Does Marvel Comics employ actual, real-life psychics? How did they know that 2020 would be the end of us all?
And Jim Starlin’s 2003 Marvel Universe: The End was certainly a miss. The six-issue miniseries featuring Thanos once again striving for godhood, achieving it, and then relinquishing it (yes, sometimes the classics do go out of style) didn’t have much in common with the other The End issues and series of that year, because they were all done by different creative teams, portraying possible final fates of our favorite heroes in drastically different settings.
This year’s spiritual successor, a collection of six unrelated The End one-shots by today’s talent, which tackle different characters than the previous installments, is similar in both the breadth of different futures seen, and in the varying artistic takes across creative teams.
The legendary Erik Larsen kicks things off, both writing and drawing Captain America: The End, and I’ll be honest: it’s pretty rough. Imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery, but don’t ape the king if you don’t have the chops. Larsen’s attempt at Jack Kirby’s famous use of perspective doesn’t have the same lively energy, and Dono Sánchez-Almara‘s vibrant colors can’t save it. The plot is fairly standard, but the dialogue is as repetitive as a metronome that ticks “FREEDOM” on one end and “JUSTICE” on the other.
Kelly Thompson naturally pens Captain Marvel: The End, a tale that opens with Carol Danvers in deep space, afraid to return home after humanity fell when she couldn’t get there in time to help. It’s touching to see her finally reunite with her surviving colleagues and their descendants, but Carol’s solution to their problems is a little left field and anticlimactic. Carmen Carnero draws some cool, big monsters, and David Curiel’s colors make things literally sparkle.
Things pick up when Deadpool’s original solo scribe, Joe Kelly, gives us his take on how the Regeneratin’ Degenerate will finally meet his maker. Well, he actually gives us *12* different endings, preceded by a longer, genuinely touching tale that only half-involves Lady Death’s skeletal sultriness. Mike Hawthorne also returns to the character, so you know he’s gonna get those facial expressions right, and Ruth Redmond’s colors are appropriately psychedelic when need be.
Leah Williams tackles Dr. Strange: The End, in which the Sorcerer Supreme, in a world where almost all magic has died, is forced to do tarot readings for punks to get by. An argument with the remains of Wong sets Strange on a humorous journey across the world to set things right, and to alert the one person who can turn it all around. Filipe Andrade’s pencils are scratchy and angular, which feels like a bit of a mismatch for this story, but Chris O’Halloran’s colors are a lesson in subdued trippiness.
Miles Morales: The End introduces a paradise in Brooklyn, while the the rest of the world burns. Saladin Ahmed’s Old Man Miles is wise enough to know you need joy, even in the worst of times, if there’s any point to living. There’s important social commentary here, though it’s a little heavy-handed. Damion Scott’s art is funky and exaggerated, as in many Spider-Man stories, but Dono Sánchez-Almara’s colors are a little too bright for the setting.
Of course, what everyone’s really here for is Venom: The End, written by Adam Warren and drawn by Jeffrey “Chamba” Cruise. A lot’s been said about it, and a lot’s said in it. There’s no dialogue and the whole thing is narrated by an unknown being, though he must be pretty powerful to survive the end and rebirth of all things a trillion years in the future. That’s when the immortal Venom takes it upon itself to defend all life against the AI superconsciousness that wants to wipe it out. It’s an interesting, intricate narrative, but the language may be a bit too techno-babble-y for some.
Cruz’s symbiotes are bulky yet sleek, with great, ghoulish grins. Some headshot inserts of former hosts are sprinkled in, which is a nice touch, but they could have used a little more variety in presentation. The colors of Venom: The End, done by Guru-eFX, are stark and distinct, even when differentiating between different darker hues.
The End is about par for the course for these kinds of efforts, and for collections in general. Some good, some bad, and a lot in between. But on the same note, there may be something for everyone here — Larsen’s first work on Captain America, old favorites returning to Deadpool, current creatives giving their long-term visions, and and a bonkers mind-f*ck at the end of space and time.