By Zack Quaintance — War of the Realms, for those of you who for some reason read this site but have managed to not hear about it, is Marvel’s big summer event this year. It is a story that has grown over the course of Jason Aaron’s ongoing run on Thor, which at this point is among the all-time best with the character. In it, the dark elf Malekith has conquered nine of the 10 realms, with the lone holdout being Midgard (Earth). This is the story of Malekith and the mighty forces he has rallied, trying to take over the final realm, with only the many (many!) heroes of the Marvel Universe standing in their way.
This issue—War of the Realms #6—is the story’s ending, or, more accurately, its finale. There is, afterall, an epilogue due in a couple weeks in the form of War of the Realms: Omega. But this is the issue where the major action occurs, where the stakes are the highest, where good triumphs over evil (not quite a spoiler, given that this is a superhero comic). It is essentially the culmination of plot threads Aaron started doling out back in his very first run, The God Butcher story that he did with artist Esad Ribic, all the way back in 2013 (!!).
To review this issue, to my mind, is to review the entirety of this story, and on those merits it absolutely succeeds. For someone who has followed this run for a while now, it delivers on all of the promises that Aaron has made. It’s not big on giant violent twists or the sort of Death of Elektra iconic moments that make all-time classic comics standout, but this has never been that sort of run. Jason Aaron’s Thor run has been patient and organized and exceedingly-rewarding for those who enjoy characterization and consistent tone. This finale is in line with all that has come before it.
Not to go too deeply into the plot here, but in this story we see Thor’s from across time come together to defeat their foe...just as they did in Aaron’s very first arc. A few things in the intermittent years have changed. Thor is down an arm and an eye, Jane Foster has also taken up the mantle, and Thor became unworthy of the hammer he needs to win the day, Mjolnir. When the three Thors from throughout time are reunited, older Thor says to modern day Thor, “I see the years since then haven’t been kind to you, boy. You look like hel. You look like me.”
It’s a great line, one that speaks to the universality of losing our youthful looks, energy, etc. as we fight our way through life and earn comfortable wisdoms. It also speaks to the nature of this run. This is not the same comic it was when Aaron and Ribic told their tale of the God Butcher. This comic and the characters within have been through a lot. As the run has continued, so too have the challenges and obstacles and new odds the heroes must face. So too have the odds the book must face to remain viable in the marketplace, untouched by corporate relaunches and new branding and all the things that have disrupted pretty much every other run at Marvel.
But here we are all the same. The book is still standing, as epic and thoughtful and beautifully-rendered as ever. There’s much more we could say about the feats of characterization and plotting that Aaron accomplished. However, it’s well past time to praise the team of artist Russell Dauterman, colorist Matthew Wilson, and letterer VC’s Joe Sabino. Sabino’s lettering here has to bounce around quite a bit, going from usual fonts to the norse variety that marks the Asgardian characters to the blue balloons of the ice giants. He handles it all seamlessly, leading the eye through the chaos on the page.
Meanwhile, Dauterman and Wilson have done the work of their careers here. Dauterman’s lines are impeccable and clean, and his designs are as interesting as they come for a superhero story, be it older Thor looking determined, Malekith gearing up with the symbiote weapon, or the ultimate (and quite violent) death of our antagonist. Dauterman left it all on the page, creating a comic that looks like it too was rendered in another realm. And Wilson’s colors really make it pop. There are whole pages engulfed in lightning or flame where his palettes have to distinguish what’s happening and where, and he absolutely nails it.
So yes, War of the Realms #6 works as a finale for a long run and as an excellent example of today’s absurdly high levels of comics craft. The question remains, however, did it merit the dozens of crossover titles? This is a loaded question. Comic fans on the whole seem eager to complain about any crossover—there is a point to be made about them being disruptive—yet we lap them out and consistently buy them. War of the Realms had a pretty solid rationale for spilling over into as many auxiliary books as it did—war came to the entire realm. Spider-man couldn’t very well sit this one out, because his hometown was literally beset by ice giants.
Still, it wouldn’t be a massive Marvel summer event without some superfluous titles, and this event certainly had those. I won’t single any out, but I will say that I tried at least the first issue of all of them, and some were much, much better than others. Shoutouts to both Tony Stark: Iron Man and Venom, which were crossovers that made me do an eye roll but turned out to be well worth the price of admission.
Overall: Easily the best Marvel line-wide event since Secret Wars wrapped up back in 2015, War of the Realms was epic and grandiose. As a long-time reader of Jason Aaron’s Thor, I was thoroughly satisfied by this finish. 9.5/10
War of the Realms #6
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Russell Dauterman
Colored: 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.