The 5 Greatest (Analog) Moments in ‘The End League’
The superhero pastiche has become so common in comics that it’s practically its own genre. And overall it’s not a very good one. While some writers and artists of genuine talent have applied themselves to the reinterpretation of iconic characters, so have a lot of unskilled hacks who just can’t think of anything original. During the small publishing boom of the early nineties, comic racks were choked with awkward, juvenile, painfully artless re-dos of Marvel and DC icons mashed together with absolutely no skill. And for some reason, just about every single one was about the end of the world. And really, they all sucked.
“The End League” does not suck. In fact, it might be the best apocalyptically-themed superhero pastiche ever made. Its mix of comics iconography, myths, and fantasy tropes is surprisingly fresh, and the cleverness with which writer Rick Remender dissects and reassembles classic characters is very satisfying. And unlike all those wastes of paper from the nineties, there’s an actual arc, twists and turns that are genuinely surprising, metaphor, strong dialogue, and all the other things that people who are fundamentally sound are able to provide.
So with the final issue now on stands, let’s take a look back at some of the most interesting interpretations of Big Two icons in “The End League,” and the unexpected places they went.
Astonishman is Superman’s stand-in: powered by the sun, revered the whole world over, nearly godlike, and possessing the same moral clarity. Unfortunately, it’s that moral clarity that leads Astonishman to nearly destroy the world. In May of 1962, his rival Dead Lexington (Lex Luthor’s replacement) manipulates Astonishman into destroying an alien spacecraft, knocking the Earth off its axis and releasing a catastrophic amount of radiation into the atmosphere. It comes to be known as The Green Event – three billion people die, hundreds of thousands of survivors develop into super-powered “Magnificents,” Dead Lexington seizes control of the world, and real heroes are reduced to a handful of hungry losers hiding in a bomb shelter in some flyover state. Smooth move, ex-lax. I’m so glad lobotomized Thor killed you. So glad.
Lesbian superheroines sure have been crushing some glass ceilings, haven’t they? Not to be outdone, “The End League” has The Blue Gauntlet, a striking brunette latina with an energy-based weapon powered by an alien parasite, who is truly, madly, and deeply in love with Blur Girl, a spunky, petite blonde in a red and yellow tracksuit-slash-halter-top and the fastest woman alive. There’s little time for the relationship to be explored, but there’s certainly a depth in the portrayal, and the analogy does hold a mirror up to an important issue: long before the man crush or bromance, Flash and Green Lantern were totally gay for each other.
Okay, let’s pump the brakes, that’s a lot of awesome to take in. In yet another major twist, undead horseman The Prairie Ghost is possessed and forced to swing his scythe at patriotic icon Soldier American, impaling and splitting him apart. So immediately, right there, your aweso-meter is at like a nine. Then you find out that this American hero, this flag-waving sentinel of liberty is the result of twisted Nazi science! Ow, my chest!
Arachnakid doesn’t get much screentime, but each scene he’s in throbs with the same sense of pathos and defeat as early Lee/Ditko joints. While he doesn’t have a sick Aunt May to get some medicine back to, Arachnakid certainly has some issues. He’s easily eight feet tall, with four arms, claws, fangs, and a face even a blind mother couldn’t love, so his self-image isn’t necessarily the best. His father was The Wolf Spider, a legendary hero and original member of The End League, so he’s got some feelings of inadequacy to wrestle with. If that weren’t already enough, he’s hopelessly in love with a woman he couldn’t possibly have. Not “couldn’t possibly have” in that too rich, too pretty, or too popular way. “Couldn’t possibly have” because she likes girls. And there are literally no other girls around. In Arachnakid’s secluded world, only four women even exist – one’s a goddess, one’s an invalid, and two of them are lesbians. Just the type of thing that would happen to Spidey.
Just when you thought our heroes’ festering wound of a planet couldn’t get any worse, the tried-and-true Nth-level cosmic power shows up and throws a glass of Mexican tap water into it. And in “The End League” universe, omnipotent planet-destroyers don’t go flouncing around in violet unitards and elaborate hats – they come festooned in skulls and armor, licked by mountains of fire, coated in the blood of innocents and trinkets from a 15th-century Hot Topick. With a name like Nargor’ri the Ravager, anything less would be ridiculous. That’s the coolest name for an apocalyptic galatic entity ever, by the way. Quick: someone who likes metal start a band called Nargor’ri the Ravager. And then just coast, man.