Now that superhero movies are such a prominent part of modern cinema, bringing in billions of dollars at the box office every year, it’s inevitable that the comic books that inspired them would become influenced by their big picture counterparts. Sometimes it’s in small ways, such as the redesign of a character’s look (Marvel Comics' Nebula, for example, is now straight up her movie double, a far cry how she used to look), while other changes are more significant, like the wholesale retconning of a character’s history (Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were revealed to no longer be Magneto’s children, in order to separate the MCU characters from their then Fox-controlled counterparts).
Every so often, the comics learn all the right lessons from the movies. The big budget, visually stunning, narratively ambitious, emotionally impactful events depicted on the big screen are able to be recreated on the page, and can even be even bigger and wilder and more ambitious. That’s where War of the Realms comes in.
Much like Avengers Infinity War, War of the Realms has been building and building for years. Writer Jason Aaron has laid the groundwork for this event throughout almost the entirety of his six-year-long Thor run, and that work that pays off here in a big way. You could go into War of the Realms #1 completely blind and still appreciate the event's scale, but those who have followed along for years now will feel an extra level of satisfaction and reward for finally reaching the end of Aaron’s Asgardian journey.
The Ten Realms are in crisis. The evil Dark Elf Malekith has ravaged each and every branch of the World Tree, and with the Bifrost destroyed, there’s not been a thing that Thor could do about it. With the war now reaching Midgard (aka Earth), the entire Marvel Universe s about to be dragged into an epic fight for the fate of all creation. This first issue is all about establishing the weight of this impending apocalypse. There’s a tension that builds through the issue, and whether it’s the grandiose narrator or the high stakes right out of the gate (expect a prominent death early on), you get the real sense that this is something big.
Unlike some previous Marvel events (looking at you, Civil War II), this feels like a story that is truly deserving of the "capital E" Event status. This is the War of the Realms -- of course this is going to be huge. As such, there are some big moments in this issue, but also some smaller ones that add to the overall atmosphere. Street-level characters like Spider-Man, Daredevil and Punisher are dragged into a battle against Frost Giants and Dark Elves, making it clear (if it wasn’t already) that this is an all-encompassing event. There’s even going to be a tie-in issue of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, and she never gets dragged into these things. As such, this issue does a great job of not only setting the scene but setting your expectations with regards to scale and scope.
It’s satisfying to see artist Russel Dauterman get the spotlight that he deserves. Thor fans will recognize his work from previous issues of both Thor and Mighty Thor, both part of Aaron’s run, but here Dauterman gets the opportunity to show everyone just how strong an artist he is. War of the Realms is the epic blockbuster of 2019, and his name is on the marquee. His detailed character work, keen sense of scale and structure and engaging page layouts all make him the perfect choice to headline this event. When all hell breaks loose in Times Square, Dauterman’s detailed linework begs you to pause and drink it all in. There sure are a lot of characters here, but whether it's the Avengers or the "New Lords of Midgard," Dauterman takes it all in his stride, depicting each and every one as if they were the only ones on the page.
Credit also to colorist Matthew Wilson and letterer Joe Sabino. The former continues the aesthetic that he’s brought with him throughout his time working on Aaron’s Thor, elevating it to the next level. Look again at that double-page spread of the first wave of enemies in Times Square. It practically explodes out at the reader thanks to Wilson’s colors. Sabino, meanwhile, has to contend with multiple narrators, numerous characters with their own style word balloons, and seemingly a new font on every page, but not once are you left confused as to who is talking or how something is being described.
There are some moments in War of the Realms #1 where the pacing feels a little rushed. Following a high profile (not to mention grisly) death near the end of the issue, it would have been more impactful had the quips not begun immediately in the next panel. Similarly, shortly afterward there’s a great quote from Thor in the form of a battle cry that, had this been a movie, would potentially have been a major, trailer-worthy moment. Here, though, it gets lost at the bottom of a page. It’d not until you turn the page do you see Thor continue his speech, but the impact of that moment is a little lost.
Overall, however, War of the Realms begins this year’s blockbuster event with a bang. The big moments feel appropriately weighty, and the impact of seeing years worth of build up start to pay off is not lost in this issue. War of the Realms has earned its scale and is worthy of its scope. We’re living in a world where people flock to the cinema to watch massive superhero blockbusters. Now, thanks to War of the Realms, they can flock to their local comic shop for the same epic experience.