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.
(W) Jason Aaron (A/CA) Ed McGuinness Rated T+ In Shops: Jun 26, 2019 SRP: $3.99
WAR OF THE REALMS TIE-IN!
The final battle for Midgard! Captain Marvel leads the War Avengers! Hulk battles Ulik! Blade takes on the Black Berserkers of Roxxon! Plus: Daredevil the God Without Fear has a cryptic message that will decide the future of the team.
While the status of Dracula the vampire nation might have been the focus of the “War of the Vampires” storyline that ran in Avengers #13-17, there was something else that stood out. The return of Johnny Blaze, aka Ghost Rider! Blaze is still reigning as the King of Hell, who took over in Damnation, and we’ll see more of this role in “The Challenge of the Ghost Riders” this September.
In Avengers #16 we saw current Ghost Rider Robbie Reye stuck in traffic in the depths of hell. A mysterious character was talking to him and teasing the difficulty he’d be facing. The last page of the issue featured Blaze sitting on his bike and leaving Reyes with a warning their story would intertwine once more.
You’ll be back. And the King of Hell will be here waiting. And next time I see you, Ghost Rider, you and me… we’re gonna do a bit more than just talk. We’re gonna have us a little ride.
– Johnny Blaze aka Ghost Rider – Avengers #16
The next chapter for Johnny Blaze and Ghost Rider begins this September. Find “The Challenge of the Ghost Riders” in Avengers #24.
Check out the full solicitation below and cover artwork (which is not the final trade dress).
JASON AARON (W) • STEFANO CASELLI (A/C)
THE CHALLENGE OF THE GHOST RIDERS!
If the Avengers thought one Ghost Rider was tough to deal with, wait’ll they see how many Spirits of Vengeance have just been unleashed by the King of Hell, Johnny Blaze! Including the craziest, most powerful Rider of them all…That’s right, it’s the Avengers vs. Cosmic Ghost Rider!
Today I’m digging back into my ongoing theme of team completion, but with a bit of a twist. We’re going to try to narrow it down to the ONE most valuable missing component from pre-existing Marvel Legends teams. Granted, it’s going to be a little tougher with X-Force, but play along.
Annihilators: Sure, they may be a bit more obscure than other Marvel teams, but the Annihilators had two big mini-series after Annihilation: Conquest. Additionally, team member Beta Ray Bill gets a new figure in the forthcoming second Avengers: Endgame wave, and both he and Quasar are rumored to appear in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. The core line-up consists of Quasar, Beta Ray Bill, Ronan, Silver Surfer, Gladiator, Cosmo, and Ikon the Spaceknight. As you can tell from the photo, most of that group is represented. And while I’d love to get Cosmo in ML scale, we’re going to vote that Quasar is our MVMP. He also checks a box for a MVMP candidate in terms of ‘80s Avengers, but I’d actually give that award to Monica Rambeau Captain Marvel in her original outfit.
Guardians of the Galaxy: On a related note, if you consider the comic GOTG, we’re actually missing A LOT of characters. There’s most of the original team. There’s the aforementioned Cosmo. But there’s also Bug, a comic-accurate Mantis, Phyla-Vell, Moondragon, and Jack Flag from the DnA (and current) era. If we split it between classic and current, I’d say that a classic Yondu is the obvious choice (and easy, you’d think, considering they did a 3.75” version). For the current, I’m going with Phyla-Vell, despite the fact that I do indeed want the rest. (Frankly, I’d like a classic Mantis and Moondragon as well for the Avengers shelves).
only going with one here, and it’s a familiar one. Swordsman remains the only Avenger that joined in the ‘60s that
hasn’t gotten a figure. He needs to happen.
For ‘70s members, there’s the aforementioned Mantis and Moondragon, but I’m going to go ahead and shout out Two-Gun Kid because a) it’s weird, and b) there aren’t any Marvel Legends cowboys.
I already mentioned my ‘80s pick, but there’s still a lack of Doctor Druid and Starfox to contend with. I feel like Starfox will get some love when The Eternals film hits, as will Sersi.
X-Force: X-Force has gotten its roster bolstered with some seriousness in the last year or two, and we still have Boom-Boom this summer. The first big absence I’d note is Feral, as she’s the last member of the original seven to not have a figure. Of course, that team will never be finished without Siryn, Rictor, and Sunspot, but Feral rounds out the originals.
X-Men: Fine. I’m breaking my own rule. Thunderbird and Mimic. Mimic and Thunderbird. Let’s see ‘em.
Masters of Evil:
Look at that empty space longing for Melter.
He was on the original team and Ultron’s “Crimson Cowl” line-up. He’s a classic
Marvel villain, and he should get some Legends love.
What have you got, kids? Who are your missing MVMPs?
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Free Comic Book Day 2019 is the perfect chance to dive deep into the Marvel Universe with new stories and exciting adventures alongside some of Marvel’s most acclaimed creators – and this year, Marvel is bringing you the biggest and boldest stories yet!
In FCBD Avengers #1, industry superstars Jason Aaron and Stefano Caselli spin in all-new tale for Marvel’s main Avengers series, while Savage Avengers, from Gerry Duggan and Mike Deodato, creates one of the most dynamic, and deadly versions of the Avengers ever!
In FCBD Spider-Man #1, creators Tom Taylor, Saladin Ahmed, and Cory Smith take the superstar heroes of the Spider-Verse in a shocking new direction, with a story that will build to one of Marvel’s most fantastic and epic tales! Meanwhile, Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman remind us that “everyone is a target” by bringing absolute terror to the pages of this year’s FCBD with a prelude to Absolute Carnage – the most fearsome event in the Marvel Universe! With a cover by Ryan Stegman and Frank Martin!
Both FCBD Avengers #1 and FCBD Spider-Man #1 are available in comic stores everywhere on May 4th. In addition to the comic, select retailers will receive FREE Avengers promo buttons highlighting the dynamic and stunning cover art from FCBD Avengers #1 by Ed McGuinness, available while supplies last!
It’s an all tie-in week in “War of the Realms” country after last week’s utter victory for Malekith’s forces and the slaughter (Fridging?) of the Valkyries. Jason Aaron keeps right on going with his sneaky good Avengers run and provides insight into the very jingoistic and almost copyright infringing Squadron Supreme of America as they kick Frost Giant ass from Pennsylvania Avenue to Erie, PA. He uses the events of “War of the Realms” to set up a very good future antagonist for his comic and gets to write one hell of a “Superman” scene. Over in Venom #13,Cullen Bunn and Iban Coello pinch hit for Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman and do a damn find job as a symbiote-less Eddie Brock tries to find safety for him and his son Dylan as Dark Elves and War Witches attack San Francisco. It’s The Last of Us with a heavy metal twist. This week’s final book is War of the Realms: Uncanny X-Men #1, which is the definition of unnecessary tie-in although Matthew Rosenberg gets kudos for remembering Dani Moonstar’s Valkyrie connection.
In a story cheekily titled “Crisis on Ten Realms”, Avengers #18 is Jason Aaron’s riff on DC Comics characters and critique on nationalism with art from Ed McGuinness (Who drew a fair number of DC books in the early 2000s), Mark Morales, and Justin Ponsor. The Squadron Supreme of America have been set up in the background of Aaron’s Avengers run as Thunderbolt Ross, Phil Coulson, and the American establishment have been a little wary of an Avengers team led by a foreign monarch, Black Panther. However, this is the first time that Hyperion, Nighthawk, Power Princess, The Blur and Spectrum have been featured and fleshed out. And, boy, do they love the United States.
Using “War of the Realms” as a metaphorical background for the United States’ constant foreign interventionism in the 21st century, Aaron and McGuinness channel The Authority a little bit as the Squadron Supreme of America is literally programmed to defend the United States and nowhere else in the most violent of ways. They don’t get to chase and pursue the Frost Giants into Canada, but are relocated to fight in the “battleground state” of Ohio in another winking bit of political humor. Even if the use of DC Comics character archetypes is a little heavy handed, Aaron adds layers to the “War of the Realms” events by showing the historical connection between foreign wars and nationalism. He also gets to roast Batman’s mommy issues big time through the character of Nighthawk, who is the paranoid congressman from Washington D.C. in this incarnation.
The Squadron Supreme of America will make great villains for the more diverse Avengers in future storylines even if Aaron handwaves their motivations into a literal “devil made me do it” situation. (Probably to appease the Coulson fans.) Avengers #18 fleshes them out and shows their rise in connection to “War of the Realms” while crafting a superhero team that Roxx, er, Fox News set would like. For its satirical value and longterm planning, Aaron’s fantastic writing of Superman analogue Hyperion, and Ed McGuinness and Mark Morales’ depictions of bloody violence that contrasts with the more peaceful ways of the Avengers, Avengers #18 earns an overall verdict of Buy.
Compared to Avengers #18’s big action, big ideas, and comments on geopolitics and the superhero genre, Venom #13 is more intimate. Especially in the early going when Eddie Brock has to get him and his son, Dylan (Who thinks he’s Eddie’s little brother.) to safety without the use of his symbiote that “broke up” with him in the previous issue of Venom. But, then, it gets loud and violent like your typical Venom comic with some great moments of mayhem like Venom beheading a troll with a flick of his tongue courtesy of artist Iban Coello.
With series creators Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman working on the upcoming “Absolute Carnage” storyline, writer Cullen Bunn, the aforementioned artist Coello, and colorist Andres Mossa team up to tell a three part Venom story set during the events of “War of the Realms”. But the event is just a backdrop for more internal conflict between Venom’s (anti)heroic side and his monstrous one. Bunn’s narration sets this up long before Eddie Brock accepts the War Witches’ gifts and gets a spiky, runic new Venom look and then promptly eats her hand. He is supposedly the protector of innocents, but in this case, he just wants to kill everyone and the “War of the Realms” is like an all you can eat buffet of elves, trolls, and other beings.
The final pages where Coello and Mossa let Venom cut loose are entertaining, but they and Bunn’s most memorable work is when Eddie and Dylan are sneaking around San Francisco in the mode of a good stealth video game. Eddie fighting three Dark Elves with no powers and breaking one of their necks to rescue Dylan shows how much he cares for his son, but then he gives into temptation and the heavy metal symbiote of the first arc of Venom is reborn. Because of its strong internal conflict, powerful action and character interaction cartooning from Iban Coello, and black and blue Andres Mossa color palette, Venom #13 gets an Overall Verdict of Buy and is worth checking out if you like what Cates and Stegman were doing on Venom and aren’t keeping tabs on “War of the Realms”.
War of the Realms: Uncanny X-Men #1
Disclaimer time. Unfortunately, I haven’t been keeping up with the current run on Uncanny X-Men even though I’m a huge fan of Matthew Rosenberg’s work on various Black Mask titles as well as Phoenix Resurrection, Kingpin and Secret Warriors. Also, it’s damn cool that Cyclops is back, and Rosenberg has his and the other X-characters’ voices down like Havok, Hope Summers, Multiple Man, and especially Dani Moonstar in War of the Realms: Uncanny X-Men #1. However, artist Pere Perez’s fight choreography is underwhelming, and the story lacks any kind of momentum with the current X-Men lineup running around New York and fighting various “War of the Realms” beasties after the events of War of the Realms #2 left NYC with no defenders or really any people.
Rosenberg and Perez try to build the story around Dani Moonstar’s connection to the Valkyries, but there is a lot of in-fighting, occasional funny banter, and more fights and running until we see her mourning over her dead sisters. It’s filler and not particularly well-drawn filler as Perez’s attempt at a big splash of the X-Men fighting Frost Giants and Dark Elves isn’t well balanced and is a lot of figures splayed over two pages. The plot is driven by various X-Men disappearing and running after each other plus the conflict between the main team and their “prisoners” Hope Summers and Banshee, which I guess is established in the core series.
It’s cool to see Marvel (Due to the post-Disney/Fox merger) integrate the X-Men into their linewide events with the presence of Wolverine in the core War of the Realms book and the Uncanny X-Men in this tie-in miniseries. However, the haphazard execution, subpar visuals, and the lack of an emotional hook until the final page earn War of the Realms: Uncanny X-Men #1 the overall verdict of Pass.
I definitely find the core metaphor of the X-Men more interesting than the Avengers and have never found Venom compelling until Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman’s run. However, Avengers #18 and Venom #13 were solid macro and micro, respectively, tie-ins to “War of the Realms” while War of the Realms: Uncanny X-Men #1 was the weakest one yet. The world has turned upside down, or maybe it shows with the right combination of creators or compelling story, any character can be cool and relevant.
(W) Jason Aaron (A/CA) Ed McGuinness Rated T+ In Shops: Apr 24, 2019 SRP: $3.99
WAR OF THE REALMS TIE-IN!
See the greatest heroes of Washington, D.C., in action as the War of the Realms comes to the nation’s capital. Who needs the Avengers when you’ve got the all-new Squadron Supreme of America? But who are these mysterious new heroes, and where did they come from? Only Agent Coulson knows.