Writer Warren Ellis makes full use of most of the 110 story pages available to him in the original graphic novel “Avengers: Endless Wartime,” rolling out a well-paced, character-driven saga that spans both realms and generations. Artist Mike McKone proficiently captures it all, from advanced technology turned deadly by the Nazis in World War II to modern day unrest in the Middle East, and together both creators put together an effort that’s worthy of the expensive format that contains it.
So character-driven is this story, in fact, that it could feature no one but The Avengers. There isn’t a single panel where Ellis forgets that Captain America is a man out of time, always struggling to adapt to a new era, or as Ellis brilliantly puts it, Steve Rogers “lives in a foreign country called The Future.” Ellis centers a large part of the story on what emerges from a specific event from Cap’s days during the war, pointing out that even as Rogers tries to adjust to a faster and shinier future world, the dark and ugly element of endless war is sadly the one thing that has remained consistent. Captain America isn’t the only Avenger who was around back during World War II, of course, and Ellis uses this notion to add a clever and heretofore-unknown connection to Cap’s longtime teammate, Thor. Throughout the story, Ellis examines the similarities between the two characters, as each faces the challenges of confronting a threat today that they also faced in their pasts.
To a lesser extent, Ellis throws Tony Stark into the mix of character comparisons, although with Stark the comparisons are between his current heroic and decidedly sober self to that of his drunken, warmongering father. By focusing on this legendary troika that historically has been the foundation of the team, Ellis gets back to the roots of the Avengers and, for many, what has been the dynamic that has long driven the franchise. “Endless Wartime” is a refreshing reminder of what made The Avengers great in the first place, and the threat in this story, with its connection to specific members of the team, truly is one that no single hero can withstand.
That’s not to say the roster is limited to The Big Three, as might mistakenly be inferred from the cover. No, the story is firmly entrenched in modern day continuity, almost surprisingly so, and features plenty of familiar characters. One in particular, who doesn’t seem to figure into the story early on, makes a surprising appearance midway through and even plays an important role at the end. Ellis also plants the story firmly in the real world, with a backdrop similar to recent or modern-day military actions.
Ellis starts things off with the catalyst of the story, and then moves on to establishing all the players, having them interact early on, and sets up the story’s status quo. While Cap states at one point that “we’re all friends here,” that’s really not the case; Ellis’ Avengers are allies, sure, but not friends, or even friendly. Stark doesn’t really seem well-liked by the rest of the team, for instance, and Clint Barton isn’t even taken seriously by any of them. But that’s not to say it doesn’t work; it does, and quite well. It even makes more sense, as there’s really little in common between these characters.
Art-wise, McKone maintains a delicate balance throughout the story; his character likenesses are well-defined, but not bogged down with detail. His layouts largely work, although they fall a little short in extreme action sequences; it’s sometimes difficult to follow the exact choreography of a battle scene. McKone sometimes omits a key element; Thor poises to strike a foe, for instance, and the next panel shows him being propelled away. Most readers are likely intelligent enough to piece together what happened, but it’s a puzzling and annoying omission that momentarily distracts from the action.
Ellis also makes a key omission of his own, at the story’s climax, no less, that significantly impacts the conclusion and much of what led up to it. After nicely building up momentum for the final showdown, the story cuts away and only returns to the scene once it’s over, oddly deciding to tell rather than show what went down. By the very description as told by the characters involved, it would have been a wonderful culmination to a superb story, but instead readers feel like the game winning home run was hit while they made a trip to the restroom, and had to settle for a postgame recap later. And the denouement only further cheapens the victory; the good guys won, but Ellis spends the story’s final pages having the characters grouse about how it’s not such a great thing.
If graded on its first one hundred pages or so, “Avengers: Endless Wartime” would have gotten near perfect marks. Its ending doesn’t deliver, but that’s not to say the first eight innings weren’t great. If there’s ever a follow-up story, one can only hope for a “what really happened”-type re-visitation.