- Countdown to Final Crisis #17 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Keith Giffen & Ron Lim (DC)
- Countdown to Mystery #4 of 8, by Matthew Sturges & Stephen Jorge Segovia, and Steve Gerber, Justiniano & Walden Wong (DC)
- Metal Men #5 of 8, by Duncan Rouleau (DC)
- Annihilation Conquest #3 of 6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Tom Raney & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
- Powers: Secret Identity TPB vol 11, by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon)
- The End League #1, by Rick Remender, Mat Broome & Sean Parsons (Dark Horse)
- Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #5 of 5, by Mike Mignola & Jason Armstrong (Dark Horse)
The premise of The End League is that in 1962 a catastrophe devastated the Earth, but also bestowed super-powers upon 1 in 1000 people. But unlike in ordinary comic books, very few people felt driven to use their abilities altruistically, rather they used them for personal wealth and power, effectively becoming super-villains. 45 years later, the wars among these villains have turned the world into armed camps where shelter and food are the most prized possessions. The miraculous Astonishman was the superhero who was tricked into causing the catastrophe, and he’s devoted his life since then to assembling heroes to restore order and justice to the world. And the heroes are losing, badly. This series may well be the final story of these heroes, The End League.
Writer Rick Remender – whose name I’ve heard, but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything he’s written – masterminds this series, which I guess is an ongoing one, although how long such a grim premise can be milked I don’t know. His script is appropriately downbeat, narrated by Astonishman, who is depressed and fatalistic, and who blames himself for everything that’s happened. I’m a little less impressed with the cast of heroes, who are archetypes based on heroes from various eras of superhero comics history, and honestly I get a little tired of the same old archetypes being used for these independent stories. Still, other than Astonishman there’s not enough characterization here to draw any conclusions, so there’s plenty of space for it to end up with fleshed-out characters rather than archetypes. (Ultimately this was a big part of what made Alan Moore’s Watchmen successful: Although loosely based on the Charlton Comics heroes, the characters were all individual and not archetypal.)
The art by Mat Broome and Sean Parsons is similarly dark, evocative of Jae Lee’s art on the Sentry series of a decade or so ago at Marvel, with intricate colors by Wendy Broome adding to the gloomy atmosphere, It’s perfectly appropriate for the story at hand, and in particular Broome seems to have the artistic fundamentals to make the book look right – he’s not some warmed-over Image Comics artist, the likes of which would make this book look really silly.
The 90s and 2000s have seen a few different books trying to tell “the last superhero story”. Remender says The End League is inspired by The Lord of the Rings and The Dark Knight Returns. The exact flip side of The End League is Bill Willingham’s Pantheon, about what happens after the good guys win. It was pretty good, and also supported by fine artwork (and can now be downloaded for free). I don’t think anyone’s yet told the definitive story of this sort, probably because once the superhero cat is out of the bag it’s pretty hard to put it back in. As Dr. Manhattan said in Watchmen, “Nothing ever ends.”
By that light, The End League might be a story with only one possible conclusion. Remender’s task is to either make the conclusion satisfying, or to find some other way to thread this particular needle. It’s a daunting challenge, to be sure. This first issue is all set-up, with a single mission which goes (of course) horribly wrong, ending on a cliffhanger. To really work, I think the book’s going to have the break out of the routine of a group of heroes underground against overwhelming oppressive forces (since we’ve all read that story many times before) and do something unexpected.
I’ll be back next month to see what direction the book’s headed in.