The Killing Horizon is the explosive new sci-fi vision from Jamie McKelvie,co-creator of the bestselling, award-winning The Wicked + The Divine, and Eisner Award winning colorist Matthew Wilson, launching from Image Comics in Summer 2020.
The project sees McKelvie return to writing for the first time in a decade, after establishing himself as both a popular artist of comics such as Young Avengers and designer of iconic superheroes including Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel and Loki.
The Killing Horizon takes place in the post-post-apocalyptic future. Far from Earth, a specialist in studying dead alien societies is embedded with a military unit to excavate a new find. She’s done it before. It’s good work and it’s safe. She thinks it’s just another job.
Lost and alone, deep beneath the warped, skeletal spires of the millennia-dead city, she finds something powerful. Something unlike anything any human has ever known. Something that needs her to take it on a journey no living being has ever taken. Something that will make her a target for every side fighting a deadly war. It calls to her.
Joining the established partnership of McKelvie and Wilson are letterer Aditya Bidikar, designer Cecile Richard, and editor Katie West.
“At every occasion, I’ll be ready for the funeral.”-Band of Horses
Like the David Bowie song, five years is all we got with The Wicked + the Divine, and writer Kieron Gillen, artist Jamie McKelvie, and colorist Matthew Wilson go out on top in WicDiv #45,which is set 40 years after the events of the previous issue. It’s a thoughtful issue in the vein of The Sandman “The Wake” and is a fantastic character study as Gillen and McKelvie show what happens when the Pantheon grows old beginning with the much guarded secret of the final cover.
The entire issue happens at Cassandra’s funeral and wake so it’s fitting that the first big reveal is that she and Laura ended up married after a relationship with Eleanor. Speaking of Eleanor, it is so strange to see Lucifer as a senior citizen, and McKelvie does a fantastic job with all the wrinkles, crow’s feet, and other accoutrements of age for a group of characters that I, at least, thought would all flame out in their twenties. But, no, they get to live and reflect on life and relationships beneath the eaves of Valhalla, which has been turned into a National Trust site. There is continuity in the earlier Daft Punk/futuristic elements of Valhalla, but Wilson uses a more muted color palette in keeping with the somber occasion.
One of the most beautiful elements of WicDiv #45 is the interweaving, naturalistic conversations about the characters’ relationships as Gillen and McKelvie do a more graceful version of “Where are they now” with a good mix of grid layouts and wider panels. We get the last word on Zahid and Valentine with the brief return of Baal’s Nathan Fairbairn colored fresco as Zahid wistfully talks about how they have never been or will be with such a force like Baal. It all comes to a climax with Cassandra giving her own eulogy hologram-style, and what, in lesser creative hands, could be a pop-joke about the exploitation of Tupac or Prince turned into a wonderful final analysis of the Pantheon from the sharp, yet loving mind of a journalist turned goddess turned mortal.
Although there are remarks about Laura being Cassandra’s “vice”, Cass’ final speech shows that she has become a little sweeter in her old age and that the conflict and drama of the two years of the Pantheon didn’t even matter to the end. When she calls Umar, who was feeling pretty down in his dialogue and missing Cameron something fierce, the best person she had known, it resonates emotionally because she isn’t the kind of character to hand out compliments willy nilly. She even gives Eleanor, one of the people she detested the most, the kudos for basically going hard and being the best embodiment she should ever be. Luci was the catalyst for me taking a Milton seminar in undergrad and, by extension, writing about comics academically so that series of panels landed hard.
After remarks on all the remaining Pantheon members, Kieron Gillen flexes his writing muscles and Jamie McKelvie’s flexes his facial expression and gesture ones for a poignant monologue on aging, which is honestly what WicDiv #45 is all about. There was the high energy, passion, action, and fandom of the early arcs supplemented by the greater context of the specials and “Mothering Invention” finally culminating in the Pantheon realizing that they could opt out of the millennia-long cycle of death and rebirth as ordinary humans. (Except Aruna can play the fuck out of a double neck guitar.) This issue shows the product of this mortality and has some awesome group hugs as the death of Cassandra causes surviving, former Pantheon members to come to terms with their mortality.
And because of how much Gillen and McKelvie have fleshed out this cast of characters over five years, The Wicked + the Divine #45 is an easy comic to self-identity with, especially when Laura faces the reader, does a final 1-2-3-4, and there’s a fade to white. Getting old is something that both scares me and is something I’m in denial of, and seeing characters that I felt like I grew up with wrinkles, long happy marriages, and stories of the past makes it a little more palatable. For a series that had a fairly large body count and had some dark relationship dynamics, this happy ending is a delight and an ode to building relationships and craft your own destiny and story to get a little bit meta.
This is a bit obvious to those of you who have been following me on my WicDiv reading/reviewing/interviewing, and yes, living journey the past five years, but The Wicked + the Divine is my favorite comic of all time. Sure, Sandman and The Invisibles are up there, but with WicDiv, I got to go on the journey each single issue, or step, of the way and theorize, weep, celebrate, and even build friendships along the way. It’s a book that’s always been about the big ideas like life, death, the creative act, but always had time for the little things that make life great like puns, pops, literary allusions, and fantastic costume design from Jamie McKelvie.
Even though I’ve been in denial since Monday when I read the final issue, The Wicked + the Divine #45 is the perfect ending to the series with Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson’s carefully crafted words and visuals on aging, looking back, and looking to the future. This is a comic that has engaged both my head and heart. Like Ananke, and in this issue, Cassandra say, “I love you. I love you all. I’ll miss you.” This comic will always have a beloved place in my heart, and I look forward to rereading, reminiscing, and recommending it into the decades to come even as I begin to look like the characters in this issue.
*This review contains full spoilers for The Wicked + The Divine #44*
With its skull on the first page of issue one, None More Goth visual trappings, and high body count, The Wicked + the Divine sometimes seems to be a book about death. However, it’s really about life and growing up and discovering your true identity, and stuff that sounds like self-help, hippy dippy bullshit. The Wicked + The Divine #44 is executed in a beautiful way by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson. Even though there’s one issue left of WicDiv,this The Wicked + The Divine #44 ends the series’ main plot and the tale of godlike teenagers, Ananke and Persephone, and best of all, Luci and Laura, the relationship between mad, bad, and dangerous to know and shy, innocent fangirl that hooked me on the series and evolved well beyond that.
The amazing cliffhanger of WicDiv #43 brought Luci back to the forefront of the narrative and the general limelight just before the end. Gillen has her call herself “the whole world’s dream girlfriend”, and McKelvie and Wilson oblige with some rockstar poses and a side of hellfire. Her new costume is one of my favorite McKelvie designs of the series and gives her the swagger of a person who is only herself when she’s performing in some way. She’s Lord Byron, Bowie, Jagger, and most of all, the Adversary. Luci desires to create chaos and enjoy life with her new lease on it, doesn’t want to relinquish her powers like the other Pantheon members, and would definitely rather reign in Hell.
This is where some writers would have a big punch-up, Miracleman #15 style, with Luci being full of hubris and wrecking London. However, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie definitely “zag” away from this path and do something a little more life-affirming with Luci and Laura. In a red and black, near farce of the Pantheon transformation sequence and using third-person narration, Gillen, McKelvie, and Wilson sort through the pain that Laura has gone through the past two years, and how much she cared for Luci even when she was on trial for murder back in “Faust Act”.
It all culminates in one of the most touching sequences of the series (And we’re only on page 8.) where Luci simply says, “I’m Eleanor”, kisses Laura, and becomes human again. This series of pages is a wonderful inversion of the other Pantheon transformation sequences throughout the series, and the moments after are raw, filled with tears, and the formerly sharp-tongued Lucifer having almost nothing to say. It expertly combines the lofty themes of identity, godhood, and immortality with two estranged friends hugging it out as Laura demonstrates growth by choosing reconciliation over alienation.
I could probably write this whole review about Luci and Laura, but hey, there are other characters and storylines in The Wicked + The Divine #44 all connected to the throughline of simply living even if it doesn’t mean being a god with worshipers or pop star with fans. With Luci returned to mortality, the situation with Minerva/Ananke is the last big plot thread on the table, and there’s a debate over what to do with her. Laura wants to kill her, but she’s growing as a person and defers to Cassandra’s sensible solution of using Mimir’s plot device engine one last time. (Cass’ reaction is priceless.) But Baal just wants to kill her and be the embodiment of toxic masculinity. His last interactions with Inanna are tragic and are a reminder of how great this series was at exploring queerness and gender performance.
He’s done this throughout the series, but I would like to draw attention to how Jamie McKelvie draws panels with multiple figures in WicDiv #44. He doesn’t just focus on reader eye level, but in the spirit of the old film adage “acting is reacting”, imbues each figure with a small story of their own. A good example of this is the first reaction panel after the deaths of Baal and Minerva. Laura furrowing her brow and figuring what to do with two dead bodies and a SWAT on the way is the focus of the panel.
But McKelvie reminds us of the deep pain that Inanna feels about the death of his former lover and the empathy and friendship Dionysus has for him through his detailed work with them. All of this is with no words; just visuals. Also, Wilson uses a lot of black to give the panel and page a real funereal feel for the literal characters, Baal and Minerva as well as all of Ananke’s machinations and the concept of the Pantheon. There is also a slight glow in the background, which connects to the spotlights used by the cops throughout the issue and symbolizes that the ex-Pantheon members have to deal with the harsh light of reality as mortals from now on. (See the courthouse scene.)
With its opening words and repeated mantra “Once again we return” as well as the revelation of the eternal conflict between Ananke and her sister, WicDiv has been a study of cycles of life and death. This beautiful symmetry pays off big time in WicDiv #43 whose final page is not just an homage to the ending of its predecessor, Grant Morrison’s Invisibles, but the first page of WicDiv #1 with the visual of a living head instead of a skull. It’s also like the ending of John Milton’s Paradise Lostwhere Adam and Eve lost a chance of immortality in an utopia, but gained the ability to choose “their [own] place of rest”. Laura might not be a goddess any more and is still in hot water for killing Ananke, but she gets to live life as a human being untethered to any rituals or schemes.
I’ve spent the last five years living, regressing, and sometimes growing alongside these characters expertly crafted by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson so emotions definitely run high in The Wicked + The Divine #44 especially in regards to Luci and Laura and Baal and Inanna. But it is one of the most life-affirming comics I’ve ever read, and I’m glad that we (hopefully) get to see a peek of the lives of Laura and company in the final issue of the series. (That final cover reveal, y’all!!)
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“.
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.
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.
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 NewAgents 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-Menwhich 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.
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’sWar 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
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
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.
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.
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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”.
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.
“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 wishJourney 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, andCaptain MarvelandDeadpool 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.
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…
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
InSpider-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.
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.
“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.
In what is probably a law of averages/regression to the mean situation, a decent issue of War of the Realms happened as Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, and Matthew Wilson stopped crafting trailers for tie-in issues (For the most part.) and turned in a damn good Odin and Freyja story. Throughout his run on Thor, Aaron has done a fantastic job creating character journeys for Odinson’s supporting cast and rekindles some of that old magic as Iron-Odin and Freyja go all Thermopylae against the Dark Elves. As far as tie-ins, we’ve got two hits and a (near) miss. Inconsistent art and directionless plotting squander the amazing cast that Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum, Kim Jacinto, and Ario Anindito have been gifted with in War Avengers while Spider-Man and the League of the Realms and Giant-Man are basically throwing shit at the wall to see if it sticks. And it does thanks to Nico Leon’s clean art, Sean Ryan’s heroic writing of Spidey, and Leah Williams’ wonderful wit.
War of the Realms #4
Freyja has been a complete and utter badass during the course of the “War of the Realms” event leading the charge as all her male relatives are Frost Giant food or injured. With the foresight that comes from her background as a Vanir goddess, she can both ward off hordes of Dark Elves and coordinate the Avengers recruiting surviving members of other realms to make a last stand on Midgard. Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson channel Jack Kirby a little bit when showing her action using Kirby krackle and squiggly lines to demonstrate her magical powers and a black and pink palette that intensifies into red once her situation gets more dire.
And speaking of dire, this is what motivates an injured Odin to jump into battle. He truly cares about his wife and is angry that Ghost Rider, She-Hulk, Blade, and Punisher left her by herself at the Black Bifrost. He is very pissed off, and not even Captain America’s good wishes can calm him down. Luckily, Tony Stark has forged him an incredibly cool, golden suit of armor in one of the series’ most badass moments. Aaron also does an excellent job writing a bickering couple even sneaking in a joke about how Odin isn’t great in bed as they reach their end. Over the course of four issues, he and Dauterman have taken almost everyone away from Thor, and he is ready to be a hero with his axe, hammer, metal arm, and interruption of Jane Foster. This arc for Thor is very in line with his recent characterization in the Marvel movies, and I’m curious how many of these “deaths” will actually hold up once the event is over.
War of the Realms #4 has bits that feel like trailers for other issues (She-Hulk’s motivational speech to the dwarves of Nidavellir is very funny though.), but Jason Aaron’s focus on Freyja and Odin’s characterization combined with Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson’s beautiful, yet tragic visuals of their final stand give the comic an Overall Verdict of Read.
War of the Realms Strikeforce: The War Avengers #1
Writer Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum, artists Kim Jacinto and Ario Anindito, and colorists Java Tartaglia and Felipe Sobreiro’s War Avengers one-shot is set up back in War of the Realms #3 with Freyja sending a team led by Captain Marvel to coordinate the defense of Midgard. The members of this team are Deadpool, Sif, Weapon H (Hulk and Wolverine combined for some reason.), Winter Soldier, Black Widow, and Captain Britain comes into help later. Hopeless understands the voices of these characters very well with inappropriately timed quips for Deadpool, a badass warrior vibe for Sif, strong military leadership from Carol, and simmering black ops chemistry between Natasha and Bucky that would make Ed Brubaker and Mark Waid smile. As the team heads to London to try to take out Malekith, he even writes one hell of a Union Jack, who quaffs a pint while waiting for the next wave of Dark Elves.
This previous paragraph made War Avengers #1 sound like a damn fine team comic, but it’s not. I know that deadlines are a thing and this issue is longer than usual Marvel ones, but Jacinto and Anindito’s art is very hit and miss and doesn’t really mesh. Some scenes are more cartoonish while others are stiffly rendered. This stiffness comes at awkward moments like an extended bit with Deadpool and a shark, or Black Widow and Winter Soldier doing a cool stealth mission to steal mechs from Frost Giants. But there are some good panels here and there like when Deadpool makes a joke about a scene of Natasha leaping from an explosion being a good movie poster for her. Sometimes, this comic does feel like Dennis Hallum unloading every joke he has for Deadpool at one go.
So, unlike the excellent Dark Elf Realm one-shot, Hallum doesn’t really have a focus after the Frost Giant heist mission and the failed attack on Malekith wrapping the comic up with some statements about war straight out of All Quiet on the Western Front’s Cliff Notes. With the exception of Venom’s capture, he doesn’t show the War Avengers being beaten back by Malekith and ends the issue with a Carol voiceover and setting up their next “mission”. This lack of conclusiveness plus inconsistent art earns War Avengers #1 an Overall Verdict of Pass even though I personally love this team lineup.
War of the Realms: Spider-Man & the League of Realms #1
Sean Ryan, Nico Leon, and Carlos Lopez take one of the coolest concepts from Jason Aaron’s Thor run and craft a heartwarming, occasionally quirky heroic story in Spider-Man & the League of Realms#1. The story opens with Spider-Man driving a jeep to Lagos, Nigeria with a Light Elf, Dwarf, Mountain Giant, and Vanir god in tow. They’re trying to liberate Lagos from the Angels of Heven, who now rule the continent of Africa. The result is Spider-Man awkwardly trying to keep a team that has a couple killers at bay and looking out for regular people while angels rain down fire and fury from above.
What really makes this comic work is the clean lines of Nico Leon, which make the story fun and easy to follow even if you, like me, forgot half the names of the League of the Realms members. Leon works with colorist Carlos Lopez to highlight important parts of each panel like a gorgeous church in the background where Fernande, the Angel commander and a definite crusader type, has her headquarters. His Spider-Man is quite expressive, and he treats the mask like a face and not something static. Ryan gives him plenty of action to draw, but this comic has a pretty peaceful ending for a “War of the Realms” tie-in. It’s a done in one story and also has a cool cliffhanger plus Ryan creates tension between Spider-Man and the more violent members of his team that will probably lead to more conflict down the road.
Even though he’s in Lagos, not Queens, and is palling around with an Elf, Dwarf (I love me some Screwbeard.), god, troll, and not the Human Torch or Mary Jane, Spider-Man & the League of Realms #1 is still a great Spider-Man story. Spidey takes responsibility for every life he comes in contact with on his mission and truly lives up to Thor’s description of him as “the most Midgard of men”. Throw in Nico Leon’s artwork, and this comic earns an Overall Verdict of Buy.
I would love to be a fly, er, ant on the wall when Leah Williams pitched Giant-Man #1 to Marvel. Basically, four size changing superheroes (Scott Lang aka Ant-Man, Raz Malhotra aka Giant-Man, Tom Foster aka Goliath, and Atlas) grow to their full height, disguise themselves as Frost Giants, and take a trip to Florida to whack Laufey’s Frost Giant buddy, Ymir. Freyja is channeling the power of “big boy season” to get revenge for Laufey eating her adopted son, Loki back in War of the Realms #1. Scott wants to go back to Florida to look for his daughter, Cassie, and Williams and artist Marco Castiello do a great job having him and Freyja connect over their love for their children. Their care also extends to Goliath, who struggles with powers and being in the shadow of his uncle Bill Foster as well as Raz, who is a cute wholesome soul that had a recent breakup with his boyfriend, and of course, Atlas, who is just happy to have a shot at heroism again and comes to the mission already in “giant” mode. At first, Goliath seems like the team asshole, but Williams and Castiello prod his vulnerabilities and insecurity and add layers to his character.
for all its humor, general adventurous tone, and creative uses of size
changing, Giant-Man #1 has a few
flaws. There’s some Freyja dialogue at the beginning when she’s giving the
mission that needed to be copy edited, and once the team has their “disguises”
on, it’s sometimes hard to tell the characters apart except for Scott, who
wears a larger version of his Ant-Man helmet. There’s a real flying by the seat
of their pants quality to the characters’ interactions especially once they
reach the Frost Giant haven of Yeehaw, Florida, which is a fantastic name for
comedy purposes. The cast of Giant-Man has
similar powers, but no real bond with each other except for Scott and Raz, who
was trained by him in a previous comic. This is a definite liability for such
an important mission as this one, and shit almost immediately hits the fan and
doesn’t let up. Also, Frost Giant dogs make look cute, but they’re actually
Leah Williams and Marco Castiello go full hog with the fun, weird side of “War of the Realms” in Giant-Man #1, which also features plenty of jokes (Including a very good dick one), three dimensional characters, and characters riding on each other’s shoulders and in pockets. One line of clunky dialogue and occasional art clarity issues aside, it gets an Overall Verdict of Buy.
This was one of the better “War of the Realms” weeks in recent memory with Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, and Matthew Wilson doing strong work with Thor and his family in the main title while Spider-Man and the League of the Realms and Giant-Man showed there’s room for traditional hero stories and wacky capers in this event. War Avengers was kind of a disappointment, but extended panel time for Captain Britain, Union Jack, Sif, and non-surveillance state Carol Danvers is a good time. I like how Dennis Hallum wrote these characters, and maybe we’ll get a spinoff with a better artist. I still don’t get the deal with Weapon H other than as a cash grab.