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Messages from Midgard Finale: The Good and Bad of War of the Realms

Just when you thought you’d seen the last of me, here’s another installment of “Messages from Midgard“. This isn’t a column length analysis of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #46, which was the final “War of the Realms” tie-in to come out although I will mention Ryan North, Derek Charm, and Rico Renzi‘s hilarious and clever work with Doreen Green and the Norse squirrel god of chaos Ratatoskr later. No, I have come to survey the wreckage of “War of the Realms” and sift out what worked and what didn’t as well as the memorable moments and the comics that will gather dust in the quarter/dollar/whatever currency inflates to bin at the comic cons and stores of the future.

Without further ado, here’s “War of the Realms: The Good and the Bad“.


The Good

1. Thor’s Character Arc

The core War of the Realms series was at its finest when Jason Aaron remembers that he and Thor have been on a seven year journey together, and this event is the climax. Sure, the montages of Fire Goblin and Frost Giant destruction, superheroes making inane Tolkien and DnD quips, and Punisher shooting Elves are fun. However, the series clicks when it focuses on Thor feeling guilt for the death of the Valkyries and Loki, going on a berserker rage, returning with one arm, and then making sacrifices to not just become a hero, but the All-Father of Asgard. Tom Taylor does a good job enhancing this main narrative in his Land of the Giants tie-in where Wolverine tells his teammates to let Thor let his berserker rage burn out and kill Giants before he is ready begin the next step of his journey.

Despite the continent and realm spanning tie-ins and some issues in the middle, which feel like trailers for more interesting comics with cool battles, Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman craft a robust arc for Thor. They also make a great one for Jane Foster too as she evacuates New York, takes on the role of All-Mother in Freyja’s absence, wields War Thor’s helmet, and finally becomes the new Valkyrie. Superhero comics are all about the illusion of change, but it’s cool to look back and see a damsel-in-distress nurse battle cancer, become the goddess of Thunder, revoke that mantle, and find new ways to be heroic in War of the Realms. Basically, people who started reading comics in the 2010s will only see Jane Foster as a hero thanks to the work of Aaron, Dauterman, and Matthew Wilson.


Image result for russell dauterman war of the realms

2. Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson’s Visuals

All my high-falutin’ words about responsibility, heroic journeys, and mythology aside, at its core, War of the Realms is a no holds barred good guys vs bad guys superhero throwdown except with fantasy baddies instead of the usual costumed villains. And this is all thanks to the art of Russell Dauterman and the colors of Matthew Wilson. Dauterman is like a modern day Art Adams (Who did the covers for War of the Realms) or George Perez and possesses a singular gift for splash pages with multiple characters and making them compositions that tell a story instead of glorified pinups. He excels at both layouts and character designs using the newly omniscient Daredevil as the reader’s POV on the action of the War of the Realms while coming up with cool riffs on characters like Odin’s Iron Man armor, Malekith becoming engorged by the Venom symbiote, or Freyja going full Vanir witch on Malekith and his minions.

Matthew Wilson really is the secret weapon throughout the “War of the Realms” event with his work on the core miniseries as well as issues of Thor and the Daredevil serial in War Scrolls. His colors are the ingredient that put the Frost in Frost Giants, the Fire in Fire Goblins, and the effects he uses in War of the Realms #6 make the storm caused by the four Thors truly cataclysmic. But his work isn’t all chaos and Kirby krackle, and there’s delightful minimalism to the big scenes like the reforging of Mjolnir or Daredevil gazing from above that cause one’s eye to linger on the panel and reread the issues that he has colored and that Russell Dauterman has drawn again.


3. Humor-Driven Tie-Ins

The “War of the Realms” tie-ins aren’t at their best when they’re trying to make serious points about the effects of war, like Dennis Hallum and Kim Jacinto did in War of the Realms Strikeforce: The War Avengers. They do work when they lean into the fun and lore of superhero comics and events. For example, in Superior Spider-Man, Gwenpool comments on the well-worn structure of event comics and how a B-Lister like Doc Ock doesn’t get to strike the final blow against Malekith, and in Skottie Young and Nic Klein’s Deadpool, the titular character fights trolls with the help of Australian stereotypes and the event’s single funny Lord of the Rings joke. There is also a great short story in War Scrolls #2 by Anthony Oliveira and Nick Robles where Loki (in disguise as Kate Bishop) and Wiccan go to drag brunch.

However, the two tie-ins that take the cake in the comedy department and are also fun road stories are The McElroys and Andre Araujo‘s Journey into Mystery and the aforementioned Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Most of the humor in Journey into Mystery comes from character idiosyncrasies, like Miles Morales not knowing what to do in a casino because he’s never left Brooklyn or Death Locket’s obsession with Westerns because those were the only movies her Life Model Decoy “uncle” had programmed. The jokes also come out of the wacky situations that the ensemble cast finds them in from a Skrull trailer park to a literal Western ghost town and a henchman convention.

In Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Ryan North, Derek Charm, and Rico Renzi send the titular character on a mission from Loki to take out the Frost Giants’ secret base in Canada. On the way, she gets a cute new costume from her mom, sees two Frost Giants make out, reads Robert Frost poetry on her own, and builds an unlikely friendship and alliance with Ratatoskr, a Norse squirrel deity that is tricksy even for Loki. North’s script continues to be joke-dense and full of fun facts about science and the world around us while insightfully showing Squirrel Girl at her conflict-avoiding and problem-solving finest. Her actions even have an effect on the larger event, and Derek Charm’s art continues to be heckin’ cute.


4. Standalone Character Studies

Jason Aaron plays some good 3D chess by using War of the Realms to tell the big, loud story of Malekith’s invasion and Thor finding confidence in himself again and his other titles Thor and Avengers to tell quieter (Sometimes) character studies and hint at big plans after the War. So, we get stories like Loki being visited by his past and future selves while being digested in his father’s stomach, a tale of Gorilla-Man’s day to day role at the Avengers HQ during a crisis situation, and She-Hulk dealing with people’s (and by extension readers’) perceptions of her and how she really wants to be. They provide a fresh outlook on the events of the War of the Realms that isn’t just omniscient narration or Thor’s quest.

Avengers #18-#20 end up pulling double duty by introducing the Squadron Supreme of America as well as fleshing out the aforementioned Gorilla-Man and She-Hulk and setting up future plans for Aaron’s works in the Marvel Universe. The Squadron is a great satire of nationalism with a bit of trolling towards the DC Universe, and Aaron wisely puts them in an ancillary book to not detract from “War of the Realms”. The same goes with Gorilla-Man, who is in cahoots with the imprisoned Dracula meaning that the King of the Damned still has a role to play in this book’s events. And none of this is mentioned in the core War of the Realms mini, who only spends a solitary panel setting up Marvel’s next event “Absolute Carnage” as Venom slithers away from Malekith’s Necrosword. It’s nice to enjoy the ride/event you’re on before thinking about the next one.


The Bad

5. Mediocre Minis

Most Big Two events have three to six issue miniseries to add depth to major supporting characters, give B-list heroes a showcase, or just to make money. Sadly, most of “War of the Realms'” minis were more miss than hit with the exception of Journey into Mystery and the anthology series War Scrolls. I also personally liked the end of War of the Realms: Punisher and its portrayal of Frank Castle as a defender of innocents and unrelenting executioner of criminals even if it didn’t connect to his portrayal in the event possible.

However, the rest of “War of the Realms'” minis were either untapped potential or just plain stinkers. New Agents of Atlas introduced a new team of Pan-Asian superheroes, but became overwhelmed by its ensemble cast and its intriguing character designs didn’t translate well to its interior art. Giant-Man had a madcap concept of Marvel’s size-changing heroes taking out the “source” of the Frost Giants, Ymir. But it went off the rails by its third issue with a villain who was shoehorned in and an artist that was really bad at staging and establishing scenes.

Spider-Man and the League of Realms had a cool concept of Spider-Man leading representatives from the other nine realms into battle, but it constantly changed settings, switched bad guy/threat on the fly, and like New Agents of Atlas, didn’t make me care enough about its ensemble cast. The worst tie-in of all was War of the Realms: Uncanny X-Men which had a decent premise of the X-Men defending New York, but shoehorned in awkward connections to Norse mythology, killed off Sunspot for no reason and had no focus even though Sabretooth would have made a great villain. Thankfully, it will probably be all retconned when Jonathan Hickman begins his X-Men run.

If you stick to the core miniseries plus the Thor, Avengers, War Scrolls, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, and Journey into Mystery tie-ins (I can also vouch for Cullen Bunn’s work on Asgardians of the Galaxy and Venom.), “War of the Realms” is a good time. First and foremost, it works as an event because it’s a culmination of seven years of work that Jason Aaron has done with Thor, Jane Foster, Odin, Freyja, Asgard, and the non-Midgard Realms instead of trying to tie into an MCU movie. In fact, much of the current MCU Thor’s arc seems inspired by the work that Aaron has done throughout his run.

Messages from Midgard #9 – Mimosas with Loki

This was a really enjoyable week in “War of the Realms” country with all kinds of heroic happenings going on from Spider-Man choosing to negotiate with and not fight both the Angels of Heven and the Nigerian army in League of the Realms #2 to Cul Borson finding redemption in Thor #13. This week also marks the return of anthology War Scrolls, which features one of Marvel’s best stories of 2019, namely, Wiccan going to drag brunch with Loki. Speaking of drag brunch, “War of the Realms” also got a head start on Pride Month by featuring LGBTQ characters in both League of the Realms #2 and War Scrolls even though the first one is a little more tragic as the angel Fernade mourns over her lost love, Anemone.

War of the Realms: War Scrolls #2

War Scrolls is really one of the “War of the Realms” tie-ins that I wish got more than three issues, especially when we’re blessed with a trio of stories that like we got in issue two. First up is the part two of Jason Aaron, Andrea Sorrentino, and Matthew Wilson’s Daredevil, God of Fear serial, which cosmic sizes a classic battle between Daredevil and the Kingpin. But, before things go from Netflix to Man of Steel, Aaron and Sorrentino do some chilling characterization in a Ben-Day dot flashback where Daredevil prays that he won’t beat a mass murderer to death. Wilson’ color palette switch from flat and old school to majestic fantasy mode helps the story keep its momentum, and although he’s a bad guy, it’s fun to see Wilson Fisk get one up on Malekith and the Dark Elves.

The second serial is a Doctor Strange one from Devin Grayson (Nice to see her getting work again), Paul Davidson, and Andres Mossa. It show the effect of teleporting all the civilians and heroes in New York to the North Pole on Strange and is also cute and charming along the way. The main plot involves Dr. Strange preventing Nightmare from attacking this plane of existence, and Davidson and Mossa channel their inner Ditko with psychedelic art that wouldn’t be out of place in a head shop circa 1968. Grayson writes Dr. Strange as a heroic figure a la the Doctor or even Morpheus from Sandman, who admits his mistake of teleporting the superheroes out of New York and shows Nightmare that fear can be fought and resisted to. And he does this all while taking a nap. (A cute kid even tucks him in and gives him a stuffed animal.)

War Scrolls definitely saved the best for last, and that is a drag brunch story by Anthony Oliveira, Nick Robles, and Cris Peter featuring Hulking, Wiccan, and Loki in a mini-Young Avengers reunion. It’s funny, sad, and Kid Loki turns Thor into a bear on the first page. Oliveira and Robles spin the tale of Loki’s relationship with Wiccan and the Young Avengers, and how even though he may have manipulated them and even cast his lot with Malekith the Accursed that they still care about and support him. The story is in direct conversation with Kieron Gillen’s Loki arc in both Journey into Mystery and Young Avengers and clears up loose ends while providing the reason for why Loki wears a horned helmets. Plus Jean Grey and Emma Frost drag queens get into a fight, and Oliveira, Robles, and Peter create a vision of the Marvel universe that is beautifully queer. This story alone (The Daredevil and Dr. Strange ones were great too.) earns War Scrolls #2 an Overall Verdict of Buy.

War of the Realms: Spider-Man & the League of Realms #2

In Spider-Man & the League of Realms #2, Sean Ryan, Nico Leon, and Carlos Lopez basically have Spider-Man herding cats, er, trying to get people like Screwbeard and Ud the Troll, who are hardwired to fight, to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. However, they start with a tragic love story, and Lopez uses beautiful whites and reds to show the story of the Angels Fernande and Anemone, who was killed by Malekith because he just wanted to know what killing an angel felt like. Fernande was the enemy in the previous issue, but now she’s a staunch ally of Spider-Man and decides to help the resistance against the Angels of Heven in Nigeria.

But this issue isn’t all triumphant, and Leon gets the opportunity to show Screwbeard, Ud, and Ivory Honeyshot, whose realm was the first one conquered by Malekith, shooting and fighting their way through Rome. The measured conversation and protective spells of the first half of the issue are replaced with catchphrases, explosions, and a foe that might be beyond any of them. The blows that Malekith’s main lackey Kurse land are powerful reminders of the pointlessness of unceasing violence, and Spider-Man’s probably going to have clean up the mess in the next issue. Because of its mix of fine and cartoon-y art, still quirky ensemble cast, and story that shows the results of both war and diplomacy, League of Realms #2 earns an Overall Verdict of Buy.

Thor #13

In the Thor tie-in issues of “War of the Realms”, Jason Aaron and artist Mike Del Mundo have been doing a fantastic job of fleshing out the supporting Asgardian characters that have popped up throughout Aaron’s run. Cul Borson, the God of Fear and on a secret suicide mission from Odin, gets the treatment in Thor #13. Beginning in the present day with Cul surrounded by crying Dark Elf children, the comic is structured like a biography of the god with childhood flashbacks of him bullying Odin and eventually being banished to Midgard as the “Serpent”. As he fights through the mushroom mines of Svartalfheim, Cul is in conflict between wanting to be feared and loving and between caring for his little brother and wanting to usurp his throne.

Although the flashbacks include Cul overhearing arguments between Odin and Thor that made him wish he had a son and dark temptations from Malekith, Thor #13 is an action-oriented issue tempered by soul searching narration from Aaron. Del Mundo’s Cul cuts a dark figure in the sickly green of the swamps of Svartalfheim where Dark Elf children, who have been called unworthy, help build Malekith’s empire. He wants to leave them to die, but in a moment of supreme character development hacks off their chains. This leads to a resistance movement even if Cul never sees the fruits of his actions. He was a never a “good guy”, but in a tough moment, he did one heroic thing and can die without wasting his life. Cul’s last stand against the Dark Elves is pretty damn noble as Del Mundo fills his panels with bodies, and combined with Aaron’s insightful writing earns Thor #13 an Overall Verdict of Buy.

Giant-Man #2

“War of the Realms”‘ most random tie-in continues in Giant-Man #2 where Leah Williams fits Scott Lang, Raz Malhotra, Atlas, and Tom Foster into a fantasy quest narrative, and Marco Castiello’s art is still so shadowy and less than detailed that it is still difficult at times to immediately know who’s talking. (Tom’s shirtlessness, Atlas’ septum ring, Scott’s Ant-Man helmet, and Raz’s Skyrim do help.) In Hero’s Journey and college movie tradition, they end up facing a threshold guardian, who needs them to pay a toll and drink way too much at a party.

Williams’ gift for humor shines through in Giant-Man #2 with Tom’s knack for karaoke coming in handy when faced by Frost Giant locals, and it’s nice to know that there are some Dolly Parton fans in Jotunheim. Castiello also turns the nine panel grid into a grid of debauchery as Atlas keeps downing pints while tired dad Scott Lang passes out early. Also, the drinking songs are cleverly weaved into the plot of the miniseries as the team literally learns how Frost Giants are made and end the penultimate issue with a shot of their final obstacle and a side of how utterly expendable they are. By leaning into fantasy genre trappings and its characters’ dysfunctional personalities, Leah Williams and Marco Castiello create a fun event tie-in that earns an Overall Verdict of Read.

Fantastic Four #10

One thing that I loved about Fantastic Four #10 is that write Dan Slott and artists Paco Medina and Kevin Libanda start out by telling the story of the Fantastic Four moving to Yancy Street and Franklin and Valeria Richards trying to fit in with “regular” kids after working with the Future Foundation out in the multiverse and don’t force a tie-in. Franklin is struggling with the dwindling nature of his powers and going through an emo phase, and there’s a block party. Then, Slott introduces all the baddies from “War of the Realms” and connect it to the strength and resolve of the people of Yancy Street as Franklin realizes that growing up in this neighborhood and learning to never give up made Ben Grimm a hero long before the Thing.

I love how Slott writes Franklin and Valeria as ungrateful adolescents and not just cute kids with big brains and godlike powers. Franklin’s almost limitless superpowers have gone to his head, and it’s nice to see some of the kids in the neighborhood cut him down to size when he brags about his abilities instead of helping with art classes at the Grimm Community Center. However, this story nails the awkwardness of moving to a new area when you’re a kid, getting used to new people, and ways of doing things. It also shows that New York didn’t roll over when Malekith invaded, and best of all, introduces a friendship/rivalry between Moon Girl and Valeria that I hope gets fleshed out in future issues. Most of “War of the Realms” has involved street level heroes fighting cosmic threats, but Slott, Medina, and Libanda turn the tables and have the Fantastic Four protecting their neighborhood. This earns Fantastic Four #10 an Overall Verdict of Buy.


Although Marco Castiello’s giant blue Paul Rudd will haunt my dreams, this was probably one of the best weeks for “War of the Realms” with issues that focused on character and story and not making the millionth Dungeons and Dragons/Lord of the Rings reference. Even if Jason Aaron’s War of the Realms mini ends up being a bust, it won’t tarnish his classic Thor run, which has done a great job showing the journey of side characters during this event. Also, Anthony Oliveira needs to write a Young Avengers run ASAP, and Nick Robles has definitely entered the pantheon of sexy Loki artists after his work on War Scrolls #2 and even made the horned helmet cute.


Panel of the Week

If this panel doesn’t make you miss Gillen, McKelvie, and Wilson’s Young Avengers, you have soul. (War of the Realms: War Scrolls #2, Art by Nick Robles and Cris Peter)

Writer Anthony Oliveira: Stevonnie, Satan and other queer icons. Listen on Demand.

“Kids have stopped being kids in the time you’ve made them wait for queer representation… “We won’t metaphorize these things away.”–

Anthony Oliveira is a writer, film programmer, pop culture critic, and PhD living in Toronto.

He’s written comics for Dark Horse, BOOM! Studios’ Steven Universe: Fusion Frenzy, and for Marvel “My Drag Brunch with Loki” in War of the Realms: War Scrolls.

He tweets @meakoopa and hosts the podcast The Devil’s Party, as he reads through Milton’s Paradise Lost and its demonic twists and turns.

Discussed:

  • Steven Universe is a healing text
  • In defense of sad gay narratives
  • “Mike Pince” ??
  • The relief of canon queerness
  • Disco fries
  • “Shakespeare would be writing for Netflix”
  • The corporate politics of Shipping Wars ??

Fusion Frenzy art is by Ver

Preview: Steven Universe Fusion Frenzy #1

Steven Universe Fusion Frenzy #1

Publisher: KaBOOM!, an imprint of BOOM! Studios
Writer: Anthony Oliveira, JY Yang, Steve Foxe, Amal El-Mohtar, Sarah Gailey
Artist: Ver, Xiao Tong Kong, Mollie Rose, Maurizia Rubino, Doki Rosi
Colorists: Jamie Loughran, Cristina Rose Chua
Letterers: Mike Fiorentino, DC Hopkins
Cover Artists:  
    Main Cover A:
Abigail L. Dela Cruz
    Main Cover B: Abigail L. Dela Cruz
    Incentive Cover: Nathalie Fourdraine
Price: $7.99

It’s time for the fusions to shine in this 40-page special! The fan favorite Steven Universe™ fusions get the spotlight as Stevonnie, Garnet, Smoky Quartz, Opal, and Sugilite take Beach City on in five fantastic tales!

Steven Universe Fusion Frenzy #1

Your First Look at Steven Universe: Fusion Frenzy #1

BOOM! Studios and Cartoon Network have revealed a first look at Steven Universe: Fusion Frenzy #1, an oversized one-shot comic book special inspired by the world of the Cartoon Network  Emmy Award-nominated series, Steven Universe. This jam-packed special contains stories about everyone’s favorite fusions, available in stores March 13, 2019.

An amazing array of writers and artists deliver these incredible stories that prove that humans and gems can face any challenge as long they’re together. Fans will get stories about Sugilite, Garnet, Opal, Smoky Quartz, and Stevonnie from Hugo Award-winning writer Sarah Gailey with artist Maurizia Rubino, Hugo and Nebula Award-nominated writer JY Yang with artist Doki Rosi, writer Steve Foxe with artist Xiao Tong Kong and colorist Cristina Rose Chua, writer Nicole Andelfinger with artist Mollie Rose and colorist Jamie Loughran, and writer Anthony Oliveira with artist Ver

Steven Universe: Fusion Frenzy #1 features two main connecting covers by Nathalie Fourdraine, along with a variant cover by Abigail L. Dela Cruz.

Steven Universe: Fusion Frenzy #1