When Dan (@danthemcmahon) first asked me to review this series, I was quietly a little hesitant. With a few exceptions, I’m not really a “fantasy person”, as it often feels like a lot of entries in the genre are weighed down by well-meaning but uninteresting attempts to capture the spirit of Tolkien. But as I looked into End After End, I saw that a lot of people who enjoyed it were in the same boat as me: they didn’t overtly dislike fantasy, but it just wasn’t their thing. The thing that really pushed me to put aside my biases was an article on Comics XF where co-writer David Andry confesses that when he approached the book’s other co-writer, Tim Daniel, with an idea for a new comic, Daniel responded by saying that he’d write “anything but fantasy.”
I feel like Daniel’s attitude really helped shape End After End for the better. It is a fantasy story, but Daniel’s disinterest in the genre never comes across as resentment. It’s perfectly balanced by Andry’s genuine enthusiasm for swords and sorcery. The end result of their collaboration is a take on fantasy that is free of the genre’s excesses. There are no prophecies or extensive exposition drops about decades of fictional history. End After End has a rather blunt approach to world-building that immerses you immediately rather than subject you to lengthy explanations.
This is best demonstrated by the first issue’s opening, where our protagonist, Walt Willem, is hit by a train and immediately finds himself in an afterlife that’s like the magical equivalent of Normandy Beach on D-day. Walt has no time to reflect on what has just happened because an old man with fairy wings begins giving him moment-to-moment instructions on how not to die. While he finds himself in a realm that’s epic in scale like those found in other fantasy stories, it’s not a place of wonder and intricacies that demands the reader’s attention at its characters’ expense. Walt isn’t a one-note hero setting out to fulfill some kind of destiny. He’s trying to survive an indifferent world that only happens to be stranger than our own. There’s a franticness to the pacing that really sells the ugliness of war: we’re with Walt as he stumbles from one horrific display of violence to the next. This gripping sense of intimacy and urgency is what really raises this above other works of fantasy.
Sunando C does a remarkable job at providing art that carries both the beauty of fantasy and the rough grittiness of war at the same time. Splash pages of massive battles have an ideal amount of focus on the individuals vs. the larger crowd and action, which isn’t always an easy ratio for artists to hit.
I’m particularly impressed by Kurt Michael Russel’s coloring. Walt and everyone else from the regular world are presented in subdued hues, and more vibrant colors are given to the fantastical, magical characters. Many of the human soldiers fade into the earthly green of the background, while the forces of evil that they’re battling are stark black skeletons burning with purple energy. Even the old fairy man is wearing a shade of brown that’s bright and orangish in a way that makes him stand out in the crowd. In some scenes, Russel’s techniques are more obvious, while in others, they’re more subtle, but they always enhance the tone of the art and story. End After End was a great read and a very pleasant surprise overall. If you love fantasy, you’ll definitely dig it, and if you don’t, then take my advice and don’t let that hold you back from checking it out.