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‘Avengers: Endgame’ Shares a lot with Hickman’s ‘Secret Wars’

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Avengers Endgame Review Marvel

Avengers: Endgame is an impressive movie. It’s amazing how it all started in 2008 with that little stinger at the end of Iron Man, when Nick Fury uttered the words “Avengers Initiative.” To the casual moviegoer, this was a cool tidbit, but for comic book fans, these two words fired up a hope they couldn’t even imagine happening. In honour of the infamous “What If?” comics, so many questions came to mind as to what could be next, and after a decade of movies, numerous crossovers, and countless cameos, it’s wonderful to see how far that idea came, and how it would conclude with Avengers: Endgame.

However, the film is not for everyone. It’s for those people who witnessed Tony Stark get a heart, saw Steve Rogers stand up against bullies of all sizes, and watched Thor discover humility and self-worth. Viewing Avengers: Endgame without any context won’t do it justice; it’ll be fun, but ultimately just sensory overload.

Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury

When it comes to comic books, one of the biggest criticisms is the way they manage the ‘status quo’ amid life-changing consequences that may affect the entire universe for years to come. It’s come to a point where those words lead to eye rolls and heavy sighs; superhero comic books are not known for major changes. Characters walk through the hero-villain revolving door on a regular basis, and deaths are not always permanent. Anyone can pick up a random story arc and get a good understanding of what’s happening even without reading the previous books. There is a lot of hand-holding, and enough exposition to move the story along. But none of this is necessarily bad; it just means that this medium is accessible for anyone, and not only for those who started from the beginning. It also means that fans can skip an arc if they don’t like it, and jump right back in when the story changes.

The only time more reading may be needed is with the major crossover events. Usually twice per year the publishers release an ongoing series that covers numerous titles (Civil War is one of the more popular and successful ones). These events are loud and epic, but with consequences don’t often stick; things will usually return back to the safety of the status quo soon after, until the next time a big event rears its head. However, though anybody can pick the event up and get the gist of the plot, they will miss a few subtleties here and there. It’s like watching Captain America: Civil War without watching any Iron Man or Avengers films. That being said, there has been one exception in recent years where an event was not for anybody looking for a quick read, but was a love letter for the fans who stayed true. This story is Secret Wars (2015), which was written by Jonathan Hickman, and drawn by Esad Ribić. It had a major impact on fans and the Marvel comic world alike.

In this ongoing series, the entire universe is at stake, with the final incursion between Earth-616 and Earth-1610 happening, and the heroes of both the normal and Ultimate universe unable to stop it. After they crash into one another, Dr. Doom rebuilds the world and crowns himself God, with Susan Storm as his queen. He reshapes Earth into different segments, all with their own Baron or Baroness.

Some heroes survive the calamity to witness this new world order; many are terrified and confused. But Mister Fantastic is simply enraged and determined. Without any prior knowledge, that brief plot summary might seem like utter nonsense, and those who read the entire story might criticize the lazy synopsis. I remember reading Secret Wars (2015) on its own and feeling lost, completely underwhelmed. Characters died, major changes were made, but ultimately, there was no spark. A lot happened, but nothing felt it really mattered. That’s when it was recommended that I read Hickman’s previous series, then reread the major event again. It took a while, but after doing so, I eventually saw the book in a whole new light. Every instance had a purpose, and every character had their moment to shine. Secret Wars (2015) isn’t just a random crossover event — it was the swan song to the first family of superheroes: The Fantastic Four.

Jonathan Hickman is known for the slow burn. His books typically start off bizarre, then don’t lead anywhere. But that’s only under the basis of the first book. By the time the final two arcs come out, everything comes together in a beautiful symphony. To put it in context, to fully appreciate Secret Wars (2015) it’s best to read:

  • Fantastic Four #570-588, 600-611
  • FF #1-23
  • Ultimate Comics: Ultimates
  • Avengers Volume 5 #1-34
  • The New Avengers Volume 3 #1-23
  • Infinity #1-6

These books started way back in 2009, and though not every story arc is absolutely necessary to read for the final product, they still add to the characters’ development. Every decision they make at the very beginning starts to make sense in the end. Marvel Comics doesn’t end with the final issue of Secret Wars (2015) — it’s just the end of one era and the start of another one. It ends on a note of hope, as well as a hearty laugh well worth the wait (that page, in particular, is the gift for the fans who stayed along for the entire ride). It was very much a huge thank you, and well worth the long wait, but reading the story on its own doesn’t hold the same weight. Avengers: Endgame feels the same. Unless you watched the characters grow and develop, every moment they have in the film is meaningless.

It’s a rarity to see a comic book movie that doesn’t handhold the audience throughout the lore. It’s also rare to see a live-action comic book movie that feels like a comic book. With the exception of Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War, the other movies are simply fun action films on the surface. Throughout the stunning visuals and wonderful shout-outs, Avengers: Endgame feels like a gift for those people who watched every movie on opening night, who sat through the credits for the stingers. It’s a gift for the fans who tolerated the less-popular films, and trusted the studio’s direction. It’s a gift for the people who want to see what eleven years of hard work can lead to. Avengers: Endgame, just like Secret Wars (2015), is very much a gift made for the fans.

 

David Harris has lived in Montreal his whole life. He thoroughly enjoys discussing most subjects including the arts, technology, and good food. Being a fan of superheroes since he was young, it's surprising he only starting really getting into comics in CEGEP. He shows a great appreciation for good stories and dialogue, which suits his passions perfectly: television, movies, and graphic novels. As much as he loves the indie publishers, deep down he has always been a fan of the big two.

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‘Ruins Of The Empire’ is The True Followup to ‘The Legend Of Korra’

The Legend of Korra continues the second Team Avatar’s adventures through an ongoing follow-up comic book series in collaboration with Dark Horse Comics…

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Ruins of The Empire

For every fan of The Legend of Korra, ‘Ruins of The Empire’ is a must-read.

Over five years ago, Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra ended with its fourth and final book ‘Balance.’ As Korra and Asami ventured off together into the spirit world, it was obvious that the journey may have concluded on the small screen- or rather on the network’s website after being yanked off the air- but series co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko were likely not going to allow their narrative to come to an indefinite close. In the same fashion as its predecessor Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra continues the second Team Avatar’s adventures through an ongoing follow-up comic book series in collaboration with Dark Horse Comics.

I probably do not have to tell you this, but Dark Horse Comics has had an overall strong history with the Avatar universe. The Avatar: The Last Airbender comics from over the course of almost the last decade are nothing short of exceptional and are the next best thing for those wanting to see more of Aang and the gang. While they certainly may not always be able to achieve the best aspects of the show we grew up with due to the limited medium it has been adapted into, each arc published has both visually and textually felt like a direct follow-up to the original series in many regards with even some comics such as Team Avatar Tales filling in fun gaps during the show’s continuity. They are faithful sequels- or rather prequels in Korra’s case as the comics do connect the two shows- that every major fan of this franchise will tell you are well worth your time if you are just dying for more stories from the world of the four nations.

That being said, once The Legend of Korra was set to hit store shelves in its newly adopted format it seemed like another guaranteed hit was on the line for Nickelodeon and Dark Horse. The Legend of Korra’s first comic story arc Turf Wars, however, was not the followup most fans wanted from this show. It was undoubtedly a comic series that fans expected a lot more from as the post-Earth Empire world had tons of narrative points to explore. I’m certainly not in the minority when I say that Turf Wars was a trilogy that let me down due to its story’s focal point. Turf Wars often falls flat as it treads on a narrow line attempting to fill a justified relationship rather than focusing on telling a story well suited to the established mythologies of Avatar and Korra. The new villains that you could not sympathize with or even just enjoy for a three-book story, some odd character dialogue, questionable decisions to help move the plot forward, and ignored consequences of the show’s finale did not help the reception of these books from fans either. It is certainly a story with substantial themes and moments, but it is not what you would want from a followup tale to Book 4’s incredible closing moments.

The Legend of Korra had so much more to tell with its story that was not being explored in the comics- or at least with its first run. The writers have listened though and they have gotten themselves back on track with their newest series Ruins Of The Empire. This comic series is exactly what fans of this show wanted since the last episode aired. Not only is it the best Legend Of Korra comic so far, but it might just also be one of the best Avatar franchise comics currently available. In the same way that The Promise and The Search were real followups with answers to questions posed in Avatar: The Last Airbender’s finale, the latest story arc in The Legend of Korra’s post-finale is exactly that. Ruins Of The Empire not only explores the transition into the Earth Kingdom’s attempt at establishing a democratic system of government, but it smartly highlights the shaky aftermath of Kuvira’s surrender from both character and worldbuilding standpoints as those who hailed the great uniter quickly fell into organized chaos.

Right off the bat, the story of Ruins Of The Empire is not spotlighting one character relationship or slowly building up a new villain that is set to be dismissed with no real consequences. Korra and Asami’s lover dynamic is explored in this story arc but more appropriately in a blended storytelling fashion comparable to the source material. It unfolds exactly as you would expect an episode of the show to play out- not forced or made plot-driving as what had previously been mistakingly done. It is now implemented as something on the sidelines that has a dangerous toll on the narrative which ultimately leads to character decisions that have real consequences. Turf Wars chose to ignore the entirety of the Beifong family and the collapsing Earth Empire, despite the fact that those two subjects practically revolve around every plot point you would expect a followup of the finale to explore. The shift in focus inevitably makes for a properly developed story that is able to draw a spotlight on several subjects.

It is not just the narrative that has been correctly altered either. When it comes to the way in which the cast talks with one another and the overall look of the book, everything feels properly adjusted. For one, each character is actually here this time around and not blatantly missing. Michael Dante DiMartino really stepped up his game with Ruins of The Empire’s script that aims to draw closure with the show. It is not perfect, but it is a major step up that pushes the narrative forward rather than being stuck in still water. The questions you probably had about where characters went after the finale are tackled here. Everyone is overall done justice. As I said previously, the Avatar comics were written as well as if you could hear the characters talking and the same can be said here. If you had not read what was going on in the photo above, have a look again here below!

Ruins Of The Empire feels more akin to its source material than its predecessor run thanks to more so the art then its speech though. The art quality jump between the two is unmistakable- beyond noticeable when put side by side. It is a massive improvement that needless to say has already enhanced the post-television comic run and given it back the life it needed. Turf Wars’s covers are a complete deception to what lies inside each graphic novel. While the face value may look as appealing as the television show, adopters will quickly realize Irene Koh’s art lacked character details, expressions, and even backgrounds. It accumulated into an experience that felt more like a fan project than something from the original creators. Koh’s artwork was unbearable by any means, but it never hit a certain point of quality fans expect- especially from Dark Horse Comics, and at times it shamefully felt thematically disconnected with the Avatar universe.

The new runner-up artist Michelle Wong has done a fantastic job adapting Korra into the comic book medium. Wong’s work is miles ahead of everything Koh previously drew in Korra’s first Dark Horse outing. The jump in improvement artistically is undoubtfully perceptible based on a mere first glance at the two. Every character here feels more animated, the action is more engaging to look at, and the backgrounds are no longer completely flat and detailless. Wong deserves serious credit for her work on these books. Her dedication to the source material is something that generally falls behind in other television to comic adaptations, but she did the absolute best she can do here. The fact that she personally went out of her way and rewatched the entire series before starting to draw the artwork for this story arc just shows her dedication and care for the fans. Wong has successfully made this comic run feel as if you are watching the show again, something Turf Wars should have achieved first.

For those interested in reading the complete set of Ruins Of The Empire, Dark Horse Comics will be releasing a hardcover library edition of the full story arc on September 22nd. If you are dying in reading Korra’s latest story now, however, you can go ahead and grab volumes one through three separately in either a digital or softcover format today. For any fan of The Legend of Korra, it is without a doubt well-worth your time and money. After your television binge of both Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, you will not be disappointed with this story.

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Ghosts and More in this Year’s Hellboy Winter Special

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Hellboy Winter Special

Before spring arrives, there’s still time to cozy up with the latest Hellboy Winter Special, a single anthology issue of three supernatural tales. The eponymous demonic-looking investigator features in only one story, and it’s the strongest in the collection. However, the remaining tales satisfy with their own glimpse at the occult world Hellboy inhabits.

The anthology issue opens with Hellboy’s story, “The Miser’s Gift.” Hellboy creator Mike Mignola is back to write another tale for his iconic hero, crafting a solid short story. Hellboy is a warmly familiar presence while he helps out a guy with a ghostly problem. The paranormal investigator subtly shows his depth of character as he intervenes, ranging from his matter-of-fact attitude in the face of weirdness to his ever-present undercurrent of kindness, particularly demonstrated when he tries to initially talk down the spirit causing the problem. The other characters serve their purpose, with brief glimpses of nuance. The man Hellboy helps show a nice mix of mild and genuine, and the ghost ends up with a heavy sense of melancholy that feels like a consequence of a greed-filled life. The most paper-thin character is the professor, but he moves things along with exposition well enough, and even winds up as a morbid punchline in the end. Regardless of one character’s fate, the whole cast ultimately shares a story of compassion and goodwill winning out over greed, fitting the ideal spirit of the holidays.  

Excerpt from "The Miser’s Gift" in the Hellboy Winter Special.
Hellboy gets a new case in “The Miser’s Gift.” (Writer: Mike Mignola, Artist: Mark Laszlo, Colorist: Dave Stewart.)

While Mignola writes for Hellboy again, Mark Laszlo takes care of the art this time. Mignola’s stylized and shadowy drawing for Hellboy is unquestionably the signature look of his creation, but Laszlo’s illustration is wonderful in a different way. Laszlo’s lines feel looser and sketchier, creating a warmer tone. Dave Stewart’s colors bring extra warmth, and are used to distinguish between flashbacks, the characters’ present in the ‘80s, and even past worlds literally encroaching on 1989 Budapest. Laszlo’s art helps with the border between worlds, warping the ghostly city while the buildings of 1989 are more straight. Altogether the art does feel like a good match for a winter special and a perfect fit for Mignola’s story. Laszlo and Stewart’s work even feels a little reminiscent of Peter de Sève’s illustration.

Though the remaining two stories don’t feature Hellboy, they feature other characters found in his world: fellow paranormal investigator Sarah Jewell and the Knights of St. Hagan. Jewell’s story, “The Longest Night,” is a paranormal riff on murder-mysteries that starts in media res and goes straight to figuring out the culprit. But this is a murder-mystery operating in Hellboy’s world, and even if he’s not around to carry out justice, it feels fitting that another supernatural being takes care of things—though far more viciously. Overseeing all of this is Jewell herself, whose character gets the most time to shine with masterful grace and perceptiveness.

The anthology concludes with “The Beast of Ingelheim,” arguably the weakest tale in the collection. It’s a vague and ambiguous little thing featuring the Knights of St. Hagan that may mean more to someone who knows the full continuity of Hellboy, but isn’t as accessible as the previous stories for new readers. However, towards the end, its ambiguity seems to transform into something a little more intriguing due to a twist and the realization that the ending leaves with a question—did the narrator spare or take a life?

Excerpt from "The Longest Night" in the Hellboy Winter Special.
A swift and brutal karmic payback strikes in “The Longest Night.” (Writer: Chris Roberson, Artist: Leila Del Duca, Colorist: Michelle Madsen.)

After debuting in 2016, the seasonal series is still going strong today. With a classic Hellboy vibe, a mix of murderers devoured by paranormal creatures, and self-proclaimed holy warriors chasing shadows in the woods, this year’s Hellboy Winter Special is a nice collection of stories to peruse.

Cover for Hellboy Winter Special.
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‘Avengers: Endgame’ and the Golden Easter Egg

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Aki- hiko Avengers Endgame Easter Eggs

Let’s Talk About Hiroyuki Sanada

With Deadpool 3, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness coming soon, everything is taking shape for the introduction of mutants into the MCU, yet there is one Easter egg left un-cracked from Avengers: End Game that could show how mutants have been a part of the world this entire time… enter Hiroyuki Sanada. 

During the brief scene where we catch Clint Barton, Jeremy Renner, on a murderous rampage, we found he has retired Hawkeye and taken up the mantle of Ronin. Clearly distressed about what the Yakuza have been doing and the fact that they were spared from the snap, Ronin makes quick work of all the goons, except for one, Aki- hiko (Hiroyuki Sanada). The only real take away from their brief exchange of dialogue is that Clint is as much of a villain from his new murderous persona, setting him up for his character’s arc later in the movie. But the question people have ignored has been left without a real answer, who is Akihiko and why would Marvel put him in the highest-grossing movie ever made for such a small role? 

So, who is Akihiko? Put simply, Akihiko is a nobody scientist who works for the Yakuza used in one issue, Nick Fury #7 from 2017, written by James Robinson. The plot is simple, Nick Fury Jr. goes to the moon to chase down some of the Yakuza’s Shogun Reapers, which are led by Akihiko. They are planning to finish building a cannon that can control Earth’s plate tectonics from their lunar base. On the moon’s surface, the Yakuza are piloting their War Machine like suits, the Shogun Mechas. Fury chases down the Yakuza and takes control of Akihiko’s Mecha forcing him to fire a ray at a room that decompressed it and everyone in it, Akihiko included. A tried and true, one and done issue threat. 

The question of who was Akihiko is a simple answer. Not so much the latter of why Marvel would use this character out of their endless sandbox of villains. Taking a look at the first appearance of Ronin in New Avengers #11, written by Brian Micheal Bendis, the answer may be revealed. 

The basic plot of Ronin’s first story goes like this. The hero is in Japan on the trail of the Silver Samurai who the shadowy gang we’ve seen in Daredevil and the Defenders, both on Netflix, has just sprung free along with 40 other prisoners from the government’s water jail, the Raft. The jailbreak was orchestrated by Viper, and an agent seeking to take control of the splintered and leaderless Hydra. The Japanese Yashida clan is in a similar state as Hydra with their leader, the Silver Samurai away from his duties. Viper uses the opportunity to mend rifts and create a more international alliance in organized crime. 

Backtracking to the news that Ryan Reynolds will be returning as Deadpool for the MCU confirms that at least some of the Fox X-Men franchise will be part of it as well. This puts Hiroyuki Sanada in a very good position to branch worlds considering he not only played Akihiko in Endgame but also Shingen Yashida, the Silver Samurai, in The Wolverine

Ronin Marvel Avengers

A rewatch of The Wolverine with this information fresh in memory is very telling. It includes almost all the characters of Ronin’s first appearance including the Yakuza and Viper herself. After Days of Future Past, the events of the movie would have been rewritten and these characters would still be alive. In the movie, Shingen’s father had the family company on the verge of bankruptcy and without Logan coming to Japan it very well could have happened. Shingen was ashamed of his father and wanted to distance himself from this legacy. Adding this to the fact that he already had Yakuza gang ties in the movie, it’s not a far reach to think he could have changed his identity to Akihiko and went on to pursue the sciences his family’s company started with them. 

This holds especially true when you compare these two pictures. On one side is the Silver Samurai suit from The Wolverine. The other is taken from Nick Fury #7, Akihiko’s Shogun Mecha suit. 

Marvel is known for hiding details from fans to set up future movies and this tiny Endgame moment is a perfect storm. It bridges worlds and further expands on the multi-verse and alternate timelines bringing the Silver Samurai to the universe connecting the X-Men and their gallery of villains. It sets up Viper looking to head Hydra, which very coincidently is who was head of the organization in the comic books when Sam Wilson took up the mantle of Captain America. The prisoners, broken free from the Raft, could easily include members of the Sinister Six for the next Spiderman installment. The ramifications are massive and if true would be a brilliant and believable future for the MCU. 

  • Andrew Smith 
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