The Fifth Color | ‘Avengers: Endless Wartime’ struggles with identity
It’s difficult to find solid synergy between the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the current comics line. On one hand, that’s a good thing; not everything should stop and shift on a Hollywood dime. On the other, you’d think there would be at least one book that followed the Avengers movie characters. Anyone familiar with the films and looking for a little Avengers action would be picking up an Infinity tie-in, and … man. I mean, I’ve been reading comics for what seems like forever, and Jonathan Hickman is writing some crazy-dense stuff right now. Avengers Assemble went from being the go-to book for quick-and-simple adventures of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and now it’s just as important a tie-in for Captain Marvel and Infinity as the Hickman books. Visually, Marvel can tweak Tony Stark’s character model to be a lot more Robert Downey Jr.-y, adjust some costumes to be more realistic and put movie favorites like the Warriors Three closer to the action, but it’s difficult to produce a book that remains event story-neutral or even simply set in Marvel’s on-screen world.
The good news is that the House of Ideas is trying a couple things that might be a little more reader-friendly than just sticking a #1 on the cover. One is the new Marvel Knights line; the inaugural series, Marvel Knights: Spider-Man debuted this week. Another is the return of the “original graphic novel”: a story that was only reprinted in a larger format and never collected from regular issues. These are traditionally done-in-one books that used to be more magazine format and gave you a taste of the characters in a more isolated environment, and these are the books I think will probably lure more new readers into the fold. No commitment, just a complete story with the characters you already know in their own island-like adventure far from the shores of the Marvel universe.
This week saw the arrival of Avengers: Endless Wartime, written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Mike McKone. Interestingly enough, it has a foreword by Clark Gregg, good ol’ Agent Coulson. As he is a beloved figure from both the big screen and, more recently, on the new television ser Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I figured this would be an ideal start for Marvel fans from other media where Coulson is more present. Would he make an appearance in the book? Who is this targeted for? Join me after the break and find out.
WARNING: We’re talking Avengers: Endless Wartime ahead and I’ll try not to give away to many moments, but I’d still grab a copy and read along!
The basic plot, without giving too much away, is this: Captain America fought a particular instance of crazy Nazi science in the imaginary country of Skrekklandet during World War II; Thor fought the ancient Norse evil Nidhogg at the same time and the same location. Both of these foes are unfinished business for our heroes as they have now seemingly combined and had a bunch of crazy Nazi science monster weapon babies. The Avengers put out various fires that having such a crazy and evil idea running rampant over the world can cause and, in the end, a few characters are taught the horrible truth about war and the endless cycle it can cause.
Spoiler alert! Agent Coulson isn’t in this book. You know who is? Wolverine and Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers edition. Despite Clark Gregg promise that this story has characters “from the cinematic universe,” it kind of doesn’t as well. Iron Man’s in his black-and-gold suit, Wolverine is shorter and hairier than Hugh Jackman. The names might be the same, but this isn’t the friendly bunch of Joes we saw on screen, this is a hard-bitten crew who have seen a lot that comes back to haunt them. Make no mistake, the characters are from the standard comic universe in a fantastic and yet personal story that hits a little harder than what we’ve seen on screen.
Ellis is in fine form, and I promise you the foes the Avengers face are well explained (better than I’ve done). He truly is the devil in the details, as he packs this OGN with so much story, pathos and philosophy that it actually takes a couple moments of thought and re-reading to fully experience Avengers: Endless Wartime. It’s a higher-concept book than it appears on the cover, although the back cover depicts a Norse-style snake eating its own tail, a surprisingly good metaphor for what you’ll find inside. On the other hand, if you saw Clark Gregg’s name on the cover and figured this was a story for movie fans, you’d be wrong. The context of the story seems a bit off as the introduction would make one think this had something to do with the movies, but it doesn’t, nor does it feel wholly rooted in the 616 universe. Everyone seems … really angry for reasons that aren’t explained outside of Ellis’ usual bitter wit, which can be really off putting when they decide to band together as a sort of lost family. Wolverine seems like he doesn’t even want to be there, incredibly angry with his treatment by Thor and Captain America, chiding the latter for being too saintly for a soldier. Captain Marvel misses an opportunity to win people over with a personality presence, and is mostly there as a plot point to shuttle other characters about the action and so the Air Force isn’t a suspected threat. S.H.I.E.L.D. come off as much more of a threat and an antagonistic influence, a weird tone for a book introduced by one of its friendliest and most popular agents.
McKone’s artwork is clean and clear, pulling off some truly beautiful Thor moments as we transition from an ancient illustration of the World Tree to Thor high in our skies calling down the lighting. He can follow Ellis descriptions of something I can barely define and bring it to you vividly on the page. Every location the Avengers visit, whether it’s a battleground or a quiet moment of introspection on the Quinjet, is expertly depicted to bring you into the moment. And yet, there’s again missing context; is this a solemn story of regret and the grind of the inevitable or a four-color tale of action and monsters? I’m not saying it can’t be both, but the art seems more poised for the latter than the former.
I look back on the story now and wish there were more to it; the complex philosophical point of the actual endless wartime our heroes exist in, whether by the nature of mankind to wage war or just their presence as a escalating arms threat needs more time to breathe. There are a few battles that have to take place off screen that impact characters hard in the aftermath and it would have been nice to see them depicted on-panel. As much as I love McKone’s artwork on books like Avengers Academy or Amazing Spider-Man, the story really could have used someone like Steve Epting and his mottled shadows and newsprint-like art to depict this political arms race. has a lot to offer the reader, things to think about, new ways to consider characters and their place in the world at large as well as in their hearts. Disjointed at times, a little off kilter in tone and placement with other media, I think this OGN really stands on it’s own in every sense of the world. Leave your expectations at home and enjoy the read.