Warren Ellis and Mike McKone have a new original graphic novel. Avengers: Endless Wartime. One of a new line from Marvel Comics and, it seems, replacing the Season One line in the publisher's schedules.
It shipped early to comic stores, well ahead of its October release date, due to an error by Diamond Comic Distributors. Retailers were warned of the problem by Diamond, and told that secret shoppers would penalise stores if they found them with copies on sale. But there are plenty of copies to be bought right now online especially, it seems, in the UK.
So I did.
Marvel have had a horrifically poor record of late in selling graphic novels and trade paperbacks into the bookstore market, and have also been institutionally allergic to the idea of original graphic novels, that this seems quite a momentous book.
For political reasons, Marvel Comics aren't allowed to put the images of actors in their movies on their graphic novels, they never packaged the first two Ultimates books and marketed them at the audience who saw the Avengers movie, and it's still unsure as to whether they'll be able to provide for the expected demand that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. may bring them, and that The Walking Dead has brought to Image Comics.
But, for those who have been watching the Marvel Movieverse comics, this graphic novel seems designed for you. We get Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Wolverine, Hawkeye and Black Widow, while spending a long time to introduce a more unfamiliar Captain Marvel. There is the World Tree and the Nine Realms, there is Captain America's wartime past, Tony Stark's remains a dick, but work as an arms manufacturer and dealer is as important to this story as anything he does in his Iron Man suit and there are references to The Hulk.
Marvel should be finding ways to get this into the hands of people who liked the movies. And to do that, they should have found a way to put Robert Downey Jr, etc on the front.
However, they did get Rian Hughes to design the thing, so it looks like an actual book. They got Clark Gregg, Agent Coulson, to write the forward. They're trying, though it does look a little like dinosaur trying to flap? Talking of which…
Inside the pages, you get a full blown Warren Ellis superhero story, pulling on plenty of aspects familiar from his oeuvre. There is archeology, pulling a threat from the past. There are military folk doing military things beyond the ken of human minds. There are horrors that man would not have made, and echoes of what the Nazis did, being replicated now. And there is plenty of lip.
What is possibly most interesting is that, given how this comes out alongside the TV show, SHIELD are presented here as pretty much the bad guys, though they have a very defensible point of view. I hope this kind of perspective is echoed in the TV show, after all there should be plenty of people who have a problem with their wide reaching scope.
We begin by Ellis setting the comic in Slorenia, an obscure Middle Eastern country from Marvel continuity, somewhere between Turkmenistan and Afghanistan and last seen destroyed by Ultron, that has been the subject of American action at some point. And among a couple of insurgents who manage to take down what they think is a US drone bombing them.
But instead they shoot down a dragon. Wearing a jumped up tech suit.
There was much made about The Avengers movie, dealing with a man of science standing in the same room as a legend from the past and a god, and how it would deal with that insane juxtaposition on screen, in a way that may have never come over in the comics where anything and everything. But, aside from some back-and-forth and a little shoving/repulsing.shield throwing, and some Whedonesque snark, that juxtaposition wasn't really explored. Here it is. Even the target of the Avengers' wrath, at least initially, seems to sum up the central Avengers, a mystical figure, a legend from long ago and a suit of science. And being controlled by government agencies beyond their control.
There is history to be uncovered, and we flash back to World War Two for Captain America's early experience with something related to this, possibly McKone's finest hour on the book, as well as Thor's own more magical experience at the same time, the results of which have combined to form this new threat, as the opportunities for it to have an affect afforded by Tony Stark's meddling
Because it's not just the good guys who team up to form the Avengers, their actions and decisions are all also partially responsible for the bad stuff that is now a threat, all joined together and getting rather tangled. Consequences, folks. Because there's another Ellis trope here, everyone being the hero in their own story, everyone trying to do what's best – the Slorenia insurgency, the Avengers, SHIELD, the governments, even the dragons themselves. Even if it all seems quite mad.
As a result, it's far meatier than The Avengers movie, the main course to Whedon's entree, taking some of the themes but hitting them harder, and using the infinite budget of comics well – giving us the extraordinary but never forgetting the kitchen scenes as well, Mike McKone a good choice for portraying both these worlds well, the mad and the mundane, though the colourist Jason Kieth seems more at home when things are exploding and smashing into each other. Which they do get around to doing. Ellis and uses a variety of narrative techniques to present those perspectives and eventually leaving the reader with the experience of gain, but also of loss.
This book won't bother the Eisners or the Harveys. It is very much a superhero comic book about superheroes that doesn't exactly challenge the medium. But there is enough about modern war, modern government, history, duty, pragmatic policy against idealism to provide plenty to chew over.
And I want to know more about Ara and Shav of Slorenia… a sequel maybe?
Avengers: Endless Wartime by Warren Ellis and Mike McKone is published by Marvel on October 2nd.