Messages from Midgard #1

Welcome to Messages from Midgard #1, the weekly “War of the Realms” column where I will break down every core issue and tie-in of Marvel’s blockbuster summer event. As a fan of both the superhero and fantasy genres (I was into Lord of the Rings almost a decade before I picked up my first comic.), I’m cautiously excited for this event. I mean, Punisher shooting Elves in one of those classic, sketchy New York City warehouse is pretty epic, and that’s only one of many things that happen in War of the Realms #1.

A couple reasons I’m intrigued by “War of the Realms” and wanted to this column is, first, I think that it flows organically out of Jason Aaron‘s seven year Thor story starring both Odinson and Jane Foster and surviving numerous new #1’s, additional adjectives, minis, and events. It was first mentioned way back in 2013’s heavy metal meditation on godhood that was Thor, God of Thunder. To be honest, I thought Malekith showing up was just a forced tie-in to the underwhelming Thor: The Dark World film, but Aaron definitely proved me wrong. In his work on Thor, he has crafted tremendous arcs for characters like Odin, Loki, Freyja, Volstagg, and even baddies like Laufey, Cul Borson, and the corrupt Roxxon CEO Dario Agger. And these get to be played out loud on Marvel’s biggest stage.

The other reason is that I’ve sat out the last couple Marvel events. I didn’t read anything connected to “Infinity Wars” or “Spidergeddon” and was only hate reading the main Secret Empire series in the end. (I have checked out some of the X-Men stuff like Extermination and “Age of X-Man“.) The break was nice, but I kind of want to give them another stab and checking out one connected to one of the better superhero runs of the 2010s could prove to be a good move.

In the future, most columns won’t have a 300 word introduction, but will have a one paragraph headline followed by analysis of each issue of War of the Realms and its tie-ins plus if you should buy, read, or pass each one. It will close with my general opinion of the event and tie-in’s so far and end on my favorite panel of the week. (I might even answer reader questions.) Without further ado, let the “War” begin!

War of the Realms #1

Don’t take out that second mortgage or pack a lunch instead of buying one today, War of the Realms #1 is the only “War of the Realms” related material out this week from Marvel. Writer Jason Aaron, artist Russell Dauterman, and colorist Matthew Wilson give the comic and series the full fantasy novel treatment with a double page spread map of the Ten Realms with Midgard in the center. There is a lot of exposition about previous events in the War of the Realms that have been told in different Thor comics, but I’m not super bad about because it’s the first issue. Also, Aaron tries to offset it with humor like Spider-Man swinging around in the Bronx and running into Freyja fighting off Dark Elf assassins on a brownstone roof top.

Aaron and Dauterman also hit some strong character beats in War of the Realms #1 beyond Malekith and his Dark Cabal attack Midgard and various superheroes. The first character that appears in this comic is Odin, who because of his unwillingness to change and estranged relationship with his wife and sons, has led him to sit in a ruined Asgard. He’s sad, alone, and a perfect target to be Julius Caesar’d by some Dark Elf assassins. This is just the first issue so he will probably come back, but even though he got help for his alcoholism in a previous issue of Thor and bonded with Robbie Reyes’ Ghost Rider in a previous issue of Avengers, it was too late. His failures have a cost, namely, death. Dauterman serves up some fantastic panel compositions for his last moments that look like a gleaming dagger before an overhead shot of the stabbing assassins. Wilson uses golden colors before muting them as Odin meets his end.

Another character that is written reasonably well in War of the Realms #1 is Loki whose motivation as far as I can tell is that he wants bring on the end of the all realms, not some Dark Elf played by Christopher Eccleston in heavy makeup. He understands Malekith’s plan to take out and isolate the big Asgardian players (Odin, Thor, Freyja) and even protects Freyja by cutting off his father, Laufey’s, hand. But then he gets taken off the board via cannibalism. This is definitely a fake-out for the Father of Lies, and hopefully, Aaron has a big plan up his sleeve a la Kieron Gillen in Journey into Mystery and not just a generic wild card he can use to spice up plots. In Loki’s “final” moments, Dauterman does an extreme close-up of his face to show his vulnerability around his biological father and beloved, adopted mother. His ability to tease out these moments and beats visually as well as draw epic battle sequences are why he is such a good fit for this book.

The rest of War of the Realms #1 is really just a slugfest starring the cast of Thor, the cast of Avengers, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Punisher, Wolverine, and Dr. Strange. Aaron uses quips to get down to the essence of each player and then turns them loose with Spider-Man playing the role of long time Marvel fan, who is new this whole of “War of the Realms” thing. He and the various Asgardians have a whole mismatched comedy vibe going, and Spidey as well as Aaron’s gift for humor keeps the story from being action figures moving around or overly melodramatic.

It’s nice to have the first issue of an event actually have an action set piece and not just focus on aftermath or talking heads, and Russell Dauterman’s art has an easy to follow, Mike Allred quality to it. Captain America’s shield has motion lines, and the double page spreads are more than just pin-ups. Even if War of the Realms is just a generic sub-fantasy creatures for aliens-invasion storyline, the book will be worth checking for his nuanced figure work, layouts, and Matthew Wilson’s colors alone that all come together in the final page that seems to be an homage to an underrated scene in Avengers Infinity War.

War of the Realms #1 doesn’t have any shocking, cliffhanger endings, but Jason Aaron does solid work with Loki, Thor, Odin, and Freyja’s arcs to show that this a family epic that happens to an epic epic now. Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson create interesting layouts and compositions even in the crowd scenes as Dauterman becomes the heir of George Perez in this way. It’s fun to go back and pore over different panels and find fun details like a Dark Elf killing a civilian with a Howard the Duck standee although it’s easy to find the focus of each panel in the early go-round.

The amount of exposition might piss off some of the Jason Aaron reading faithful, but fun battle scenes that don’t drown out all the character beats makes War of the Realms #1 a solid start to the event. I actually want to see what Loki is up to in Thor and see Punisher, Wolverine, and Daredevil’s interactions with various fantasy genre beings in War Scrolls. There are some real Hellboy: The Golden Army and Fellowship of the Ring prologue vibes, and it’s worth reading. Overall Verdict: Buy

Panel of the Week

In an issue full of loud action, it's the small panel of Cap knocking out yet another loud mouth totalitarian that has an impact. (Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, Matthew Wilson in War of the Realms #1
In an issue full of loud action, it’s the small panel of Cap knocking out yet another loud mouth totalitarian that has an impact. (Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, Matthew Wilson in War of the Realms #1)