The “War of the Realms” takes a break this week from the main heroes and blockbuster trappings to tell smaller, quirky stories that are varying degrees of fun. The McElroys bring the road trip banter in War of the Realms: Journey into Mystery #2, and Andre Araujo gets to take a break from advanced technology and gory fight scenes to be a humor cartoonist. War of the Realms: New Agents of Atlas #1 is one of the first tie-ins to remember that this event has a global scope, and Greg Pak and Gang Hyuk-Lim introduce Marvel’s first Filipina hero, Wave, although the story comes apart at the seams sometimes. I tip my hat to Pak and Lim for introducing more Asian heroes to the main Marvel Universe, and hopefully we get to hear for them after three issues. And Unbeatable Squirrel Girl continues to be a sweet cinnamon roll of a comic that I hope Marvel never cancels. (Thank you Scholastic book club marketing!)
War of the Realms: Journey into Mystery #2
With the boring team assembling part out of the way, the McElroys, Andre Araujo, and colorist Chris O’Halloran are free to write and draw road trip hijinks after a quick prelude showing why Ares is working for Sindr and after Thor’s baby sister, Laussa. The McElroys settle into writing this truly odd assortment of characters in Journey into Mystery #2, and honestly, I could read a whole ongoing series of them traipsing through the Marvel Universe and arguing about personal space, the fact that no one on the team can drive except Kate Bishop (Kudos to Miles Morales for doing driver’s ed next semester though.), and Thori being fierce.
The McElroys and Araujo don’t force a fight with Ares just yet and have the team stop at “Bide-A-Wee” trailer park because, again, no one except Kate Bishop can drive. Araujo draws the denizens of the trailer park in a stiff manner like they’re pretending to be human. This makes sense because they are actually Skrulls. (Of course, the McElroys use this fact to get in some licks at Secret Invasion.) And, then, there’s the requisite action scene that Araujo and O’Halloran make fun with some creative shapeshifting and pink arrows for Kate. However, the sequence is resolved in a very un-War of the Realms way. But what do you expect from a creative team that made changing a dirty diaper both hilarious and suspenseful.
If we had to fight a War of the Realms to get this fun buddy road trip story from the McElroys and Andre Araujo, it will have been worth it. This comic definitely feels like it was written by a bunch of guys who have probably been in enclosed spaces with each other for a long time whether that’s childhood road trips or doing live podcast shows for rabid fans. Throw in a sense of wonder, humor, and love for cute babies interacting with Helhounds, and Journey into Mystery #2 an overall verdict of Buy.
War of the Realms: New Agents of Atlas #1
Through his elevation of Amadeus Cho to the Hulk and especially a four issue arc of Totally Awesome Hulk where Cho teams up with other Asian-American superheroes, Greg Pak has used his clout as a writer to push for more Asian and Asian-American superheroes in Marvel Comics. He and artist Gang Hyuk Lim turn that up to eleven in War of the Realms: New Agents of Atlas #1, which features appearances from Marvel’s first Filipina hero Wave, the Chinese hero Aero, and Korean heroes Crescent and Io and Luna Snow, who were popular in the Marvel Future Fight mobile game and make their first comic appearance here. It’s cool to see these characters and their unique abilities get the spotlight, but Pak struggles to juggle such a large ensemble cast in one issue. Lim’s art is also fairly pedestrian even though there are pops of color from Federico Blee like when Crescent sics his magic bear Io on some Fire Goblins.
In New Agents of Atlas #1’s back matter, Pak says that he wanted to use the book to explore the “diversity within diversity” having Asian and Asian-American from different countries and backgrounds interact while defending the continent from Sindr and Fire Goblins. And he pulls this off in one fantastic scene where Jimmy Woo, the leader of Agents of Atlas, asks Amadeus Cho, Kamala Khan, Silk, and Shang Chi what kind of pear he’s holding. Depending on their background, they say it’s a Korean, Chinese, or Japanese pear because Kamala has only seen that kind of pear at the Japanese grocery.
However, the lesson is that the kind of pear doesn’t matter, and Woo says that the important thing is that they work together as a team. They proceed to not do this with Kamala and Amadeus constantly bickering about some Champions business, which leads to their plane crashing outside Seoul and a fight against the Korean superheroes, not Sindr’s forces. Pak and Lim nail Amadeus Cho’s egotism as he flexes his muscles and showboats throughout the comic and impetuously launches himself into battle without regard for his teammates. However, the scene where the newly minted Agents of Atlas fight the Korean superheroes is very rushed as White Fox immediately assumes that Amadeus Cho is bad because he had a Hulk incident a while back. It’s a good illustration of the pointless drama that gets in the way of teamwork, but with an emphasis on the “pointless” part.
Luna Snow, who Silk fangirls over because she’s a hero and a K-Pop star, Crescent and Io, and a cool surprise character have visually distinct abilities, but Gang Hyuk Lim is too married to the Marvel house style to really let them shine. This is a book that could have used the stylized touch of a Takeshi Miyazawa, who collaborate with Greg Pak on his creator owned comic Mech Cadet Yu, or David Lafuente. With its introduction of new heroes and soapy team dynamic, New Agents of Atlas has tantalizing potential even if this first issue doesn’t completely deliver so it earns the Overall Verdict of Read.
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #44
Arguably, the best “War of the Realms” tie-in continues as writer Ryan North, artist Derek Charm, and colorist Rico Renzi have Squirrel Girl team up with Ratatoskr, the Norse squirrel god of chaos against Frost Giants and then frighten the citizens of rural Alberta. North and Charm do a good job laying out Ratatoskr’s motivation as she sees that Malekith ruling all ten realms would lead to conformity and boredom, which is the opposite of chaos. So, she’s fighting Frost Giants although in a flashback, she did give a thumbs up to Mangog, the destroyer of Asgard. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #44 is really an exercise in ethics as Ratatoskr tries to cross lines, but Squirrel Girl holds her back and tries to keep everything even kneeled. However, this backfires.
Like every issue in this series, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #44 is a dense comic filled with jokes, extended riffs, footnote jokes, and kick-ass fight scenes. What could have been just a simple fight between Squirrel Girl and two Frost Giants ends up with Ratatoskr giving an update on what she has been up to over the past 30 issues or so while imprisoned in Asgard as well as some jokes about how Frost Giants see humans as action figures and superhumans as rare ones. They’re still looking for the rare action figures with kung fu grips though.
Once the Giants go down, North and Charm go into full fish out of water mode with Ratatoskr, who is trying to blend in with the locals, but ends up as a femme fatale in rural Canada and does not pass for human. She has great fashion sense, and North and Charm get to sneak in jokes about video game palette swaps, Sailor Moon, and draw a squirrel ear wearing Spider-Man costume while she picks her look. Also, in her interactions with the regular folks of Alberta, she chooses the chaotic option over the safe one and ends up getting in random guys’ faces. This scene also illustrates the classic principles that humans hate and fear what they don’t understand as the Albertans turn on Squirrel Girl and Ratatoskr, once they realize that “they’re not from around here”.
Ryan North, Derek Charm, and Rico Renzi seem to be having a hell of time combining Squirrel Girl’s morality and empathy with Ratatoskr’s penchant for chaos and manipulation. It’s an instant source of drama and mischief and gives Charm the chance to draw “resting evil face”. Also, for its dedication to fun, good comedy, complex baddies, adorable art, and expressive, flat colors, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #44 gets an overall verdict of Buy.
Although the quality of this week’s three comics does fluctuate, Journey into Mystery, New Agents of Atlas, and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl use the backdrop of “War of the Realms” not as a crutch, but as a freedom to tell road trip, Asian superhero team-up, and odd couple stories. Frost Giants are coming through portals so why not bring back the entertaining villain Ratatoskr from a few years back to mess with Squirrel Girl and use her divine abilities to troll mere mortals. A book like New Agents of Atlas could use its own series to build up the new characters, but Journey into Mystery and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl uses the events of “War of the Realms” as jumping on points for comedic misadventures. This week is a breath of fresh air after all the melodrama, gore, and Frank Castleness of previous “War of the Realms” tie-ins.