Messages from Midgard #13- The Four Thors
This week marks the end of both “War of the Realms” and the Messages from Midgard column. There are a few straggler tie-ins like Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and an Omega issue, which I will cover in its own review, but the core miniseries plus three ancillary tie-in minis and Jason Aaron’s arcs on Thor and Avengers wrap up this week. Plus there’s a fun Superior Spider-Man story where Peter Parker and, of all people, Gwenpool, teaching Doc Ock that heroism is about saving individuals and not just trying to glory hog the whole event. That privilege is reserved for Thor, of which there are four, because its their event.
War of the Realms #6
In War of the Realms #6, Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, and Matthew Wilson knuckle down to give both this event and basically Aaron’s seven year run on Thor one hell of a conclusion. It’s centered around a simple premise. If only Thor can break the magic circle and confront a Knull-infused Malekith, then why not bring four of them: Odinson, King Thor, Young Thor, and Jane Foster’s Thor, who now wields Mjolnir from the Ultimate Universe. What follows is an exercise in fighting, bickering, and true heroism while the rest of the heroes confront Laufey on Midgard.
Before digging into the fantastic things that Aaron does with both Thor and Jane Foster’s arcs, I would like to praise the visuals of Dauterman and Wilson, who really outdo themselves in issue six. Wilson’s palette is majestic and varied ranging from the eye of the storm to the clash of lightning on symbiote ooze and a snowstorm to end all snowstorms. Like the different hammers and weapons used by the Thors, Dauterman switches up his inking style to fit the scene from looser work when Malekith does anything symbiote-y to more clean polished art when Odinson forges Mjolnir anew in the eye of a storm. His attention to detail is uncanny, and he draws many epic moments like when Odinson punches his own hammer and memorable small ones like Screwbeard and Ivory Honeyshot doing their best Gimli and Legolas imitation at the end of the world.
One word that can be used to describe War of the Realms #6 is “satisfying”. Odinson has gone on a painful heroic journey that draws comparisons to the one his own father, Odin, went on to become All-Father sacrificing body parts to gain the wisdom and power to rule Asgard. There are also parallels to the journeys of Dionysus and Jesus Christ in his story as he humbles himself and suffers to save the whole world. But, lofty comparisons aside, this is really the story of a man who becomes a hero and “worthy” in spite of his flaws, which is a metaphor for most of the Marvel heroes, who have fantastic abilities and feet of clay. It is a rare sight to see such an iconic character, like Thor, grow and change over a run, and Jason Aaron has pulled this off with War of the Realms #6 being the finishing touch and earning an Overall Verdict of Buy.
War of the Realms: New Agents of Atlas #4
In New Agents of Atlas #4, this new pan-Asian superhero team finally gets their act together to assemble and prevent Sindr, the Fire Goblin queen from melting the polar ice caps. Greg Pak and artists Gang Hyuk Lim, Moy R, and Pop Mhan take their cues from third act of the 2012 Avengers film from Jimmy Woo playing the Nick Fury role and lying about Pele’s true nature to get the team to work together and lots of big epic splash pages of heroes doing team-up moves. However, with the exception of Brawn, Shang Chi, and the Filipina heroine Wave, I feel like I barely know these heroes so the big fight scenes look pretty, but feel like action figures in position, not characters reaching the end of their journey.
Pak, Lim, Federico Blee and the guest artists and colorists had a tall order introducing new characters and ones who had only appeared in Korean and Chinese comics as well as mobile games to a new audience. Having four issues and a big, yet underdeveloped baddie helped, but in the end, the cast of New Agents of Atlas was simply too large to get to know the new folks. Hopefully, the upcoming miniseries will take its time to develop their personalities as well as show off their cool costumes and powers. Unfortunately, New Agents of Atlas #4 earns an Overall Verdict of Pass despite its one genuinely memorable twist.
War of the Realms: Punisher #3
War of the Realms Punisher #3 features the same fantasy baddies as the rest of “War of the Realm’s” tie-ins, but Gerry Duggan, Marcelo Ferreira, Roberto Poggi, and Rachelle Rosenberg take a grittier, more violent, and at times, fatalistic approach to their story beginning with Frank Castle having guns pointed to his head by former mobsters. He gets out of this pickle pretty easily by swearing on the souls of dead wife and kids that he’ll spare the criminals once they get the civilians to safety. Most of them don’t have to worry about living as they’re immediately set upon by a squad of trolls; one of which Frank tortures in a chilling scene that makes the criminals realize that they’re not getting out of this alive too.
Duggan and Ferreira portray Frank Castle as a hardened soldier in War of the Realms Punisher #3, and his enemy is the criminal element, both mortal and otherworldly. Sure, he’ll get the civilians to safety in New Jersey, but he’ll also gun down the last criminal standing with him while the doctor he was assisting shrieks in terror. This is because Castle is as much of a monster and a force of nature as the trolls and Fire Goblins that he was gunning down or blowing up tanker trucks to stop. Duggan’s understanding of Frank Castle’s character, and that we can cheer for him to take out the bad guys and recoil at killing one in cold blood as well as the hellish visuals of Ferreira, Poggi, and Rosenberg earns War of the Realms Punisher #3 an Overall Verdict of Buy and definitely has me interested in Duggan’s upcoming Punisher Kill Krew series.
War of the Realms: Uncanny X-Men #3
Even though it’s nice to see Cyclops, Multiple Man, and your favorite former New Mutants defending Citi Field from Frost Giants, Matthew Rosenberg, Pere Perez, and Rachelle Rosenberg’s War of the Realms: Uncanny X-Men has been the weak link of the tie-in minis. Issue three is no exception with the pointless killing off of Sunspot, the repetitive dialogue of (dead in the main series) Wolfsbane’s lover Hrimhari, and a tacked on sequence with Dani Moonstar and the Valkyries even though this plot point was only touched upon at the end of issue one. It could have been a good hook for the miniseries and a through-line to the main action, but in the end, it’s too little, too late.
War of the Realms: Uncanny X-Men #3 does have a few cool moments like Multiple Man’s dupes luring the Frost Giants into a Limbo portal, a visceral claw on claw fight between Sabretooth and Wolfsbane, and Cyclops precision sniping Frost Giants. However, these are few and far between, and after three issues, this miniseries has really done nothing to justify its existence and earns an Overall Verdict of Pass. But the silver lining is that Jonathan Hickman is coming in a month and probably all these events/pointless character deaths will be retconned.
Jason Aaron, Scott Hepburn, and Matthew Wilson’s story in Thor #14 covers much of the same ground as War of the Realms #6, but from the POV of Young Thor as the Fantastic Four summon him from brooding and trying to lift Mjolnir to a fight for all ten realms. I read this almost directly after War of the Realms #6, and there are obvious re-draws of Russell Dauterman’s art although Hepburn has an earthier take on the material to match the boisterous, shit-talking Young Thor. The issue also has more direct connections to the last adventure of the three Thors in Aaron’s Thor, God of Thunder series and a similar art style although Hepburn is no Simon Bisley. There’s a lot of gruffness, talk about hammers, and an indirect reference to Back to the Future along the way.
However, compared to the standalone issues about Loki, Cul Borson, and even Gorilla-Man in Aaron’s tie-in issues of Thor and Avengers, Thor #14 seems less essential because Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman portrayed Young Thor’s carelessness, brashness, and adventurous nature so well in War of the Realms #6. He does get a cool action sequence against a gnarly Hepburn-drawn Venom symbiote and lifts Mjolnir in a moment that again proves that “worthiness” and heroism is not something bestowed externally, but internally. Most of the material in Thor #14 is covered in Realms #6, but that scene and the sheer joy that Aaron gets at writing Young Thor earns the issue an Overall Verdict of Read.
Avengers #20 is yet another standalone success from Jason Aaron, Ed McGuinness, Mark Morales, and Jason Keith and is a metafictional look at She-Hulk, and how she’s changed as a character in the past few years. The opening sequence is brilliant and set in side a Wakandan therapy simulation where She-Hulk looks at a pinup of the John Byrne version of her and beats up a version of her that looks like it was drawn by Javier Pulido. The comic is a narration about how she likes embracing the monster and getting to beat up enemies with her new powers instead of being sexually harassed while in costume. Unlike Bruce Banner, she enjoys the freedom of being Hulk, and McGuinness and Morales use wide panels to show the swath of destruction she causes with her bulging forearms.
Using the character of She-Hulk as a case study, Avengers #20 is also a bigger commentary about how women have to fit pre-conceived roles in the workforce (Even if that means the Avengers.) and society and get pushback whenever they’re assertive or show anger. Deadpool asking She-Hulk why she doesn’t crack jokes or break the fourth wall any more is the metafictional version of a male co-worker asking a woman why she doesn’t smile. And, on a more a geeky level, this issue also has some foreshadowing of Aaron’s future plans for the Avengers title with the help of omniscient Daredevil showing Aaron can work on both a micro and macro level. Avengers #20 is a fantastic, holistic character study of She-Hulk and her recent developments and easily earns an Overall Verdict of Buy with a side dish of allusions to Immortal Hulk.
Superior Spider-Man #8
Superior Spider-Man continues to be an underrated delight and study in ego from Christos Gage, Lan Medina, Cam Smith, and Andy Troy. Doc Ock continues to be terrible at reading the room, er, event and wants to take out Malekith all by himself with the help of the Fantastic Four and West Coast Avengers. He doesn’t want to protect New York City, but basically hack America Chavez’s portal abilities to get to what he thinks is the real action. This ends up backfiring, and he gets one hell of a dressing down from Spider-Man in the nature of heroism while Spider-Man is wearing his helmet from the Land of Giants one-shot and is immediately abandoned by his “minions” aka the West Coast Avengers.
Gage and Medina use the wide scope of “War of Realms” to tell an entertaining and at times fourth wall breaking (Thanks to Gwenpool.) story about how heroism isn’t just about defeating the final boss, but saving one person from death and danger. Having Spider-Man deliver the lecture about this topic makes sense because for the most part, he has focused on protecting his neighborhood instead of mixing it up with gods and monsters. Gage’s script is self-aware, and Medina and Smith have a classic, illustrator style approach where it is easy to follow the action even in a Southern California blizzard. For commenting on the nature of heroism, being funny as hell, and having plentiful America Chavez side eye, Superior Spider-Man #8 earns an Overall Verdict of Buy.
War of the Realms #6 was the best ending to a summer Marvel event since Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s Secret Wars, and it shipped on time too. One thing that these two events shared in common is that they were a culmination of two macro-stories, namely, Jason Aaron’s Thor run and Hickman’s Fantastic Four-Ultimates-Avengers/New Avengers project. The War of the Realms has been foreshadowed for years, and the early battles were fought in the pages of Mighty Thor and Thor so the event was really just icing on the cake. Sometimes, the montage of the different battles were a little insufferable, but when Aaron, Dauterman, and Wilson grabbed onto the character journeys of Odinson and Jane Foster, the book really sung. Nowhere was this more evident than in War of the Realms #6, and the spinoff I’m most excited for is Valkyrie even if I’m little disappointed that Tessa Thompson’s take on the character is nowhere in sight although Al Ewing may pluck her from somewhere in the multiverse.