“Finding Hope in Hopelessness”
“Living in a post-JLA world”

Written by: Rick Remender
Art by: Mat Broome
Published by: Dark Horse Comics

There isn’t much to do with an iconic super hero team. Most teams seem to be versions of either the Justice League (or the Justice Society or the historically nitpicky) or the Avengers. But whenever someone wants to examine the mythic or iconic nature of heroes, they tend to deconstruct the Justice League. From The Authority to the Squadron Supreme, all roads begin with the JLA. So what happens when you turn the conventions of a super hero book on its head?

“I had, and have always, sought to use my power for ethical and moral purposes. For this the world branded me a hero as if I was behaving extraordinarily.” –Astonishman

Cynicism led to arrogance as his faith in humanity eroded and now Astonishman lives with the guilt of his choices using regret to fuel his mission. With Astonishman, we have a tortured main character set against a dystopian landscape. He believes himself to be living a lie as a hero since, in a moment of arrogance, he accidently destroyed the world in May 1962. Led by bad information and arrogance, he set off what would called “The Green Event”. Three billion people died and of the survivors, 1 in a 10000 would mutate ushering in the age of super heroes. The Magnificents would inherit the earth.

The seemingly cheesy names–Astonishman, Brother Occult, Arachna Kid, etc.—were inspired by different eras of comic book history. A simpler time when the idea of super heroes first stamped themselves on our cultural consciousness. It’s a perfect example of the continuing problem with the book: a good idea that stumbles in the execution.

“The only difference between a good man and a bad one … good men don’t act on the evil impulses we all have.” –Astonishman

At this point, The End League would seem little different than a darker version of The 4400, Rising Stars, or Heroes, which is why Remender adds one more twist to fully set the stage. As if in a parallel universe where evil is the natural state of things, the heroes being the story in hiding and on the run. The villains cut down most of them in a coordinated attack, essentially winning the day and achieving what villains have always dreamed of: world domination. The heroes scramble to survive, defending a society which searches for scraps of food among what’s left of their world.

“A chance for redemption will present itself.” –Mother Hive

Some might call this a pessimistic view of humanity. After all, the essential message of the book is that with super powers, humanity would wreck the world in months instead of centuries. That there are more people operating as “self-seeking egotists” than good; unfortunately, it seems to be a bleak worldview shaped by current events.

The End League, as well as its precursor (for the historically nitpicky) the Squadron of Righteousness, both were imperfect vessels. We could almost call them a church, a group of gifted ones living and gathering as communities of people for the sake of a greater cause. They were a collective embodiment of a new way of living, trying to build a better world, and setting an example simply by being. Their existence alone brings hope, if they live out their mission to be a blessing to others and participate in the redemption of creation. Sure, they’ve screwed up along the way in their arrogance and certainty, operating out of their own might and influence. So the book examines the issue of what gives hope to the mission; what gives light to those living in utter darkness. Because hope is what anyone needs to go on and people can only operate out of a clear understanding of what it is they hope in.

The End League is a bit of a mess. At least the first issue, it suffers from too much exposition as it sets up the world we are entering. It’s difficult to create and populate an entirely new universe, especially within the confines of his high concept. Remender leans on our familiarity with the DC archetypes (Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash) then mixes in Marvel ones for variety (Spider-Man, Captain America) rather than introducing any of the characters. The exquisite art makes up for any drag in story rendering action sequences with a deft touch, but reading Astonishman brood issue after issue will get old really quick.

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