Warren Ellis returns to the Marvel Universe in this first of an all-new series of graphic novels, attempting to bridge the gap between the 616 continuity of the monthly comics and the new continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Illustrated by Mike McKone, this novel is a pan-generational mash-up of storylines, a kind of unofficial sequel to the events of the MCU films, as well as an interesting introduction for readers lured by the success of the franchise on-screen. With its intriguing reimagining of these well-known characters and blending of Asgardian magic with Ellis’ characteristic dystopic super-science, Avengers: Endless Wartime is a well-scripted adventure with plenty to offer readers both new and old.
An ancient threat rises from the past, a past more recent for some than others, hiding behind the face of American militarization. What emerges is an intersection of science and magic as Thor and Captain America realize they’ve both tousled with this once before, in different forms and at different times, drawing an interesting parallel between both characters. Mounting a response, the adventure that follows is largely well-plotted, throwing out some pointed questions about the nature of industrialized, privatized warfare. The action that buoys that novel is suitably exciting, as executed by McKone, as the team encounters hordes of formidable techno-organic baddies straight from Norse mythology. While impressive, there are some moments of disconnect from page to page during these action scenes that feel a little disjointed, ultimately culminating in a climax that suffers from this same fragmentation.
The novel is carried by the familiar MCU Avengers roster of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow and Hawkeye, with the inclusion of Wolverine and Captain Marvel to round out the lineup. Ellis argues an interesting case for his characterizations, which make for a newly-formed team of heroes and all the growing pains one would expect. Even for it, this novel is neither strictly comic-verse nor movie-verse, blending them in a hybrid of timelines and interpretations that sometimes feels a little muddled. Captain America is strongly defined by his temporal displacement, distant but not unkind, still struggling as a man “living in a foreign country called the Future.” Iron Man serves as his counterpoint, tempered by a more movie-friendly handling, an introspective reflection of his father’s war-mongering as he attempts to reach out to Cap and make the team work. Thor is still very much an alien, trying to reconcile his own past with his place in the human world. The appearance of Captain Marvel (in her 616 uniform) serves as a nice touch-stone for comic book continuity, while Wolverine, influenced more by his appearances in his own movie franchises, fills an antagonistic role in questioning Cap’s authority and moral platitudes.
The Avengers aren’t the friends we’re used to from the comics, instead a collection of uneasy alliances and clashing personalities with a common goal. Informed by several stories and sources, and groomed by the MCU, these characters do stand in departure from both film and comic. While this won’t bother new fans, it will probably irk seasoned readers, who are aware they’re not the target audience of the book. For all of this friction, the formula works here, exploring interesting character dynamics despite the occasional discrepancy Ellis encounters along the way. As long as you’re willing to leave your presumptions at the door and accept this as its own separate entity, it’s a successful addition to the Marvel Universe at large.
McKone sells the script in a balance of appealing splash pages and energetic action sequences. His panel transitions create useful tension with some solid page design throughout, aping cinematic framing to varying degrees of success. The repetition of static character close-ups breaks up the narrative for me more than I would like, but McKone’s sense of motion and scale during fight scenes makes up for it. From a design standpoint, the back end of the book is particularly lovely, marked by a fascinating use of techno-organic forms and dense futuristic settings. He’s very successful in rendering the baddies as otherworldly and alien, with their fluid compositions and seemingly endless ranges of movement and shape. The moody color palettes of Jason Keith with Rain Beredo make the most of these scenes, establishing an ominous tone in dark pages peppered by the light of our heroes’ gunfire or energy blasts. Overall the effect is appropriately dramatic, foreboding, and occasionally creepy, capturing the weight of Ellis’ pessimistic scenario as well the internal struggles within the team itself.
While not a perfect hybrid, Avengers: Endless Wartime is a solid graphic novel that bridges the gap between comic and film in some interesting ways. Ellis’ script sheds intriguing light on characters we know and love, exploring their ideologies when faced with a world they find themselves struggling to protect.
McKone’s illustrations carry that burden well, and create some unique and engaging imagery along the way. If you’re new to Marvel and looking for a good read to get your feet wet, it’s definitely worth picking up. If you’re a Marvel fan looking for a well-written side adventure, I suggest you put your potential biases aside and take this book for what it is.
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