have become more popular in the last thirty years -- Strangers in Paradise precedes Superman in any shop’s box issue bin without a second thought -- but even their character-intensive material is made possible from these superheroes’ internal strife successfully conveyed via sequential art.

Simply put, reading a comic book is like moving into an apartment complex. It might look nice, have a great layout and view and all that, but if you don’t like the people in it, you couldn’t live there more than a few months.

Rick Remender’s The End League epitomizes -- nay, depends on, and therefore exploits, this phenomenon perfectly. Its title alone implies its direction, but its stars bring the concept home; Remender has adapted the superhero paradigm to suit his own means. With heroes named the Blue Gauntlet or Arachnakid, his inspirations aren’t hard to deduce. Further, at first glance, his series appears so derivative it borders on plagiarism. I’ve discussed this idea before, that a multitude of contemporary superheroes are really just artists’ interpretations of classic superheroes, i.e., “Supreme is just like Superman . . . but with an attitude! Captain Confederacy is just like Captain America, but with . . . wait, who’s Captain Confederacy again?” The swipe-an-icon motif has become so played that writers use it shamelessly now, under the presumption of satire for the very genre that spawned their success. “Superman and Batman sure do work together a lot . . . What if they were gay? Enter: Apollo and the Midnighter!” On the surface, this grab for an apparent homage seems just like a shortcut to success . . .

. . . unless the characters, despite their derivative names and costumes, adopt personalities and motivations all their own. For example, Apollo and the Midnighter, under the graces of writers Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, and others, have become individuals that have shed the skin of their archetypal predecessors. The other characters I mentioned, where are they now? I think Remender’s End League has the potential to fall into the latter category, if their creative team maintains their desperate momentum to keep readers coming back every other month. As a bimonthly, The End League faces twice the challenge of keeping its audience’s attention; unless Archanakid offers something completely unique to his fully franchised web-slinging predecessor, I’ll just pick up the real deal, especially since Spidey’s adventures are darn near weekly now. So, what makes me believe Remender and his End League really want my hard-earned dollar?

They’re hungry. Literally.

We’ve seen Superman, Captain America, and their comrades desperate and broken before. We’ve seen them operate in the shadows, face regulation or annihilation, and even hang up their capes in apathy or disdain. I don’t think we’ve ever seen them hungry before. See, when Astonishman accidentally detonates a warhead in an underwater alien headquarters, the Earth-shaking explosion kills millions and infuses thousands of survivors with super powers -- eventually called the Magnificents. Unfortunately, the new villains seem to outnumber the new heroes, and the world becomes a territorial battleground for conquest and survival. Astonishman and his League are in hiding in his Citadel of Seclusion (ahem), surfacing only to try to find Thor’s lost hammer and food. Both are acts of survivalist desperation, as Mjolnir is the only weapon that impacts the world’s overwhelming forces of evil. If Astonishman could keep his friends alive and still somehow save the world, perhaps he could forgive himself the crime of igniting the apocalypse in the first place.

Remender explains his intentions with The End League with a supplemental essay, in which he explores how and why the darker inclinations of man would rule in light of a sudden super-powered mutation. Further, while his roll call of characters reveals the hesitations I expressed (he ignores each character’s obvious parallel to a more iconic hero in favor of uniting them with an era of comicdom, i.e. Astonishman doesn’t equal Superman, but rather the Golden Age), his pitch makes me want to see more: “The team is a hodgepodge of unfortunate survivors, and the story you’ve begun here is likely their last mission.” That’s a hook! Further, artists Mat and Wendy Broome and Sean Parsons’ style reminds me of Howard Porter’s early run on JLA, with a watercolor-like twist on the characters’ flesh tones. (I think Mrs. Broome digitized and removed her husband’s originally penciled lines, effectively “inking” them with color to make the seamless impression of furrowed skin. At least, that’s the best way a techno-novice like me can describe it. I know Tim Sale really likes this technique . . .) Ultimately, the words and pictures collide in an effective epic of desperation and redemption, and I wonder if, along with the more quirky Umbrella Academy kids, Dark Horse is trying to get a handle on the 21st century superhero.

Then again, if the next issue offers a simple slugfest, I’ll revert to my old standards. There, I don’t have to flip back every couple of pages to remember who’s who -- I don’t want to get out of my league, you know?

The End League was a strategic choice for today’s review for more reasons than its personification of my “number one issue” series. Although the holiday season is now a good twenty-six days behind us, February is right around the corner and in its short 29 (!) days offer as many mainstream holidays as October, November, and December combined. Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, Presidents’ Day, and Black History Month all hang their hat on February, and I intend to honor each with a respective series of comics reviews. (Also, I hope to squeeze in some issues of titles I read during A Comic A Day: Year One, so I can derive a second impression during my second month of my second year at this. I really am crazy, ain’t I?) So, with Groundhog Day just a week away, the only significant holiday that stars a real life, living animal (thus excluding Easter and Thanksgiving), the next seven days’ comics will star prominent, presumably personified animals -- similar to my series last March leading up to the theatrical release of TMNT. Of course, these comics will still be first issues until the end of January, effectively crossing over my two series, but The End League may be the end of humanity around these parts for a while . . . which may be something they’re already used to.

We’ll see if character really is the bait to hook open-minded readers like me. If a dynamic personality is so important, it shouldn’t matter to whom or what it’s assigned -- man, animal, even . . . flaming carrot? Er, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

1 comment:

Trinity said...

I have to say, I enjoyed this book and only picked it up on Remenders name and a whim. I am looking forward to where this is going.