By Zack Quaintance — Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman and the rest of the War of the Realms main series creative team have a huge job in front of them. Aaron has spent nearly (but not quite) a decade building to this throughout a number of different Thor comics. Now, the writer must find a way to pay off all the seeds he’s been planting, while making the threats in his event so consequential that they demand the giant stage he’s given them.
This, on the surface, shouldn’t really be that hard. Aaron and his artistic collaborators (a powerhouse list that includes Esad Ribic, Olivier Coipel, Mike Del Mundo, and Dauterman himself) have methodically demonstrated the full-scope of the threat bearing down on Earth here across multiple story arcs. The problem, however, is event fatigue, or the idea that so many crossovers, so many summer events across multiple titles, so many other-world earth invaders eventually lead to a feeling among the audience that none of it matters, and everything will snap right back to the status quo soon. It’s beneath all of this that Aaron and his collaborators must prove that their story is different.
At the same time, the storytellers must surely be aware that this event will be collected in standalone trades and read by a fair portion of the audience that doesn’t have much (or any) knowledge of all that has come before. They are, in effect, tasked with paying off roughly eight years of storylines here, finding a new way to threaten the Marvel Universe on a scale not previously seen, and also staying accessible to new readers. It’s a huge huge task, and I’m curious to see if they can do it, especially given that Aaron’s strength throughout his career has been more in patient long-form storytelling that pays off deeply when followed over time versus contained standalone stories or world-shattering events. There is, simply put, a lot going on here.
That brings us to the merits of this first issue, War of the Realms #1. Before I get to individual elements and how they all come together, I should first note that I’m entirely caught up on Aaron’s lengthy run on Thor, and so immersed within it that I will likely to struggle to give a fair assessment for a newcomer or a casual Thor reader. So, just know that going in.
All that said, I think War of the Realms #1 is as strong of an event-launching comic as Marvel has put out in recent memory, with the closest comparison I can make going back to when Jonathan Hickman was show-running the Avengers. The opening pages with their maps and recaps are quick and to the point, easy to understand without getting overly expository. A map spread on pages two and three familiarize us with the realms that are warring, noting as they do that dark forces have now conquered or destroyed all of them save for Earth.
This is the story of those ten realms, Aaron writes in his narration, and of the one might war that ravaged them all. In some ways, this is all we need to start it, kind of like the opening credits. It’s a confident and authoritative narrative voice that basically tells the reader, buckle in and let me take you through this. It works great. And soon enough, we get—death and action.
The script uses some presumably familiar (even to more casual readers) characters to ground us in the first act. Thor, Odin, and Spider-Man. Stakes established, heroes introduced, the narration then just sort of takes a step to the back, pushing Dauterman’s and Wilson’s absolutely incredible artwork to central stage as they depict a set of imposing and evil Norse forces waging a sudden (and disorganized) war on modern earth, starting with an emergence in Times Square, which is strategically baffling but appropriate given New York City is and probably always will be the center of the Marvel Universe.
In the end, as a continuance of an all-time great run on Thor, I’d give this comic a perfect score of 10 out of 10. It’s a gorgeous story that hums along at a packed and suspenseful pace, rewarding long-time Thor readers as well as those currently taking in Aaron’s run on Avengers. As a linewide event launching at least a half dozen auxiliary miniseries and also muddling a good number of other monthly titles, however, I think the jury’s still out. Books like Asgardians of the Galaxy, Avengers, and Thor being pulled into this make a lot of sense, but there may be readers of other titles (Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Venom come to mind) wondering why the runs they were enjoying are now in a war they know little about. With the opening shots fired, it’s up to the creators behind this and the rest of those books to convince them, and if all the comics are as entertaining as this one, they should have little trouble.
Overall: A gorgeous and kinetic comic from creators making some of the best superhero comics right now. Long-time Thor readers will absolutely love this book, while new or casual readers may be a bit less prepared. The artwork alone, however, is worth the price of admission. 9.0/10
War of the Realms #1
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Russell Dauterman
Colorist: Matthew Wilson
Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino
Publisher: Marvel Comics
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.