Saturday, June 7, 2008

Really, Dark Horse? Seriously?

I know there's nothing new under the Sun and all that, but come on! You could have tried harder. Don't make the real Thor angry.

from issue 2, volume 2

The End League #1

Written by Rick Remender
Drawn by Mat Broome

Didn’t Dark Horse put out, I don’t know, Concrete? The Mask? Usagi Yojimbo? Sin goddamn City? Yes, Wikipedia tells me, they did, not to mention 300, not to mention they hold the licensing rights for all Star Wars comic books and the new "8th season" of Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics.

So how did this slip through the cracks?

Let’s start with the premise. Everyone’s desperate to cash in on the post-apocalypse/zombie craze of the past few years (don’t get me started on how the Bush administration’s gross negligence of, uh, everything has affected popular culture so much that some people are anxiously awaiting some kind of horrific apocalypse as if it were a second Christmas), with Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead likely being the best of the lot. These Dark Horse fellows decide to take a slightly different tack, saying that a global ecological catastrophe caused the deaths of two-thirds of the Earth’s population and mutated a significant portion of the survivors into superhumans. Fine. Good. Turns out, the catastrophe in question was caused, somehow, by the planet’s superpowered protector, Astonishman. Yes, Astonishman. Jesus, he’s such a lame ripoff of a ripoff of a ripoff that I can’t even get past the name. Yet I press on. For science.

What do they call the apocalypse brought on by Not-Superman? The Green Event.

Rick Remender, you douchebag! Even if that didn’t sound like a Spring closeout sale at Bed, Bath & Beyond—which it does—Warren Ellis’s Marvel series Newuniversal, a reinvention of the 1980s Marvel gimmick the “New Universe,” just came out last year, and what was the catalyst in that series for hundreds of people gaining unexplained superpowers? It was called the White Event. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but you know what? Warren Ellis does not need your flattery. He drinks whiskey and pisses beer. Sometimes the other way around. If he could bleed, he would bleed caffeine. He does not bleed. Other people bleed for him. If the Devil existed he would sell his soul to Warren Ellis. Rick Remender, you have the name of a classic rock DJ. There is such a thing as reusing an old idea; there is such a thing as breathing new life into old archetypes. Warren Ellis is but one example of the brave writers out there who wrestle every month with the writhing, giant anaconda of continuity in today’s modern superhero books, and most of them come out somewhat on top of the mythic beast, having secured another victory for original storytelling.

Rick Remender, you are not one of those lucky winners. If justice was a force as binding as magnetism or gravity, you’d have collapsed under the weight of all the clich├ęs you carry around in your head, crippled and comatose forever for populating a comic book with such characters as Arachnakid, Goddess, Johnny Tomorrow and the Prairie Ghost. That’s to say nothing of the token lesbian couple that you obviously shoehorned in just to appear more progressive. Thanks to Wikipedia, I see now that Remender is first and foremost an illustrator, having drawn the comic book version of Bruce Jesus Christ Campbell’s The Man With the Screaming Brain, as well as several album covers and a handful of other Dark Horse productions. This lends further credence to my theory: most professional artists should not be allowed to write unsupervised.

Even all of this doesn’t compare to the last page. I think I blocked out earlier mentions of the name from Astonishman’s trite opening monologue because I didn’t think it would figure in later. But no, they had to go and do it—they made Thor a character in this story’s continuity. Even this could ultimately be forgiven if the rest of the book had been better—after all, it’s still nominally a free country, and if any group of characters is public domain by now, it’s the ancient pagan gods of Europe—but Thor? Despite Wonder Woman’s near-70-year history, most of the Greek gods are still up for grabs as far as a definitive comics version—ditto for the Egyptians, and the Celts have barely been poked at. But Thor? Remender, you couldn’t have tried to be a little creative? You could have picked Zeus, (I nearly said Ares, but now he’s Marvel canon too) or Horus or goddamn motherfucking Cuchulainn, and your readers would’ve thought, “oh, he’s riffing on Thor, I get it.” But no. You just went right up to Thor and slapped him with your dick. On the off-chance you don’t figure this out in the future, that’s a bad idea. “Thor kill puny humans”? Seriously? I’m not the kind of guy who thinks that America is all about how you have the right to sue anyone over anything, but I think if you don’t work for Marvel and you use the phrase “puny humans” in a comic book, Stan Lee should legally own your children.

I think if I try to explain the plot any further, my brain will start screaming. In the hands of someone capable, this story idea could have been reasonably okay. Unfortunately, Dark Horse was too busy managing its Buffy and Star Wars franchises to realize it had let The End League slip out the factory door unhindered, and thus I am confronted with a hack story of nearly Claremontesque proportions.

Rating: Two White Russians (I’d rate it worse but Erin gave me the comic for free)

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