If a comics company is looking to launch a new line of original graphic novels, they would be hard pressed to tab a better writer than Warren Ellis to pen the first. The man’s work for Marvel alone makes him more than qualified as his runs on “Thunderbolts” and “Astonishing X-Men” show his capability of writing quality team books. Having already written possibly the greatest Iron Man story ever with “Extremis”, now Ellis gets a turn with the rest of the team with Avengers: Endless Wartime.
This book is, mostly, a story of hubris and foolish pride centered around Captain America and Thor. The rest of the cinematic universe Avengers (Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Hulk) are in attendance along with Captain (formerly Ms.) Marvel and Wolverine. A new military threat has been spotted up over the Norwegian island of Skrekklandet, the same place Captain America fought some of Red Skull’s more technically advanced forces in World War II. These new ships also bear a distinct likeness to creatures that Thor had encountered in the past called Nidhogg. It appears that S.H.I.E.L.D. has co-opted this technology for their own means, likely as an eventual deterrent should the Avengers turn against Earth.
The Nidhogg don’t need to rest, eat, or re-supply in anyway. They are perfectly relentless war machines. They are also being deployed in America. For Cap and Thor, this is personal. The American hero is still struggling living out of his own time and the one thing that still exists from his past is a weapon. The Asgardian Prince’s battle with the Nidhogg cost him dearly as he looks to overwrite the blemish on his legacy.
The action goes by in a blur (the art of which is gorgeous by Mike McKone) and the threat is never shown to be as big as the characters make it sound. Hulk can tear the creatures to bits, Thor can smash and thundercrash them to dust, Iron Man blows them up, and Cap punches them til they fall. The only jeopardy the team is in is due to the fact that they don’t work like a team. They are not the bosom buddies that the comics used to portray them. This is more like the film versions of the heroes. Their alliance is tenuous, their relationships are often contentious. Captain Marvel repeatedly pulls rank while Captain America tries to assert dominance. For most of the book, Hawkeye is treated as no more than a punchline.
The most compelling interaction is between Cap and Wolverine. Steve Rogers is the most respected figure in the Marvel Universe, he is unimpeachable. But Logan brings up a point when Rogers acts superior because Wolverine is more than willing to kill to get the job done. Cap acts as though he would never cross that line but he was a soldier in WWII. Surely, he didn’t just knock Nazi soldiers out with his shield. He carried a gun in those days. While decades may have passed since then, they haven’t for Rogers. He was frozen in the forties and thawed out in our time. The war is practically yesterday for him.
It is this friction that permeates the book. These characters don’t just have different skill sets but different moral compasses. A deeper look into other characters would have been nice but this is a single isolated graphic novel, not a series. This book is, ultimately, about Captain America’s world view. How does he see his surroundings? How does he reconcile his past? How does he see himself or his team or his place within the team? By the end, you’re not sure if he has answers to any of these questions. It’s up to the reader to come to their own conclusions.