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Review: Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man Vol. 1 Secrets and Rumors

Spider-Man swings in to a brand new series that keeps things a bit more grounded and local. Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man Vol. 1 Secrets and Rumors collects issues #1-6 of the series.

Story: Tom Taylor
Art: Juann Cabal, Yildiray Cinar, Marcelo Ferreira
Color: Nolan Woodard, Federico Blee, Jim Campbell
Ink: Douglas Franchin, Roberto Poggi
Letterer: Travis Lanham

Get your copy in comic shops now and book stores on July 23! To find a comic shop near you, visit www.comicshoplocator.com or call 1-888-comicbook or digitally and online with the links below.

Amazon
Kindle & comiXology
TFAW

Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review
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Review: Star Wars: Target Vader #1

Darth Vader has hunted many who have opposed him. Now, he’s being hunted be a hired band of bounty hunters.

Story: Robbie Thompson
Art: Marc Laming, Cris Bolson
Color: Neeraj Menon, Jordan Boyd, Andres Mossa, Federico Blee, Erick Arciniega
Letters: Clayton Cowles

Get your copy in comic shops now and! To find a comic shop near you, visit www.comicshoplocator.com or call 1-888-comicbook or digitally and online with the links below.

Amazon
Kindle & comiXology
TFAW

Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review
This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, we’ll receive a percentage of the sale. Graphic Policy does purchase items from this site. Making purchases through these links helps support the site

Review: Aero #1

Aero #1

Aero #1 is an interesting comic. It translates one story into English for the first time and includes new material as well. The comic is the English language debut of the Filipina superheroine and delivers something that has a lot of potential.

The translated story, “Protector of the City,” is absolutely fantastic. Written by Zhou Liefen with art by Keng, the comic is amazing. The look is fresh and beautiful. The writing has an almost poetic feel about it.

Writer Greg Pak adapts the story and the combination of visuals and narrative is something fantastic. While the story is basic, stopping an otherworldly being, the presentation is top notch. It feels like a beautiful dance at times with a flow about that befitting the wind powers of its heroine.

Pak handles the writing duty for “Aero & Wave: Origins and Destinies,” with a story that feels more focused on Wave than Aero. With art by Pop Mhan, the package feels a bit duller compared to the translated portion. It lacks flow and beauty. But, the story is entertaining and gives us some drama. What it also feels like is being thrown into a well-worn world, a character whose story has been told for years and years. That’s not a bad thing and shows Pak’s skills of allowing the reader to feel welcomed. As a chapter it’s just an ok part but as part of the longer narrative, it’s the opening salvo to deliver future action and drama.

The two stories feel so wildly different in quality not only am I scoring them separately but doing separate “recommendations.” One is a story that has me wanting more right away while the other feels a bit more forgettable. Together, they “introduce” a character, and a world, that’s long overdue for the West and welcome addition. Aero #1 isn’t flawless but it has a sense of freshness about it that deserves your attention.

“Protector of the City”
Story: Zhou Liefen Art: Keng Adaptation: Greg Pak
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

‘Aero & Wave: Origins and Destinies”
Story: Greg Pak Art: Pop Mhan
Color: Federico Blee Letters: Joe Caramagna
Story: 7.0 Art: 7.5 Overall: 7.25 Recommendation: Read

Comic Overall
Story: 7.75 Art: 7.75 Overall: 7.75 Recommendation: Read

Review: Star Wars: Target Vader #1

Star Wars: Target Vader #1

While we think of Star Wars mainly in its battles between Rebels and the Empire, it’s so much more. The world features so many genres within and some are used more than others. Star Wars: Target Vader #1 shifts from the space opera to more of a crime story focus.

Written by Robbie Thompson, Star Wars: Target Vader #1 has Vader and Palpatine attempting to stamp out a crime syndicate running guns for the Rebels. Business is good though, and the crime syndicate has a mission too. Hire bounty hunters to take out Vader first.

Thompson delivers the first issue as a complete set up of what’s to come. That includes a trope-filled part where we’re introduced to our bounty hunters. You can imagine the movie screen pausing as the bounty hunter’s name pops up and a voice, or lettering, takes you through what they’re known for. That all helps create a different pace than we’d normally expect for a Star Wars story. The beats feel more like a heist story than what we’ve seen in the past.

The personalities make the comic interesting. While the excitement is a bit muted, we get a taste of just how dysfunctional this group will be. It gets you interested in what’s to come.

The art by Marc Laming and Cris Bolson (and a load of colorists) is pretty solid. There’s a nice shift from the normal humans as far as characters and the bounty hunters are varied in style and look. It helps create a ragtag bunch. What’s also nice is there’s enough design at times that characters are familiar. An example is a Jedi hunting droid who will remind you of a past character. Even with similar attributes the character is unique. But, due to the familiarity there’s a built up expectation as far as what the character will be like.

While the issue doesn’t totally excite, it’s more than enough to get you to come back. There’s something fun about Target Vader. It has a style and voice that feels different than what we’ve seen so many times before. It delivers a new reading experience for an established franchise. This is one to check out for Star Wars fans or just comic readers.

Story: Robbie Thompson Art: Marc Laming, Cris Bolson
Color: Neeraj Menon, Jordan Boyd, Andres Mossa, Federico Blee, Erick Arciniega
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Story: 8.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 8.0 Recommendation: Buy

Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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.


Thor #14

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

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.


Panel of the Week

Young Thor and King Thor bonding over craft beer is the cutest thing. (From War of the Realms #6, Art by Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson)

Messages from Midgard #12- Analog Iron Man

With only a single issue left in the War of the Realms core series, the tie-in writers have fallen into the unenviable trap of wrapping up their story, connecting it to the event’s inevitable conclusion, and maybe leaving a loose thread or two when their comic returns to its normally scheduled programming.

Six comics came out this week, and one was heads and shoulders over the pack: War of the Realms Journey into Mystery #5. The McElroys, Andre Araujo, and Chris O’Halloran have finished crafting an ensemble cast that I want to read an ongoing series about, made Ares sympathetic, Laussa more than a MacGuffin, connect all the seemingly random plot threads of the series, and made me laugh out loud a couple times. No other book came close to this, but with snark, grit, and one hell of a Wasp cameo, Gail Simone and Paolo Villanelli made up for last month’s disappointment and delivered a nifty science vs magic clash in Tony Stark, Iron Man #13. I enjoyed it and wish Simone had more time on the book.


War of the Realms: War Scrolls #3

War of the Realms’ anthology tie-in War Scrolls wraps up with its third issue. There is the conclusion to Jason Aaron, Andrea Sorrentino, and Matthew Wilson’s Daredevil serial as well as a Dr. Doom story from Christopher Cantwell, Cian Tormey, and Dan Brown and a She-Hulk one from Charlie Jane Anders, Simone D’Armini, and Federico Blee. Daredevil, God without Fear continues to be an accomplishment in panel layouts, fight scenes, and theodicies. This three part story is a turning point in Sorrentino’s career as an artist as he transitions from flowing tapestry layouts to strict grids that work like slow-mo while Daredevil fights Malekith with Bifrost shruikens. Aaron’s narration continues to show the perils of omniscience, and even if Daredevil can’t defeat Malekith, he can inspire his blind children hostage to escape and cut God a break along the way.

Halt and Catch Fire co-creator Christopher Cantwell tells the story of the Dark Elf invasion of Latveria from ordinary citizens’ POVs. Dr. Doom has a godlike status in this country, and even when he makes silly mistakes like wasting his troops on a Saving Private Ryan-esque rescue mission, they look to him to save them. The switching point of views can be disorienting, but Cian Tormey gives the story a documentary feel and builds to one badass crescendo where Doom is part-Superman, part-God of the Old Testament, and still authoritarian. It’s a tasting menu that really needs to be expanded to a full feast of the regular lives of Latverians.

War Scrolls #3 wraps up with a story of She-Hulk and Freyja fighting dragons and talking about relationships. Charlie Jane Anders’ writing sometimes feels like she’s making her characters have her interests like making Blade a Beyonce fan and Punisher a Joni Mitchell aficionado, but she nails the conversations between Jennifer and Freyja. She-Hulk talks about how she is dating Thor and not sure how serious it is, and Freyja understands how much She-Hulk cares for her son and that they are both insecure about their “worthiness” and status as heroes. The cherry on top of this pretty good story is D’Armini’s artwork that makes She-Hulk incredibly muscular and monstrous. For the most part, War Scrolls has been full of thought provoking character studies and memorable visuals, and issue three is no exception earning an Overall Verdict of Buy.


War of the Realms: Journey into Mystery #5

Journey into Mystery #5 wraps up this god demon baby starring road trip saga into a neat little bow and uses continuity to enhance and deepen character development and humor instead of as a crutch. The McElroys seamlessly transition from podcasting to mainstream comics while Andre Araujo and Chris O’Halloran enhance their jokes and punch up the action scenes beginning with Wonder Man sweeping to save Laussa. They keep their character portrayals internally consistent like having Wonder Man continue to be a pacifist and having Sebastian Druid being uncertain about his powers, but reminding readers he had a relationship with Ares’ son back in Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Warriors.

This kibble of continuity isn’t just a piece of cute, fanboy trivia, but sets up Ares’ road for redemption. He isn’t a bad guy and doesn’t have a quarrel with this book’s cast; he just like to fight and wants to be reunited with son in the afterlife. Journey into Mystery #5 isn’t just a slugfest between the team and Ares, but is filled with twists and turns about Laussa that aren’t 100% deus ex machinas. The comic does have a pleasing plot, but its real magic are in the small moments like any time Miles Morales and Thori interact, or Laussa’s expressions with the world around him. And for this mastery of both the macro and micro aspects of comics, Journey into Mystery #5, and by extension, the whole miniseries earn an Overall Verdict of Buy.


War of the Realms: Spider-Man & the League of Realms #3

Unless it’s for a storytelling purpose, having two or more artists on a comic usually means it was rushed to meet its deadline, and that seems to be the case with Spider-Man & the League of Realms #3. Gone are Nico Leon’s slick cartooning and well-choreographed set pieces of the previous two issues, and writer Sean Ryan giving each League member a distinct personality beyond fantasy race action figure. This issue is mostly a slugfest against Malekith’s lieutenant, Kurse and peppered with awkward poses, constipated facial expressions, and basically, generic visuals from Leon and Marco Failla.

The angel Fernande goes a bit ballistic in the middle of the fight, and Spider-Man finds a shared connection because they have both lost loved ones. But this was already covered in the previous issue so it feels a lot like padding in Spider-Man & the League of Realms #3. The main plot point of this issue (and a cool connection to War Scrolls #3) is that Kurse was once League member, Waziria, and for the first time in all of War of the Realms (Except the Cul Borson story in Thor.), the Dark Elves aren’t treated like evil cannon fodder. In the end, this comic was about saving people instead of punching evil, and that’s a good sentiment from Ryan and Leon. However, it ends on this week’s “standard” heroes pose together and jump into the final battle panel and earns an Overall Verdict of Pass because of art issues and the difficulty of writing a large cast.


Captain Marvel #7

Spider-Man & the League of Realms #3 wasn’t the worst “War of the Realms” comic this week. That honor goes to Captain Marvel #7, which wraps up the unbearably banal if well-colored by Tamra Bonvillain body swap story featuring Carol Danvers and Dr. Strange. This issue does have a few positives like Kelly Thompson’s gift for quick banter and cutting one-liners like Strange roasting Carol for only knowing magic from various pop culture things. However, it’s pretty shallow, Strange and Carol’s ineptitude with each other’s powers are quickly resolved, and afterwards, they and an underutilized Black Widow go separate ways.

One slight positive about Captain Marvel #7 is Annapaola Martello’s art. She’s equally good at drawing fun facial expressions/hints of flirting and things that go boom/pew pew. Even if the story is thin, it’s pure joy to see Dr. Strange in Carol’s body go Binary and kick undead ass and then steal a little moment at the end. And about the ending, it seems random and tacked on even if it’s our first glimpse of a post-War of the Realms world. Carol is hanging out in her apartment like everything is normal, and the last story had no effect on her. Honestly, this is for the better as Thompson no longer has to shoehorn a quick tie-in and can tell her full story. My Overall Verdict for Captain Marvel #7 is Pass, and it’s worth skipping for regular readers of her title and those just following “War of the Realms”.


Deadpool #14

If there’s any comic that Deadpool #14 shares DNA with, it’s Simon Bisley’s Lobo books of the 1990s with their combination of serious, detailed fantasy art and silly dialogue and situations. In this comic, Skottie Young and Nic Klein chronicle Deadpool’s defense of Australia from Ulik (Which is apparently a very common name for trolls.) and his minions with the help of a knock-off Captain Britain and Daredevil and then an assist from some real superheroes. Young continues to have fun breaking the fourth wall and poking fun at his own writing like ending the issue with a deus ex machina and commenting on the legality of including a figure that’s all but named Tasmanian Devil.

Nic Klein draws and colors his own work in Deadpool #14 and turns in some gorgeous splash pages of Deadpool, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Daredevil, and various Z-list Australian heroes beating the shit out of trolls. He can also do funny too like his depiction of the solution to Australia’s troll problem, which is feeding them and putting them to work at New Zealand’s copyright-friendly version of a Lord of the Rings set tour. The panel of trolls chasing tourists with selfie sticks around a “bobbit” hole is like something out of Mad magazine and a wonderful Deadpool-esque way to wrap up the plot. For its humor, skilled art, and ultraviolence, Deadpool #14 earns an Overall Verdict of Buy. (And, apparently, the next issue is the final one of the series.)


Tony Stark, Iron Man #13

Free of continuing subplot from previous issues (Except for the important Tony Stark relapsing in a VR environment one.), Gail Simone and Paolo Villanelli are free to tell the story of the battle between Iron Man and the wyrm Sadurang, who wants to rob the New York Stock Exchange. They make fantastic parallels between traders and hoarding dragons, and starting off a conversation between Sadurang and a now homeless broker about how riches cloud one’s morals sets the tone for the issue. And what happens is a back to basics Iron Man story where Tony must destroy or deactivate all his magic infected armor and get back to the analog days to defeat this greedy dragon.

Edgar Delgado’s powerful colors match Villanelli’s art, which can be loose and scratchy when Tony is getting his ass kicked and trying to quip his way out of a bad situation or tighter and tougher when he’s in the Mark I armor doing his best St. George impression. Also, Simone brings in the very winsome Wasp as a guest star in this issue, and she brings Tony hope and her stings and fast flying gives him enough time to rally his counterattack. Then, they get to share a sweet moment after the fight is over, but Tony doesn’t tell her about the relapse and is interrupted by Malekith’s initial invasion of New York. This two steps forward, one step forward approach to Tony’s journey works for Gail Simone and Paolo Villanelli and coupled with a satire of capitalism via knight/dragon metaphors, Tony Stark, Iron Man #13 earns an Overall Verdict of Buy.


Even though it’s sad to see Captain Marvel’s portrayal stumble in yet another event, and some writers love doing the “heroes join the final battle” ending to their tie-ins, this wasn’t a bad “War of the Realms” week. Skottie Young and Nic Klein turned their Deadpool two-parter into an exercise in maximum absurdity and pulled off the first funny Lord of the Rings reference of the event while Gail Simone added Iron Man to characters she excels at writing. But the real highlight was Journey into Mystery, which is a redemptive road comedy starring a great mix of heroes, tons of quick jokes, and a coherent plot that zigged where others zag. I’m definitely looking forward to Clint McElroy’s upcoming work on Marvel Team-Up.


Panel of the Week

Mark I armor, Ben Day dots, snarky Gail Simone dialogue. I’m geeking out, y’all. (From Tony Stark, Iron Man #13; Art by Paolo Villanelli and Edgar Delgado)

Messages from Midgard #10 – Deadpool Down Under

“War of the Realms” is starting to wind down this week with the release of the penultimate issue of the core series, War of the Realms #5. The comic has a predictable ending thanks to the marketing department, but actually feels like a Jason Aaron/Russell Dauterman/Matthew Wilson Thor comic thanks to its excellent characterization of Thor and Jane Foster to go with fight scenes a la the third act of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The tie-ins aren’t bad either as I wish Journey into Mystery went on for another four issues of road trip hijinks, Greg Pak and Gang Hyuk Lim finally find their sprawling ensemble cast’s footing in New Agents of Atlas, and Captain Marvel and Deadpool wisely choose comedy over melodrama. The only real stinker of the bunch is Tony Stark, Iron Man #12, which made feel really bad for Gail Simone, who has to do the comic book equivalent of walking, chewing bubblegum, and someone else’s calculus homework at the same time.

War of the Realms #5

War of the Realms #5 is paced like a fever dream and a reminder that Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, and Matthew Wilson have done fantastic work on Thor and can tell a poignant story that isn’t just fight scenes stitched together. With the death of the Valkyries and Loki and the capture of Freyja and Odin, this is a real breaking point for Thor and the “War of the Realms” as a whole. Aaron, Dauterman, and Wilson double down on the religious/mythological imagery by having cosmic powered Daredevil nail Thor on the World Tree so he can have some insight on how to defeat Malekith. It’s a big moment for a hero that has been considered “unworthy” for the past five years, and he takes responsibility for all the realms sliding into the role of All-Father and not just a rage-filled, hammer destroying warrior.

Speaking of war, there is quite a lot of it, but Aaron, Dauterman, and Wilson do a good job balancing it with the intense, non-linear Thor/Daredevil/Jane Foster scenes. Even though they feature a variety of locations and characters, the action sequences work because they follow a uniting principle of “liberation”. There are sheer badass moments, like Okoye delivering killer one-liners while the Dora Milaje drive back the angels to Heven, Jane Foster and Roz Solomon watching Roxxon’s stock prices drop while they kick Dario Agger’s minotaur ass, and Captain Britain and Captain America teaming up to drive the Dark Elves back to the English Channel. War of the Realms #5 alternates between triumph and agony and is a treat for fans of the Jane Foster Thor stories as she is inspired by the sacrifice of the Valkyries to continue being a warrior and a hero. With operatic visuals (Especially the Daredevil/Thor scenes.) and its strong character development of Thor, War of the Realms #5 earns an Overall Verdict of Buy.

War of the Realms: Journey into Mystery #4

In its frenetic fourth issue, War of the Realms: Journey Into Mystery enters the pantheon of one of my favorite types of mainstream comics: the fun, quirky B-list cast starring book that ends too soon. We’re talking books like Hawkeye, Mockingbird, Superior Foes of Spider-Man, and Secret Six. The McElroys are definitely hip to the idea that the best comedy comes from character, and it leads to hilarious moments like Wonder Man lamenting his Tommy Bahama shirt being riddled with bullets, the underage Brooklynite Miles Morales having no idea how to act in a casino, and Balder trying to order “sack” aka the favorite drink of Shakespeare’s Falstaff at the casino. As we’ve gotten to know the cast of Journey into Mystery better, the humor level has increased along with the level of general peril.

Yes, Journey into Mystery #4 isn’t all witty banter- it’s a heist story set at a henchpeople convention because the War of the Realms isn’t great for business. Andre Araujo’s diagram-like layouts and Chris O’Halloran’s flat approach to colors gives this issue great flair especially when the heist goes sideways, and a gun fight breaks out. Araujo tilts his grid to give readers a 360 view of the casino floor while the team struggles with what to do as Ares goes mano a mano with Thori. Great jokes, an easy to follow setpiece, a down ending, and the brilliant concept of a henchperson convention earns Journey into Mystery an Overall Verdict of Buy.’

War of the Realms: New Agents of Atlas #3

Up to this point, New Agents of Atlas has had tons of potential yet has been a little bit of a mess with a huge cast of characters and middle of the road visuals from Gang Hyuk Lim and colorists Federico Blee, Andres Mossa, and Erick Arciniega. However, Greg Pak uses a team meal of spam prepared different ways to unite his Pan-Asian superhero team, and it’s a well-timed breather before Jimmy Woo puts his final plan in motion. Splitting the team into tasks that reflect their strengths finally showcases Woo’s strategic genius, and it also lets us get to know the sprawling cast of New Agents of Atlas before the big finale next issue.

Some character moments that stood out to me in New Agents of Atlas #3 was the growing master/apprentice type bond between Sword Master and Shang Chi and the fact that sexist, elitist Monkey King kept getting his ass handed to him by various team members. There is also a sad, yet relevant scene where the usually cheerful Filipina heroine Wave realizes that Sindr making the water warmer will lead to flooding in Cebu where her grandpa lives. New Agents of Atlas #3 is the issue where Pak and Lim make the majority of these characters seem like people and not interchangeable action figures with cool powers. Also, Amadeus Cho gets one hell of a redemption arc and basically is the Korean-American Wolverine as he fights off swarms of Fire Goblins so the rest of the team can accomplish teir tasks. The art is still too “house style”, the colors are still over rendered, but Greg Pak made me care about this new superhero team in this issue so New Agents of Atlas #3 earns an overall verdict of Read.

Captain Marvel #6

Opening with one hell of action scene from artists Annapaola Martello and Tamra Bonvillain where Bucky and Black Widow take out a group of undead ghouls with some acrobatics and a grenade, Captain Marvel #6 ends up being Freaky Friday with Captain Marvel and Dr. Strange, which is the result of them failing to defeat Enchantress. Writer Kelly Thompson has tons of fun with this premise that works because both Strange and Carol are Type A personalities even if his superpowers are more mental and hers are more physical. Black Widow’s dry sense of humor is on full display for most of the issue as she cuts these two big personalities down to size at least until surrounded by aforementioned ghouls.

The big problem with Captain Marvel #6 is that much of the action is said to take place in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil, which have metropolitan areas of over 12 million each, but 90% of the comic happens in a fucking jungle. Thompson’s writing is clever, and she nails the dysfunctional personalities of Dr. Strange and Captain Marvel. But, at the bare minimum, she could have read Wikipedia and realized that Brazil is 87.5% urbanized. Despite this huge research faux pas, Captain Marvel is an enjoyable read that doesn’t take itself too seriously, has hilarious faces and well-done action choreography from Martello and Bonvillain, and has an Overall Verdict of Read.

Deadpool #13

I always love when Deadpool has an event tie-in because he always ends up mocking the premise of the event and having a fun, goofy adventure. (Also, because the first Deadpool comic I ever read was a “Secret Invasion” tie-in). Writer Skottie Young and artist Nic Klein take him on a wild ride to Australia where he’s commissioned to liberate the continent/country from Ulik and the trolls with the help of their nation’s finest heroes, Captain Outback, Nuclear Nancy, and copyright friendly Tasmanian Devil. Yep, Young peppers his script with plenty of pop culture references and jokes like having Captain Marvel use Crocodile Hunter dialogue in dream sequence, and “Skottrick” even roasts his own writing when he borrows a one-liner from Terminator and blames it on his kids being home from school.

What makes Deadpool #13 so funny and work has a comic is the blend of silly, irreverent dialogue and detailed art that is played for drama like Klein’s double page tableau recapping what’s been going in the “War of the Realms”. But Klein can do humor too like Negasonic Teenage Warhead’s deadpan expression as Deadpool reacts and laughs at various romantic comedies, or the ending when Deadpool is making jokes about the shittiness of the Hobbit movies while being surrounded by trolls and not having the best allies to help him out. Skottie Young and Nic Klein have a good handle on irreverent Deadpool comedy stylings and have some clever ideas like the trolls enjoying the sparsely populated Australian Outback so Deadpool #13 gets an Overall Verdict of Buy.

Tony Stark, Iron Man #12

I love the idea of Tony Stark fighting a greedy, Smaug-like dragon (Or wyrm. I don’t wanna piss off the fantasy geeks.) and having that fight be written by Gail Simone, who excels at writing smarmy assholes that want to be heroes in spite of it all. (See Catman.) However, Tony Stark Iron Man #12 has to deal with the effects of Dan Slott’s previous arc, introduce the dragon, and have another plot about not having artificial intelligence completely work on technology that affects human behavior. Apparently, in the last arc, Tony Stark relapsed into alcoholism in a virtual reality environment, which honestly just sounds like a weak tea substitute for “Demon in a Bottle”, or a real problem that people experience.

So, Simone and artist Paolo Villanelli are stuck trying to continue that storyline and do a kind of prequel to “War of the Realms”. The idea of Malekith sending a dragon assassin with magical abilities to take out a man of science with quite a large “hoard” is clever and gives an opportunity for Simone to write some Stark snark as he compares the wyrm to Toothless and Falkor. But it’s weighed down by too many subplots. Honestly, this comic would have worked better as a miniseries with Dan Slott continuing his alcoholism/AI/wannabe Black Mirror thing in the main Tony Stark, Iron Man series. It’s safe to say it gets an Overall Verdict of Pass.


With the exception of a bungled Iron Man tie-in, I personally enjoyed this week’s “War of the Realms”, including the core book, which lived up to the pre-release hype of combining the strong arcs and ideas from Jason Aaron’s Thor run with epic Marvel Universe-spanning battles. I’m also going to miss The McElroys when they leave comics and return to their lucrative day job of podcasting and think they would make amazing writers on a humor, character-driven Justice League or Avengers title. Finally, it definitely seems that Skottie Young or someone in the Deadpool office has played Risk because Australia is truly the key to victory…


Panel of the Week

Poor Skottie Young’s kids (Deadpool #13; Art by Nic Klein)

Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story Adaptation

Did you miss Solo: A Star Wars Story in the theater? Judging by the box office, a lot of you did. You can now read the collection of Marvel’s adaptation! It’s actually a good film and comic.

Solo: A Star Wars Story Adaptation collects issues #1-7.

Story: Robbie Thompson
Art: Will Sliney
Color: Federico Blee, Andres Mossa, Stefani Renee
Letterer: Joe Caramagna, Clayton Cowles

Get your copy in comic shops now and in book stores on June 18! To find a comic shop near you, visit www.comicshoplocator.com or call 1-888-comicbook or digitally and online with the links below.

Amazon
Kindle/comiXology
TFAW

Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review
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Messages from Midgard #8- Noble Jester Warriors

This installment of Messages from Midgard is dedicated to the memory of Marvel Comics colorist Justin Ponsor, who passed away from cancer earlier this week. He worked on many fantastic comics, including Ultimate Spider-Man and the Avengers comic that led into “War of the Realms”.

“War of the Realms” hit critical mass this week with eight total tie-ins featuring characters as diverse as Spider-Man, Punisher, the X-Men and even Gorilla Man and one of the Jack’o’Lanterns. There were some books this week that screamed “unnecessary” or even “cash grab”, such as War of the Realms: Punisher and War of the Realms: Uncanny X-Men, which did the mean thing of bringing Wolfsbane back after she was fridged a couple issues back in Uncanny X-Men #17.

But there were also some hits this week. The McElroys’ and Andre Araujo’s War of the Realms: Journey into Mystery continues to be a delight, Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness play 3D chess by using Avengers to flesh out parts of “War of the Realms” while laying the foundation for future storylines in the book, and Tom Taylor and Jorge Molina turn in a Strikeforce: Land of the Giants one-shot that has pathos, humor, action, and made me with they were writing an Avengers book. Honestly, that book is how you do a superhero comic with popular, long established characters in 2019.


War of the Realms Strike Force: Land of the Giants #1

Tom Taylor, artists Jorge Molina and Adriano Di Benedetto and colorist David Curiel depict Captain America, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist’s Pegasus-riding, Asgardian armor wearing quest to find Thor in War of the Realms Strike Force: Land of the Giants #1. Taylor makes Spider-Man the narrator and POV character as he processes all the violence, destruction, and fantasy beings around him in narrative captions that are him talking to Mary Jane. He is generally freaked out about what is going, but there is a feeling of real glee when Captain America swoops in on a flying horse to pick him up for a secret mission. The humor, both physical and verbal, is the secret ingredient in this comic from Wolverine messing with Spidey by putting a random helmet on his head to Luke Cage’s deadpan reaction to Spider-Man talking to his horse, Buttercup aka Queen Artorius.

And the character of Queen Artorius is the real emotional linchpin of Land of the Giants #1 as Taylor and Molina show that the death of the Valkyries’ steeds in War of the Realms #3 wasn’t animal cruelty, but mighty warriors fighting to avenge their riders. Also, her description of Spider-Man as a “noble jester warrior” captures his essence. When the team hits Jotunheim, Molina, Di Benedetto, and Curiel’s become quite dark as they must kill all the Frost Giants for Thor to snap out of his berserker rage. This ability to blend a fun superhero ensemble piece with the horrors of war and genuine emotion is why Land of the Giants #1 gets an Overall Verdict of Buy.


War of the Realms: Journey into Mystery #3

Journey into Mystery is the one “War of the Realms” tie-in that I’m glad is a five and not three issue miniseries. Who would have thought that a group of guys (The McElroys) who hang out on a regular basis would excel at writing an ensemble cast that you wouldn’t mind hanging out with? In this issue, the team goes Western and ends up at a literal ghost town populated by old Marvel Western characters. This prompts Death Locket and Wonder Man to debate about their favorite Westerns that culminates in finger guns at dawn. The sassy teen Death Locket’s love of classic Westerns (Nothing after 1970’s Rio Lobo.) is a weird trait, but the McElroys connect it to character background because those were the only movies she had access to as an LMD living with her “Uncle” Dum Dum. (Another LMD).

It’s safe to say that Death Locket geeks out the entire fight sequence against characters like Apache Kid and Phantom Rider, and artist Andre Araujo and colorist Chris O’Halloran use all kinds of grids to make the action easy to follow. Their strong storytelling allows the McElroys to pepper in jokes and character insights like Miles and Thori bonding, or Balder admitting he’s a bad leader and letting Kate Bishop take charge. Kate was already a cool character, but her ability to know where arrows land by looking an archer’s stance and holds puts her on another level. There is still an ongoing story with Thor’s sister Laussa and Ares as the divine Javert, but the McElroys and Araujo continue to give each issue its own distinct flavor of adventure, which earns Journey into Mystery #3 an Overall Verdict of Buy.


War of the Realms: New Agents of Atlas #2

I’m really glad that a New Agents of Atlas miniseries was announced in Marvel’s August solicits, but these characters deserve better than they’re getting in this miniseries. Greg Pak, Gang Hyuk Lim, and Federico Blee fill New Agents of Atlas #2’s pages with action, but the only character whose personality that I have a grip on is Pele, the Pacific Islander fire elemental. She’s much more serious than her compatriots, Aero and Wave, and her connection to Earth allows her to see the big picture. Clayton Cowles stately world balloons for her really drive the point home in this issue that is full of strategic retreats, carefully timed Amadeus Cho teleports, and the takeover of South Korea by Fire Goblins.

New Agents of Atlas #2’s pacing is the opposite of decompression as Greg Pak and Gang Hyuk Lim try to move from battle to battle and show off new characters, like Sword Master’s powers, while using Jimmy Woo to comment on the “team’s” lack of teamwork. They are allergic to establishing panels and locations and want to skip to the cool moments of which there are a few like Shang Chi kicking a Fire Goblin in the face. New Agents of Atlas could be a new team of international heroes with different cultures, personalities, and abilities, but right now it’s just a big old jumble with house style visuals, which earns this issue an Overall Verdict of Pass. Hopefully, the team fares better when they don’t have to be an event tie-in.


War of the Realms: Punisher #2

The Punisher has fared quite well in the “War of the Realms” event as Freyja made him the leader of her team to invade Malekith’s realm and destroy the Black Bifrost. His background as a veteran of wars, both overseas and against organized crime, fits the series’ themes and has led to some unlikely bonds between him and the Asgardians. But, none of this comes through in War of the Realms: Punisher #2 where writer Gerry Duggan, artists Marcelo Ferreira and Roberto Poggi, and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg tell the story of him and team of prisoners leading a group of people to safety from New York to New Jersey via the Lincoln Tunnel. It’s all (cool looking to be honest) violence, a predictable plot twist, and a non-existent antagonist/supporting cast. Also, Frank is drawn as ugly as the trolls he’s mowing down.

The first issue of War of the Realms: Punisher established the characters of Dr. Baldwin and the criminal Ferrante, but the first does nothing and the other just betrays Frank on the last page. Duggan’s writing of Frank is one dimensional too with the exception of a touching, sepia colored scene where he remembers being stuck in Lincoln Tunnel traffic with his wife and kids during a happier time. Punisher is there to kill and make gritty faces. His using lighter fluid, lighter, and a grenade to blow up a troll is cool, but this story continues to feel unnecessary because Frank is written much better in the main series and the Dark Elf Realm tie-in. The concept of a vigilante teaming up with the criminals he usually executes to protect innocent people is intriguing, if a little 1970s. However, Duggan, Ferreira, and Poggi can’t pull it off on the page so War of the Realms: Punisher #2 earns an Overall Verdict of Pass.


War of the Realms: Uncanny X-Men #2

I despised War of the Realms: Uncanny X-Men #1, but issue two isn’t as bad with Matthew Rosenberg, Pepe Larraz, and Rachelle Rosenberg leaning more into the X-Men’s role as the last protectors of Queens with Citi Field as a base. But, then, there’s the whole Wolfsbane subplot featuring a child and a Norse god plus a wild Sabretooth appears with no explanation of why he’s acting this way and teaming up with Frost Giants. Except Wolfsbane is dead in the main series so the subplot comes across as an arbitrary something to move the story other than team action sequences.

The highlight of War of the Realms: Uncanny X-Men #2 is Larraz’s mostly solid fight choreography from Jamie Madrox and his dupes leaping and slicing Frost Giants with an axe to Havok and Cyclops blasting things and finally a heavy on the reds and claw shaped panels battle royale between Wolfsbane and Sabretooth. But, then, it seems Rosenberg realizes that he has to throw in some kind of a cliffhanger so he introduces Wolfsbane’s ex on the last couple pages and goes full soap opera. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the X-Men, which has always been a soapy comic, but comes across as disingenuous in relation to Wolfsbane’s recent death. Like War of the Realms: Punisher, a band of fan favorite X-Men protecting New York from the friendly confines of Citi Field sounded like a cool concept, but it can’t really sustain its own miniseries and earns the Overall Verdict of Pass again.


Avengers #19

Jason Aaron is using the events of “War of the Realms” in Avengers to maneuver pieces in his overall plan for the series as well as show the events of the War from a different POV with the help of wide screen art maestros Ed McGuinness, Mark Morales, Justin Ponsor, and Erick Arciniega. In this case, it’s Gorilla Man, who is an alcoholic with an ancient curse as well as the head of security for Avengers Mountain and an Agent of Wakanda. Aaron uses him to provide some snarky commentary on crossover events as well as share his honest opinions on A-listers like Captain America, Captain Marvel, Black Panther, and Tony Stark (Respect, respect, fear, douchebag.) He also gets to check in on some Avengers ongoing plotlines like Russia’s superhero team Winter Guard and the fate of Dracula and have a chance to be a hero.

The choice of art team really impacts the story of Avengers #19. McGuinness, Morales, and Ponsor are known for their work on blockbuster comics and for the most part, play Gorilla Man’s entry into the War of Realms straight even if he and Russian double agent Ursa Major meet in a zoo to swap intel. Gorilla Man isn’t an Avenger, but his quick swinging and technical know-how allows Shuri and Tony to score a hit on the invading Frost Giant/Dark Elf army with a Celestial weapon. But, in keeping with the previous issue’s dark and shady tone, this isn’t the triumphant tale of a Z-list hero finding redemption, and Avengers #19’s subversive ending, characterization of Gorilla-Man, and big time art earns it an Overall Verdict of Buy. Aaron’s Avengers run is really the love child of Brian Michael Bendis’ sharp, savvy character interactions and Jonathan Hickman’s long term planning.


Asgardians of the Galaxy #9

Out of all the “War of the Realms” books, Asgardians of the Galaxy #9 does the best job of exploring the emotional impact of the death of the Valkyries in War of the Realms #3. But this isn’t just a sit around and mourn issue. Cullen Bunn, gritty, yet pretty artist Paolo Villanelli, and colorist Federico Blee send the team (Minus Angela and Urzuul) on a magical mission with the Inhuman Ren Kimura to rescue her girlfriend and fellow Asgardian of the Galaxy, Annabelle Riggs, from a limbo-type state.

Basically, Bunn and Villanelli take the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and make it lesbian and more action-packed. Villanelli and Blee veil the area around Valhalla in shadow and fill it with revenant warriors that are a perfect punching bag for Ren, Clea, and the wholesome boys/frog Thunderstrike, Skurge, and Throg. But this story isn’t just about smiting, and Bunn gives the unique relationship between Valkyrie and Annabelle Riggs real closure and motivates the team to fight back against Malekith and his forces. Also, there’s smooching, Valkyrie’s sacrifice is justified, and the usually standoffish Angela empathizes with Ren because she had just gone through a similar situation with her girlfriend, Sera. Asgardians of the Galaxy continues its great tradition of telling fantastic stories under the constraints of crossover events and gets an Overall Verdict of Buy. Hopefully, it will get more issues after getting name checked in Avengers Endgame of all places.


Venom #14

One of the big continuity boo-boo’s of “War of the Realms” is that currently Venom has his normal symbiote and is a slave of Malekith in the core series while he has a magic symbiote and is doing his own thing in the comic called Venom. However, Cullen Bunn, Iban Coello, and Andres Mossa’s focus on the relationship between Eddie Brock and his son (Who think he’s his little brother) Dylan and monster movie worthy battle between Venom and Jack’o’Lantern made me forget about the continuity issue. Basically, in Venom #14, Venom fights Jack’o’Lantern, who initially is a puppet of Malekith’s War Witches, but then goes off the reservation and starts burning down San Francisco.

If Venom #13 was The Road with elves and magic, Venom #14 is a kaiju movie. Less Dylan means less pathos, but there is more crazy symbiote action and yet another costume change for Eddie Brock that is more Viking berserker than Todd McFarlane. Coello’s loose cartooning is perfect for a clash between a fire character and viscous fluid character, and Bunn continues to tap into the “Lethal Protector” characterization of Venom as a monster who protects innocents from worst monsters that include corporations in a nice bit of political satire. Venom #14 is messy and angsty, but it’s a lot of fun and still has the emotional core of Eddie and Dylan so it gets an Overall Verdict of Read.

Reading through the “War of the Realms” books this weeks definitely felt like going to one of those all you can eat buffets off the Interstate. There were parts of the meal that I definitely savored with Journey into Mystery and Land of the Frost Giants being the yummy, yet healthy salad bar and Venom being that terrible for you, yet addictive fried chicken. And then, there were War of the Realms: Punisher, Uncanny X-Men, and sadly, New Agents of Atlas, which felt like yesterday’s warmed over leftovers. Writing for an event can be handcuffs on some creators, but others, like Tom Taylor, Cullen Bunn, and the McElroys, use it to craft stories that are fun and sometimes even a bit emotional. (RIP Buttercup/Queen Artorius)


Panel of the Week

Spider-Man and a talking, majestic horse is easily the best team-up of “War of the Realms” so far. (War of the Realms Strikeforce: Land of the Giants #1, Art by Jorge Molina, Adriano Di Benedetto, David Curiel)

Messages from Midgard #2: Frog Thor Feelings

The “War of the Realms” settles into its second week with a trio of tie-ins that seem utterly unrelated: War of the Realms: Journey into Mystery #1, Asgardians of the Galaxy #8, and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #43. However, the first two comics are a shining example of how difficult doing ensemble casts are, and the third is a proof that Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a beautiful gift even when it’s an event tie-in. It even moves “War of the Realms'” narrative forward by showing how Malekith and his allies divvied up the different continents of the Earth. Stereotypically, the Frost Giants got Canada.

War of the Realms: Journey into Mystery #1

The McElroys (Father Clint and sons Justin, Travis, and Griffin, but those names aren’t in the comic.) are big time podcasters known for their work on the advice show My Brother, My Brother and Me and the Dungeon and Dragons show The Adventure Zone, which I’ve listened to a couple episodes of and was a best-selling graphic novel for First Second. At first, I thought they were comic neophytes, but apparently, Clint McElroy worked on licensed comics like Universal Soldier and Green Hornet in the early 1990s. They team up with artist Andre Araujo and colorist Chris O’Halloran to tell the buddy road trip story of Balder teaming up with Miles Morales, Kate Bishop, Thori, Becca aka Deathlok 2.0, Sebastian Druid, and Wonder Man to protect Thor’s baby sister, Laussa.

Journey into Mystery #1 has a fun premise that is only a little bit related to the main “War of the Realms” narrative and pokes fun at continuity changes as well as certain character being “off limits” because of events. See, Balder wanted Peter Parker, Clint Barton, Dr. Strange, and the original Deathlok, but he ended up with the legacy versions. The McElroys and Araujo introduce the cast in a typical flash forward, flash back, flash forward, and big cliffhanger fashion. Each road trip member gets a humorous origin and is then thrown into the fray by the Norn, Skuld. The level of funny varies from Matt Fraction/Kieron Gillen cover band while writing Kate Bishop and Thori respectively to the genuinely clever situation of having Miles rescue Times Square cosplayers and a teen Deathlok making a fake graduation party with Life Model Decoys to feel less alone and more human.

The story should have hit its stride in its third part when the team is assembled and being chased in a truck by Sindr, the daughter of Surtr, and her fire troll/demon/generic being army. Araujo cuts to the right moments in the chase to build tension and gets to do real storytelling instead of just the funny faces of the flashback. However, The McElroys kind of lose track of their team in the chaos with Miles and Dr. Druid especially suffering. They do manage to write around Wonder Man’s superhero story sapping pacifism to give him a great moment. Journey into Mystery has its clever moments, but in chemistry terms, it’s more of a heterogenous mixture than an a homogenous one so, for now, it gets an Overall Verdict of Read.

Asgardians of the Galaxy #8

Even though 75% of its run has either been a tie-in to “Infinity Wars” or “War of the Realms”, Cullen Bunn, Matteo Lolli, and Federico Blee’s space faring, Asgard-connected team book has been one of Marvel’s hidden gems. It’s the spiritual successor of Bunn’s Fearless Defenders or even Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s run on Guardians of the Galaxy. The current team lineup is Angela, Valkyrie who sometimes swaps places with archaeologist Annabelle Riggs, Skurge the Executioner, Thunderstrike (The son of the one from the late 80s and 90s), Throg aka Frog Thor, and the dwarf Urzuul. They’re protecting a beacon that summons an army of undead gods, but Heimdall divests them of this and sends them to fight for Earth in the War of the Realms.

While Journey into Mystery gets to have its own plot, Asgardians of the Galaxy #8 takes place during the big battle for New York in War of the Realms #1. So, there’s not much plot once the book gets earthbound, and Lolli and Blee end up riffing off Russell Dauterman’s double page spreads, and well, they’re not Dauterman with a long lead time. But, even though, he’s stuck in the constraints of the event’s plot, Cullen Bunn has a one great trick up his sleeve: characterization.

Unlike Journey into Mystery where many characters are lost in the shuffle or are catchphrase shouters, Bunn gives each member of the Asgardians of the Galaxy at least one small showcase moment. Executioner and Punisher get to compare guns, and Black Panther compliments Urzuul’s weapon craftsmanship. (Wow, that came out wrong.) Cap tells Thunderstrike that his dad was a great hero, and Angela gets to be very angry at the Angels of Heven for siding with Malekith. However, the characters who come across the best are Throg and Annabelle Riggs/Valkyrie.

Throg made his first appearance way back in Walter Simonson’s run on Thor and was an ordinary Central Park frog named Puddlegulp, who was worthy to lift a sliver of Mjolnir and become the Frog of Thunder. Bunn and Lolli give him a moment of great tragedy when he returns to Central Park and sees all his old frog friends being burned up. He feels a lot of guilt for adventuring in space instead of protecting his people and gets a great action sequence that also riffs on Jason Aaron’s concept of Thor Odinson being unworthy.

But Annabelle is the center of Bunn and Lolli’s narrative in Asgardians of the Galaxy #8 as she continues to struggle with her Nova powers and the magic that Kid Loki gave her in the last arc. They keep shorting out, and she subs out with Valkyrie. Or does she. In a big moment, Annabelle rides Valkyrie’s flying horse to look for her girlfriend Ren in the middle of the carnage. They share a beautiful reunion before being literally ripped apart by the plot of War of the Realms. Bunn does a great job writing the only non-powered character and gives her a strong romantic and heroic arc despite this issue being an event tie-in. The emotional moments with her and Throg plus great individual action moments with the rest of the team makes Asgardians of the Galaxy #8 worth an overall verdict of Read.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #43

The final “War of the Realms” tie-in and the unlikeliest even though Squirrel Girl has connections with Thor, Loki, and the Norse squirrel god Ratatoskr is Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #43 from Ryan North, Derek Charm, and Rico Renzi. This used to be one of my favorite Marvel titles, but then I fell behind. However, North’s ability to couch exposition in jokes and Tony Stark/Squirrel Girl Twitter thread recaps caught me, the lapsed reader, up to speed as well as anyone who didn’t pick up War of the Realms #1. Basically, the event is an excuse for Loki to send Squirrel Girl on a mission to take out a secret Frost Giant base in Canada, and there’s lots of mysteries to be unbundled from this, including Loki’s alignment, which North hides in ambiguous and purposefully misleading dialogue.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #43 is cute, funny, and the only one of these three comics to have a complete plot while having joke, riffs, clever action sequences, and some sweet interactions between Doreen and her parents, who live in Canada and sadly got rid of her Arctic variant costume. Derek Charm is one of my favorite current artists and is really the full package, including animated facial expressions, gesture cartooning, clever layouts, and above all, humor that is helped by North’s great footnote jokes. (His inspiration for the fight between Squirrel Girl and the Frost Giant made me cackle.) He even nails the mandatory superhero group shot splash page that should instantly get him a slot drawing the X-Men, Avengers, or Justice League. Renzi’s colors, especially for the Frost Giants, really pop and have an attitude to them. And his shadowy work with the Ratatoskr gives him the right level of menace.

North, Charm, and Renzi are a clever bunch of creators, and a linewide crossover offers them more opportunities to roast mainstream heroes, like Iron Man and Captain America while giving Doreen a new adventure and new bad guys plus family time. It’s not every day you get a comic that makes a running gag of the Asgardian spelling of “Hek”, but today is this day. For this, a physics defying Frost Giant battle, a joke about Jim Davis’ Silver Surfer/Galactus short story in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #26, and Loki’s unlikely friendship with Nancy Whitehead, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #43 gets an Overall Verdict of Buy.

The real heroes of this week’s “War of the Realms” tie-in were a hero that eats nuts, kicks butts, and tries to reason with her enemies before punching them and a heroic frog that despite his unworthiness still fights to avenge the people he loves. Also, writing a cast of ensemble characters in the middle of a summer crossover is like trying to walk and chew bubblegum. Jokes and emotional character arcs help smooth things over though.


Panel of the Week

The end result of messing with Throg from Asgardians of the Galaxy #8. (Art by Matteo Lolli and Federico Blee)

I want to make this column more interactive. Email me questions at ldalton626@gmail.com or tweet me at MidnighterBae, and I will answer them in an upcoming installment of Messages from Midgard.

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