Messages from Midgard #3: Daredevil Rules, Punisher Drools
Wait, I thought this was an Asgard-centric event? Even though the bad guys are all elves, trolls, giants, and evil minotaur CEOs, the predominantly Big Apple-centric setting of War of the Realms #1 and #2 allows for some of Marvel’s street level vigilante to shine (Daredevil) or fall flat on their faces (Punisher). This week’s issue of War of the Realms and its tie-ins were the true definition of a mixed bag. War of the Realms #2 continued and wrapped up the big New York battle from the previous issue before spending a lot of its page count setting up various upcoming tie-ins in a pretty way from artist Russell Dauterman and colorist Matthew Wilson. Plot-wise, there’s one small surprise, and we’re finally up to the events described in last week’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl tie-in. Speaking of tie-ins, they run the gamut from the instant classic that is Thor #12 to the should have been a one-shot and the first true stinker of “War of the Realms” that is War of the Realms: Punisher #1. In the middle is War of the Realms: War Scrolls #1, which tells some entertaining side-stories about Daredevil, the Warriors Three, and Wolverine (Confession: I don’t know how he’s back from the dead.) and squanders a cult book creator reunion.
War of the Realms #2
Feeling a little nostalgic for the 1980s, writer Jason Aaron titles this story “Midgard Massacre” in homage to the “Mutant Massacre” crossover where Morlocks were killed by Reavers, and characters like Daredevil, Thor, and the Power Pack showed up in X-books. A bunch of seemingly mismatched characters show up in War of the Realms #2, but Aaron, Russell Dauterman, and Matthew Wilson’s story lacks the emotional resonance of the previous Massacre until the final page. Plus Aaron and Dauterman wring out some great moments for Jane Foster and Freya beneath the fighting/strategic retreats. Jane gets to ride Valkyrie’s horse, Aragorn, fight with a sword, and is hinted to want to become Thor again even though it would mean the return of her cancer.
So, a big pitched battle in New York between superheroes and various fantasy creatures is an objectively cool idea and a reason why I decided to do this weekly column. However, it really starts to drag in War of the Realms #2 even with gorgeous Dauterman/Wilson tapestry pages to show the Valkyries entering the battle with a heavily wounded Odin to turn the tide Wagner style. Aaron tries to do the whole Battle of Hoth, “good guys get their butts kicked and retreat to another area” plot maneuver and succeeds in getting all the heroes from point A to point B, but stumbles in the execution. They don’t lose because they’re overwhelmed by sheer numbers, but because Dr. Strange’s teleport spell malfunctioned, which is a weak plot device featuring a tangential character. We don’t even see the costs of his spells like in Bendis and Hickman’s Avengers runs.
The big plot development other than a death for a character, who is already in a grey area between life and death and is about to be swapped out with her more popular movie version, is Malekith and his forces taking over Midgard. This is told to us with word balloons instead of on-panel, or in the tie-ins, which mainly take place in New York. There’s no heroic last stand, or emotional connection, but Aaron rushes off to characters setting up the next issue or tie-in’s plot in expository dialogue with the occasional fish out of water joke like Luke Cage’s eye roll when he talks about fighting trolls in Harlem. War of the Realms #2 feels like a giant action figure battle with a slight touch of emotional resonance every time Jane Foster brandishes her sword, or when Freyja decides to lead the rescue mission to get Thor in Jotunheim. It barely gets the overall verdict of Read because of a harrowing final page, Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson’s art, and because it has the seeds of potential to be a great Freyja and/or superhero buddy team-up book.
For better or worse, the modern character of Loki will always be defined by the way Tom Hiddleston portrayed him in the MCU films and the way Kieron Gillen wrote him in Journey into Mystery and Young Avengers doing clever plotting, world-building, and crafting a character that desperately wants to change, but can’t. These stories were often in the middle of event tie-ins, and Jason Aaron and Mike Del Mundo join this tradition in Thor #12, which is Journey into Mystery meets A Christmas Carol. Loki is being eaten by his own father, Laufey the Frost Giant, and wants to just die when he’s visited by his past, present-ish (Kid Loki), and future self aka Loki the NecroGod. Aaron has established the past and future selves in various flashback and flashforward stories in Thor so he can get straight to the character study part.
Thor #12 is full of “a-ha” moments beginning when Loki realizes that he basically created the villain Malekith when he orchestrated a war between the Dark Elves and trolls, and young Malekith was subjected to the trauma of constantly burning the corpses of his people into a mass grave. He and his past sins are responsible for the War of the Realms, and Del Mundo nails this moment of recognition with great facial expression work for an artist who is mostly known for his layouts and Heavy Metal approach to superhero stories. He uses a varying color palette as Loki goes from the fires of Svartalfheim to the cold of Jotunheim and finally ooey gooey stained glass of the end of all things. This issue is easily my favorite work of his since Elektra.
But Thor #12 is more than great art. Jason Aaron offers a pinpoint look into how Loki is just a man who has been lying to himself all his life about who he is and the consequences of his actions beginning with one about how his magic tutor, Eldred, would have died in a dungeon any way. This lie led to others and became Loki’s character and story that he is fated to follow even though fate, er, the Norns are off the table in Aaron’s Thor run. This self-deception coupled with a death wish persists until the end of time, or currently, in some kind of hellscape caused by being eaten by his own father. Even if you’ve sworn off “War of the Realms”, Thor #12’s overall verdict is a Read because of Mike Del Mundo’s triple threat of art styles and Jason Aaron’s razor sharp characterization of Loki that is conversation with Gillen’s work while also breaking fantastic new ground.
War of the Realms: War Scrolls #1
One of my favorite pleasures from event comics are the anthology miniseries that tell either serial or one-shot stories about fan favorite D-list characters or give up and coming creators a chance to play in a shared universe sandbox. War of the Realms: War Scrolls #1 has a good amount of this with Josh Trujillo (Dodge City) and Ricardo Lopez-Ortiz (Kingpin) doing a combo Warriors Three and Cloak and Dagger story while Ram V (Paradiso) and Cafu (Imperium) tell the story of an Asian-American teenager’s experience with Wolverine. Chip Zdarsky, Joe Quinones, and Rico Renzi’s return to Howard the Duck is well-drawn, if underwhelming and sophomoric. This is made up for by an intelligent, wonderful Daredevil by Jason Aaron and drawn by Andrea Sorrentino in a looser style with colors by Matthew Wilson that should have gotten its own mini and is the multi part serial of the bunch.
Jason Aaron’s Thor: The God of Thunder (Especially the “God Butcher” arc.) was as much theodicy as Viking metal space opera, and his work on the various Asgardians have touched on big questions, like faith, belief, fate, and higher powers, from a predominantly skeptical point of view. So, it’s very intriguing to see him write Marvel’s man of faith, Daredevil, who is shocked when he meets Thor and his heartbeat is steady when talking about being a god.
Plus the flashback is a chance for Sorrentino to kick it Silver Age style, Ben-Day dots and all. The present narrative features Daredevil playing the role of street level hero, protecting his neighborhood from otherworldly threats, and then getting an Asgardian upgrade that will be described in an upcoming issue of War of the Realms. It’s nice to see one of Marvel’s consistently best written and drawn heroes play a key role in an event comic, and Kingpin’s role in the story makes my mouth water. There’s also the aforementioned Andrea Sorrentino style switch up that isn’t at the cost of making his work less iconic beginning with a little Frost Giant dismemberment.
Speaking of cartooning, Trujillo, Lopez-Ortiz, and colorist Felipe Sobreiro go for lower stakes, but don’t skimp on the fun in their Warriors Three story where Hogun, Fandral, and Hildegarde have to drag an indisposed Volstagg to the Sanctum Sanctorum. There’s action, derring do, Shakespearean English type banter, and slapstick humor with a side of horror as they meet up with Cloak and Dagger and protect the ordinary citizens of New York on the way to their destination. Ram V and Cafu’s Wolverine story is in a similar vein as teens named Jae and Chris rush through the streets of New York to make it to the Sanctum Sanctorum and watch Logan’s six along the way. Cafu’s renderings are a little stiff, but Ram V truly believes in the inspirational power of superheroes even ones that are rough around the edges. His banter between Wolverine and Punisher is also deadpan funny too, which makes it all the more sad that Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones return to Howard the Duck isn’t witty, satirical, and filled with sight gags, but one long pee joke. However, War Scrolls #1’s overall verdict is still Read, and I’m very excited to see what Jason Aaron and Andrea Sorrentino do with Daredevil and Kingpin.
War of the Realms: Punisher #1
On the surface, I thought that War of the Realms: Punisher #1 and “War of the Realms” was just an excuse for Frank Castle to kill things with no moral dilemmas, and unfortunately, I was right. Writer Gerry Duggan, and capital “G” gritty artists Marcelo Ferreira and Roberto Poggi along with solid colorist Rachelle Rosenberg make the Punisher a heroic figure compared to the dark elves and fire trolls he fights and the prisoners he recruits as allies to escort patients from a hospital in Manhattan through the Lincoln Tunnel into New Jersey. Old Uncle Frank will ignore your weed stash in return for some piano wire, not take revenge on a Frost Giant to get a man out of a burning car, and even shoot a criminal in the head to show what happens if you don’t help him escort some “innocent” patients to Jersey.
The Punisher shooting elves and trolls while helping people get from New York to New Jersey with hardened criminals as allies would make a decent action-oriented one-shot. Like a high fantasy version of The Raid, but with a vigilante, not a cop. However, War of the Realms: The Punisher #1 spends almost its entire page time on Frank Castle hero worship and mowing down purely evil creatures and only sets up its premise at the very end saving the tunnel action bits for the upcoming two issues.
War of the Realms: The Punisher #1’s is drawn in a superhero house style with thicker and darker inks from Roberto Poggi and flashes of powerful colors from Rachelle Rosenberg like when a car becomes almost entirely flame. It’s the comic book equivalent of Eli Roth’s footloose and conscience free Death Wish remake with extra trolls, giants, and elves and no pesky moral grey areas. It’s no surprise that its overall verdict is Pass.
Two issues in, and Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, and Matthew Wilson are still in pure action figure geek mode matching up a plethora of superheroes against fantasy races established in their work on Thor’s solo title. There are still compelling stories between the fights, obvious tie-in setups, and off panel plot developments like Aaron and Mike Del Mundo’s captivating standalone Loki story in Thor #12, Aaron and Andrea Sorrentino’s intriguing Daredevil/Kingpin serial, and Josh Trujillo and Ricardo Lopez-Ortiz’s Warriors Three short. But there are also stinkers like War of the Realms: Punisher, an ill-fated Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones Howard the Duck reunion, and hopefully not the core War of the Realms miniseries. But, hey, at least, we have a few more issues of Sorrentino drawing Daredevil.