A little while back I went on a huge Rick Remender comics binge wherein I ate up several of his more prominent independent works. One such work was a little book called The End League. Featuring wildly different work from Mat Broome and Eric Canete over the course of it’s two volumes, the book tackled the very real idea of “what happens when the super heroes the world comes to love and adore have to literally face the end of the world.” Using characters stunningly similar to some mainstream comic mainstays, Remender crafts a story of humanity on its last legs with its heroes trying valiantly to win a day they have already lost, and results are shocking, thoughtful, depressing and uplifting all at the same time.
Our story opens with, effectively, the beginning of the end, as we are introduced to the great disaster that would ultimately doom humanity. While I won’t go so far as to spoil the who’s and wherefore’s of this particular event, as they are absolutely crucial to the story (and this is, ya know, a recommendation not a review, which kind of implies you going out an actually reading it after you finish). I will say, though, the the role the Earth’s greatest hero plays in this disaster is essentially Remender’s mission statement re: heroes in this universe, and the name of this game is “flawed”.
Oh, are these folks flawed.
I’ve seen dark archetypes of comicdom’s best and greatest, but none quite as demented as the characters portrayed in this book. Be it the immensely powerful but completely out of touch Astonishman, Soldier American and his impossible origin given his stance as a Captain America analogue or the LITERAL demon Azul summoned by this universe’s sorcerer supreme Brother Occult. Remender pulled no punches with his character portrayals here, and his takes on the traditional molds manage to be just unique enough to forget the decades of work done on the characters they are, effectively, ripping off.
The story itself is also heartrendingly tragic because you realize at about the one quarter mark that not only are all traditional examples of super-heroics going to fail to save the universe (super powerful God-hero, mystic artifact, changing the past via time travel), but that the story isn’t REALLY even about good vs evil anymore, it simply is about life as we know it ending (which is far too primal to be classified as good OR evil) and it provides a really sobering outlook on the nature of super heroics.
On top of that, the story functions just as well as a straight long-form adventure fantasty, often marketed as Watchmen meets Lord of the Rings. While I feel that description is a little on the nose (although brilliantly crafted in order to sell comic books), it does seemingly make sense as the flawed, distinctly un-heroic (in the conventional sense) nature of the characters fits snuggly into the epic journey to avert disaster that these heroes take upon themselves both alone and in groups.
I feel the one place this book stuggles is the juxtaposition of the wildly different art styles on display in the two individual volumes. On the one hand, Volume One’s Mat Broome had the perfect mix of photorealism meets traditional cartoon character structure and composition was the perfect person to draw this story. His lush attention to detail combined with his superb mastery of facial expression really brought out the intensely tragic moments these characters were forced to endure. In start contrast to Broome was Volume 2’s Eric Canete, who’s gritty, expressionist style really leaves much to be desired. Not that it isn’t good, as I think it would fit a Brubaker-esque crime novel perfectly, I just don’t think it’s frenetic nature really suits the nuance and subtlety the story puts forward.
Overall though, if you’re looking for a riotously entertaining read that has no hope of making you feel clean or happy by the time it’s over, then The End League is definitely for you.Continued below