Over the years, Marvel has had a handful of characters who can grow to giant-sized proportions. This week the publisher brings them all together under the banner of the War of the Realms for Giant-Man #1! The creative team of Age of X-Man: X-Tremists writer Leah Williams and Star Wars artist Marco Castiello is an interesting line-up of talent, and we’ve got impressions on the series debut. Next, the latest Black Widow miniseries wraps up this week – is this final issue a satisfying conclusion to a book that has covered some dark subject matter? And finally, we’ll check in again on the main War of the Realms miniseries to see how the overall war is progressing, and whether it’s been able to maintain the moment of its opening issues. Don’t miss this week’s Marvel Rundown!

Giant-Man #1 (of 3)Giant-Man #1

Written by Leah Williams
Illustrated by Marco Castiello
Colored by Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettered by VC’s Joe Sabino
Cover by Woo Cheol

Alexander Jones: AJ, War of the Realms is continuing to unleash an onslaught of tie-in mini-series. This week’s Giant-Man #1 stands apart from the crowd in roster alone. Plus, we have the creative team of up-and-coming writer Leah Williams with Star Wars artist Marco Castiello. Did the pages of Giant-Man #1 fill your heart with frosty delight or icy failure?

AJ Frost: Hey there, Alex! Frost is a part of my name, so you’d think I might totally dig this book right? Well… not exactly. I haven’t been up as much on these War of the Realms books as you and Joe have been, but I was certainly interested to see how these tie-ins actually weave their way around the larger arc. This collection of Giant-Men struck me as a book that had a lot of ideas but not a lot of outlets for them. It’s part (pseudo-)psychological profile on Scott Lang, a buddy book of misadventures, and, I guess, some kind of family affair as well. It was kind of a jumbled mess all around. At least, at its best, there was some good humor along the way.

Jones: I think the issue actually did a really solid job establishing the premise for the team in a logical manner. Writer Leah Williams made headway with the book when she introduced the cast and premise so quickly. This debut has a beginning, middle and okay cliffhanger ending. The thread between Freyja and the roster of size-changing Giant-Men was sewn together pretty well. I’m fairly impressed by how natural the script for the issue is.

Frost: There were some bumps along the way for sure, including to me the egregious use of the phrase “Pym-pants,” which really just made me groan in annoyance. I’m not too familiar with any of the other characters besides Scott Lang, so I suppose it was fun seeing these guys all meet up and chat it up before going on their mission. The Frost Giant made for some good comedic fodder as well. But, I still think there was some kind of spark that was just missing that made me not fall in love with this book and this particular story. That’s not to say that it wasn’t fun to look at or enjoy on its own merits. Yet, something was inhibiting me from truly taking in everything.

Jones: I see what you are saying. I thought this was good but I don’t think it ever went near the ‘incredibly good’ or ‘great’ territory. I thought the issue was full of good intentions and had just enough characterization and thoughtful ideas to leave me walking away from the issue in a positive headspace. Fusing a whole bunch of size-changing characters with Asgardian elements and Frost Giants I thought was a pretty welcome idea. Some of these tie-ins haven’t utilized the groundwork and superhero roster quite as well as this issue did. I would hardly call this installment essential, but I really enjoyed the roster, premise, and tone of the story. I agree with some of your flaws and found Williams’s script to be too wordy and filled with odd phrasing like the “Pym-pants” that you mentioned. That being said, the inclusion of the solid art from Marco Castiello really helped foster my goodwill of the story.

Frost: Agreed on that latter point. I felt that the art excelled on all fronts and made what could be considered (on its face) a ludicrous story into a story that felt grounded. I bet it wasn’t easy keeping all the proportions straight either! Tricky stuff, but Castiello handled it beautifully. Question for you, Alexander: What do you see as the point of these tie-ins? Do you feel that they’re serving the main War of the Realms arc in a positive way? Or do you feel that they detract from it?

Jones: Great question! The amount of tie-ins published for the event is diluting the concept itself. There are so many of these and if every one was as great as this, I can’t help but wonder if our opinions would be more positive overall. To try and answer your question though, I don’t feel like all of these are really bringing the overall War of the Realms event forward in a creative way. This issue for me makes a pretty strong case for its own existence in the greater context of the event. There are a few tie-in issues featuring characters battling Asgard forces that dilute from the novelty of the bigger fight.

Frost: Yeah, I agree. It seems that Marvel is trying to draw too much blood from a relatively small, Midgardian stone. The impact of these side-stories would probably be more effective if they were limited in both scope and page count, but of course, that only would make sense if the stories demanded that more rigid structure.

Jones: I think what you are implying should be said and will likely be reiterated by us going forward: Marvel is definitely publishing too many of these tie-in books. I’m still happy with the issue and really enjoyed Williams’s writing, and Castillo did a great job making sure this book was appealing visually at every twist and turn. There are some scenes that could have merited even crazier layouts and sequential storytelling, though. Overall I really enjoyed Castiello’s work and would like to see more of his pencils. Are you ready to award the issue a final verdict?

Frost: I sure am! I don’t think I was as in love with this book as you are, Alexander. Still, there are some aspects of it that are pretty appealing: good art, some breezy writing, and a fun team-up. I’m not sold on it all the way though, so I’m going to give this one a WEAK BROWSE!

Jones: From my vantage point this is everything you could ask for in a tie-in crossover. There is solid writing and art and a hokey premise tailored to an event like War of the Realms. I would recommend a STRONG BROWSE for Giant-Man #1.

Final Verdict: AJ gives Giant-Man #1 a WEAK BROWSE, while Alexander awards a STRONG BROWSE!

Black Widow #5 (of 5)Black Widow #5

Written by Jen & Sylvia Soska
Illustrated by Flaviano
Colored by Veronica Gandini
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover by Clayton Crain
Reviewed by Samantha Puc

It would be remiss of me not to mention, at the start of this review, that this Black Widow mini-series is one of the grittiest stories — Marvel or otherwise — that I’ve read in some time. The story follows Natasha as she works with Tyger Tiger in Madripoor to dismantle an anonymous network of truly depraved rich people called No Restraints Play, wherein buyers pay exorbitant sums to see children tortured on an internet livestream.

This series is disturbing and difficult to read and also very much grounded in reality, which is perhaps what makes it resonate so much. As the Soskas write in their author’s note at the end of Black Widow #5, “we don’t get a Black Widow to clean up our messes.” Instead, we have to do that.

In light of its dark subject matter, Black Widow is a cohesive arc with a tightly-executed script that comes to life through Flaviano’s art and Veronica Gandini’s colors. After Natasha is brought back to life as a clone with implanted memories following her death in Secret Wars, she destroys the Red Room and its agents, then goes to Madripoor, hunting for bad guys she can take down in order to remember who she is and how far she’s come. She’s a ghost. She’s a weapon. And in these pages, the Soskas navigate Natasha’s identity and experiences with deft hands, plumbing the depths of her trauma and giving her a truly human arc as she rips apart men who are downright evil, through and through.

This series isn’t necessarily enjoyable, given the plot, but it is cathartic. It offers a worldview in which the people who commit these atrocities are actually punished, a world in which a survivor is able to rescue innocents who cannot rescue themselves. In its concluding issue, the ending isn’t neat, but it can’t be. Too much has happened for a neat bow to be wrapped around it all so that the characters can carry on as if nothing has changed.

Everything has changed. And yet, the series’ end still provides a sense of hope — not just for the kids Natasha and Tyger manage to save, but for Natasha, as well. Even as she screams into the New York sky, there is hope. Black Widow ends on a poignant, painful moment wherein it’s unclear what’s next for its protagonist — but whatever comes next, Natasha obviously isn’t done fighting. She can’t be. That cycle of violence has always informed her character, but herein, it’s especially prevalent, and after everything, it’s hard to swallow.

I didn’t know what to expect going into this series. Having come out the other side, I’m thoroughly impressed, not just with the writing and art, but with the lettering by Joe Caramagna, which does so much to elevate the fight scenes and drive home the dialogue. I can’t imagine how editor Jake Thomas approached this work, but I’m grateful he did — and despite how tough it was to get through some of its pages, I’m glad Marvel published this Black Widow mini-series at all.

When we talk about “strong female characters,” there’s often a prevailing idea that the only way for women to be strong is for them to overcome trauma. Natasha has certainly done that, but she’s also compartmentalized it, which makes it much easier to go through the motions. Her moments of vulnerability in this series heighten the stakes so much and it’s honestly incredible to see such an accomplished team tackle her story. While I don’t think that this mini-series would work as an ongoing, namely because of how tight and well-executed it is, I do hope to see the Soskas write Natasha again, preferably in partnership with Flaviano, Gandini and Caramagna. If it works, it works, right?

Final Verdict: BUY THE TRADE. This story is best read as a continuous arc. If you haven’t been keeping up with its monthly release, pick up all five issues when they’re collected for TPB release in July.

War of the Realms #4 (of 6)War of the Realms #4

Written by Jason Aaron
Illustrated by Russell Dauterman
Colored by Matthew Wilson
Lettered by VC’s Joe Sabino
Cover by Art Adams
Reviewed by Joe Grunenwald

War of the Realms, Marvel’s latest linewide event, has been one of the publisher’s strongest such offering in quite some time. The opening installment was enough to grab the attention of this reviewer, who’s never been much of a fan of Thor or his associated mythology. The series’s second issue brought the true shape of the event more clearly into focus, and rounded out the story’s first act. This week finds us at the end of the event’s middle act, and I’m pleased to find that War of the Realms #4 maintains the momentum and excitement of the preceding three issues, while setting up what’s sure to be a thrilling third act.

Throughout the series, writer Jason Aaron has consistently done a fantastic job drawing readers in with a pervasive sense of urgency and danger, and the scripting on this latest issue is no different. There’s so much going on in so many different locations in this book that it’d be easy to feel like you’re being thrown all over the map while reading it, but it’s never confusing, and the transitions always feel smooth and natural. The pace of the story is break-neck, but Aaron still manages to give the (many, many) characters a chance to shine. The weakest character is probably series big bad Malekith, whose motivation I don’t know anything about beyond ‘kill everyone and rule everything.’ That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, and I’d have to guess there’s more exploration of the character and his goals in one of Aaron’s other titles. For the purposes of this event miniseries, having a villain who (at least on the surface) just wants to break things and take over the world works really well, as it gives Aaron more space to focus on the heroes and their fight against Malekith’s forces. That said, there’s a development with Malekith in this issue that adds an element from the wider Marvel U to his plans. It definitely has me interested in the final act of the story, as it should make him a more formidable threat to the heroes and their newly-rallied forces.

Russell Dauterman’s work on this series continues to be spectacular in every sense of the word. His linework is clean and detailed, and his page layouts are dynamic, jagged, malformed panels driving home the intensity of the action. Dauterman, along with colorist Matthew Wilson, consistently make sure everything is easy to follow, that characters are identifiable, and that nothing is ever boring. They nail character beats flawlessly – the rage in Odin’s face, the smugness in Malekith’s, the humorous awe of the dwarves as She-Hulk delivers what amounts to them as a motivational speech. A few characters get temporary new designs, which are thrilling to view in action, and which—particularly in one case—expertly blend Kirby-esque elements with modern techniques. Letterer Joe Sabino helps tie everything together seamlessly, utilizing font and color to identify specific character’s dialogue without it being distracting, and introducing a new scheme for one of the aforementioned new character designs that fits perfectly with the new look and helps make a dramatic page-turn even moreso thanks to some initial off-panel dialogue from the character. The visuals on this book all-around are just stunning, and represent career-best work from the entire team.

After going into War of the Realms with a lot of skepticism about yet another Marvel event, I’m pleased that two-thirds of the way in I’m more interested in it than ever. It’s an exciting, fun story told by a creative team at the top of their game, and it just keeps getting better. I can’t wait to see how the series ends, and if the preceding four issues are any indication I’m confident this team will be able to stick their landing.
Final Verdict: BUY. This is a great book, and some of the most fun, exciting comics on the stands right now.

Next week, the War of the Realms arrives at Avengers Mountain!