My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The origins of the graphic novel are widely debated. While most of us nerds point to Will Eisner’s seminal A Contract with God as the first of its kind, without a unified definition of the format, or indeed of the comics medium to begin with, it’s easy to make an argument for ancient cave paintings and codices.
For the term graphic novel, however, we can thank Jim Starlin and the good folks at Marvel who, in 1982, killed off the trippy cosmic hero in the company’s first ever original book-length, lushly published comic book, The Death of Captain Marvel. The material was brand-new, not a collection of republished individual monthly issues. Today, the term graphic novel is used for any funnybook dressed up for the bookshelf and, for Marvel, that has traditionally meant collected editions of storylines from the monthly periodicals.
Now, for the first time in what seems decades, Marvel is back in the original graphic novel business (DC has already been doing this for some time, both with capes-n’-tights heroes and many of its Vertigo titles). Warren Ellis, who gained comics fame with DC’s Transmetropolitan and flexed his Marvel muscles with the excellent “Extremis” story in Iron Man, writes an Avengers melee that will appeal to both new fans lured in by the movies, as it features all the cinematic characters, as well as existing fans who have been loving the inclusion of Wolverine (and, to a lesser extent, the new Captain Marvel) into the roll call.
And, really, it is, for the most part, a big, gorgeous superhero slugfest. Tony Stark sets it up pretty effectively:
Mike McKone’s art is pretty great, and Ellis is fantastic with the dialogue. Throw in a parallel to modern drone warfare, and the moral question as to the validity of weapons manufacturing, and you have an effective use of the heroes of modern mythology to bring into focus the fallacies of modern society. And it looks pretty nice on the bookshelf.