The story of War of the Realms: Journey into Mystery #1 by the hosts of the wildly popular podcast, My Brother, My Brother, and Me, The McElroy Brothers (Justin, Travis, and Griffin) and artist André Lima Araújois is deceptively simple. While it's painted with broad, colorful strokes of superhero mysticism, this issue is little more than the gathering of a team in order to set forth on what is essentially a video game escort mission, which is actually quite apropos given the creative team’s credentials.
The familiar story is what actually makes this issue appealing. Despite it not being terribly challenging or groundbreaking, it implements its tropes deftly and with enough humor to keep readers engaged. And yes, it sounds ridiculous to give high marks to a comic for not being unbearable for twenty-two pages. But it’s impossible to understate how important this can be for event tie-in titles, which often get overlooked. Every major comic book event comes trudging toward the newsstand with heaps of tie-ins slung over its shoulders, so it’s important to identify which of them are worthy supplemental material, and which ones are rack-filler.
The McElroys do a wonderful job in channeling their voice through Balder, who has recently escaped Hel. Despite being a god, he acts as the voice of lapsed comic book readers everywhere, which elevates the comic's meta-humor. There’s a wonderful moment when Miles Morales lists off the myriad Spider-Folk inhabiting the world to Balder during his quest to find a pantheon of A-list heroes to join him. Balder's exhaustion and morbid curiosity will ring true to anyone who cancelled their pull list a decade ago and then jumped back in, suddenly realizing the landscape has changed. Drastically. But instead of chiding progress, Balder makes do with the heroes he has to work with. Legends, after all, are just that. They hold a nugget of truth, but actual exploits are often exaggerated. It’s the quality of a hero’s character that truly defines them.
The main drawback to this issue is that some fans might be expecting more from a comic book sporting the McElroy brothers’ name on the cover, and a number of jokes don’t really land. Now, this isn’t their first ride at the comic book rodeo. Their previous contribution to the medium was the 2018 graphic novel The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerbils (based on the podcast of the same name), which was a massive success and one of the funniest comedic fantasy stories to be told since we lost the late, great Terry Pratchett. But in Journey into Mystery, the McElroy Brothers are playing with someone else’s toys, and because of this, there are certain rules and guidelines they must follow. Perhaps this is a hurdle they’ll clear in later issues, but it’s painfully noticeable that they're trying to play ball within the Marvel wheelhouse in terms of tone and subject matter and are struggling to some degree.
From a visual standpoint, Journey into Mystery is rather solid, thanks to André Lima Araújo's lively artwork. Araújo's action panels are often frantic, but they never feel over-stuffed or difficult to follow. His bold character outlines and minimal detail within those lines gives some of his figures a cartoon-y quality that really fits with the story. Araújo keeps a straight face for the most part, rarely succumbing to the silliness happening on the page or in mid-conversation, but the restraint shown is pushed to the edge.
War of the Realms: Journey into Mystery #1 is a good start to a fun tie-in comic. It's not breaking any new ground, but it doesn't have to. And while it would have been more engaging if The McElroys were allowed to really swing for the fences, this issue probably wouldn't quite fit the Marvel bill (it's doubtful they'd let a bunch of F-bombs slip from Kate Bishop's mouth, no matter how in-character it would be). The art is fantastic and when the jokes land, they land with a splash. It's just a shame when they don't.