Marvel’s War of the Realms officially kicked off last week, which can mean only one thing for the Marvel Rundown: the invasion of the tie-ins has begun. This week we have discussion of the hotly-anticipated War of the Realms: Journey into Mystery #1, the debut Marvel work from Adventure Zone creators The McElroys. How does the family of writers do with Miles Morales, Kate Bishop, and company? As if that wasn’t enough, return with us to the days when Spider-Man wore a mysterious new black costume with esteemed Spider-Writer Peter David and artist Greg Land in Symbiote Spider-Man #1. Does the throwback story shed new light on a pivotal period for the character? It’s time for the Marvel Rundown!
War of the Realms: Journey into Mystery #1
Written by Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, & Travis McElroy
Illustrated by André Lima Araújo
Colored by Chris O’Halloran
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover by Valerio Schiti & David Curiel
Alexander Jones: AJ, the War of the Realms tie-ins have officially begun with an issue featuring acclaimed new Marvel writers the McElroys and seasoned Marvel artist André Lima Araújo. What are your first impressions of the opening tie-in, War of the Realms: Journey Into Mystery #1?
AJ Frost: What’s the most eloquent way to say this was a complete waste of time? I’m not sure about you, Alex, but I did not care for this issue one bit. The humor was off, the writing was cringe-inducing, and the action was ridiculous… in a bad way. Whatever expectations I had for the issue really went out the window by the second page and were replaced by growing frustration. What did you think while you were reading this issue?
Jones: The idea of stretching War of the Realms too thin is already a scary proposition. However, I think a comic book like this confirms some of my worst fears about the event and tie-in as a whole. There are so many half-hearted attempts at humor and poorly-executed ideas that do not make the issue a cohesive whole. I’m incredibly disappointed to see how this title ended up. This was the debut of a brand new writing team at Marvel outside of another medium that should carry a certain amount of prestige among readers. I do really like the energy and visceral nature Araújo’s pencils brought to the book. Araújo’s style is finally becoming more streamlined and interesting to look at. My issues with the title are from the scripting perspective and I actually thought that Araújo did a nice job breaking out of the dreaded Marvel style!
Frost: I’m not sure if I agree with all of your points Alex. I don’t see the necessity for this tie-in issue at all. What does it bring to the table? What does it do that’s unique? From my perspective, it really failed in capturing anything dynamic that could add to this event. Instead, I feel it detracts by being both boring and awkward. I’ll give you a little break on the art because it was solid.
Jones: I also don’t think the tie-in really captured any of the elements that made the debut for War of the Realms interesting. The ensemble cast fell flat for me which was a major point of contention as I like these characters.
Frost: I really dig Kate Bishop and all the stuff from the West Coast Avengers in general. But everything here fell flat. The weirdness of the Asgardian characters just made less sense than usual and distracted from what I suppose the authors were going for (then again, I’m not quite sure what that is). This whole book was a cluster of half-baked ideas wrapped in an undercooked package.
Jones: It sounds like we are just about ready to wrap up but before we go I wanted to point out the artwork. I feel that Araújo is getting stronger as a penciler and if he had the right script, I think that his interiors would have been a welcomed addition to the comic. Some of the mind-numbing jokes in certain panels are definitely not playing to his strengths. I also want to pontificate with you if some of these authors from other mediums are maybe not quite as well-suited to take on Marvel properties right out of the gate like this. Maybe the McElroy writing team just need more time to iron out their voice? Could this be a case of learning on the job?
Frost: Perhaps. But why start on a book that is part of a major event? A major gamble that didn’t totally gel. I sound like a broken record here, but the art was fine. It didn’t do anything for me particularly, but it was strong pencil work from Araújo. Maybe this is just a case of missed potential. With so much going on at Marvel, the powers that be wanted to take some mojo from other parts of entertainment to create new types of stories. The problem is, if the concept isn’t strong then the whole enterprise fails, ya know? I fear that is this case with this War of the Realms tie-in.
Jones: I’m on your side here. There is a bad stigma about event crossovers that don’t serve the story and this issue is a cautionary tale. War of the Realms does not feel like a concept that could stretch across The Marvel Universe for me and this issue does not convince me otherwise. Are you ready to award the issue a final verdict?
Frost: Most definitely. This comic is a SKIP from me. It brings absolutely nothing to the table. Quite disappointing.
Jones: This is the first War of the Realms tie-in published and also a completely non-essential SKIP that can be disregarded. I hope future installments and tie-ins of the event will be more interesting.
Final Verdict: AJ and Alexander say SKIP!
Symbiote Spider-Man #1
Written by Peter David
Penciled by Greg Land
Inked by Jay Leisten
Colored by Frank D’Armata
Lettered by VC’s Joe Sabino
Flashback Sequence by Iban Coello & Frank D’Armata
Cover by Greg Land & Frank D’Armata
Alexander Jones: AJ, Joe, Marvel is returning to the glory days of Spider-Man’s alien costume with a new title for the hero. Did Symbiote Spider-Man #1 live up to your expectations?
AJ Frost: Hey lads! Great to chat with you again. My expectations for Symbiote Spider-Man #1 were not high to begin with to tell the honest truth. That era of Spider-Man is a little off my radar, to begin with, so I felt that perhaps I would come into this issue cold and not really understanding what the creative team hand in mind. It was pretty evident only several pages in that this is the type of book that casual readers without a lot of experience with the lore can pick up and enjoy, even if they might miss the small details. So I would say this comic exceeded my expectations. I’m really pleased with that.
Joe Grunenwald: I’m sort of in the opposite position to AJ’s—I have a great deal of affection for the brief period of time where Spidey wore his alien costume. It’s such an important period for the character, but it only lasted less than a year, and it’s always fascinated me. The debut of Symbiote Spider-Man feels like it could be slotted in among any of the original issues from that period, which, to me, is a pretty impressive accomplishment.
Frost: All those Venom standees freaked me out as a youngster, so no love lost on the Symbiote stuff, really. Haha.
Grunenwald: I loved that part of Venom used to be Spidey’s costume. That was so cool to ten-year-old Joe.
Jones: Author Peter David does a great job finding his balance in the comic book. Readers aren’t given any radically new information about the hero yet I found it to be astonishing in how engrossing the issue was from a scripting perspective. David is a really accomplished creator who can tell all sorts of Spider-Stories. Greg Land’s art was a huge disappointment for me.
Grunenwald: David does an excellent job capturing the feel of those old Spidey comics while giving readers a new perspective on a classic villain. Mysterio’s inclusion is natural given the character’s role in the upcoming Far From Home film, but it didn’t feel shoe-horned in like a lot of backdoor movie tie-ins can. And I actually found Greg Land’s artwork on this issue to be decent. It didn’t blow me away, but it wasn’t as egregiously photo-referenced as some of his past work.
Frost: Peter David did an exemplary job of guiding the reader to the heart of the story. I mean, it starts off a little odd by Mysterio just proclaiming himself a super-villain (Who wants to be known as that? I thought even villains were heroes of their own stories?). But the pacing and the callbacks to Marvel yesteryear moved along at a brisk run. I’m with Joe, Land’s art was par for the course with Marvel. It serviced the story, and maybe actually made it seem a bit more retro.
Jones: I tried my best to let some of Land’s photo-referenced pencils alone but the reference-heavy sequence with Black Cat was unforgivable for me. Having every female character depicted by Land carry the same face is already difficult to witness. The other sequences in the issue were okay at best. I also thought Peter’s fractured state of mind was captured by the script, and the art usually did not hold the issue back for me.
Frost: Pretty convenient that Mysterio’s costume includes a dome for his head, then. Speaking of Mysterio, how did everyone feel about his characterization here? Surely, Quentin Beck is going to become more of a household name in the coming months, but for longtime followers, did his appearance here live up to the character’s potential? Or did it fall flat?
Grunenwald: To be honest I’ve not read more than a handful of stories that included Mysterio. I like the idea that he’s sort of a sad sack villain—it pairs well with his ridiculous fishbowl costume. That said, I felt like Beck went on a real character journey in this issue, and the ending left me feeling truly disappointed that things had turned out the way they did for him.
Frost: It wouldn’t be a Marvel book without some sad-sack characters!
Jones: I liked Mysterio’s journey as well. David lent him a degree of empathy that I found to enrich the comic book as a whole. To be honest, I think we probably got too much of the character’s backstory in this issue, but the writing in these sequences was pretty solid all the way through. I hope in future issues, there will be less of a focus on him and we get more time with Peter. The way that the storylines intersected was pretty great as well.
Frost: David definitely was trying to hone in on a similarity that Quentin and Peter can share: the death of someone due to their carelessness. Seeing their separate responses will be interesting in upcoming issues.
Grunenwald: So there’s a New York landmark that’s included in this issue that will likely be controversial: the World Trade Center towers. In the end note, David says he included those in the script to drive home that this story takes place in the past. What did you two think of the inclusion of the Twin Towers, and did it have the desired effect?
Frost: Well, I didn’t want to bring this topic up because I thought it might be too spoiler-y. But the inclusion of the Towers is meant to ground this story in a certain time, which I thought was a bold choice.
Grunenwald: Spoilers be damned, I want to get into it!
Frost: Okay then! I suppose that this book is supposed to take place when the original Symbiote costume was introduced in the early ’80s, correct? It really lends to the seedier elements of New York culture in that period.
Jones: I agree with all of your takes above. David has always come across like a politically conscious writer and the choice to include some of that iconography I found to be really thoughtful.
Grunenwald: For me, the inclusion of the towers took me completely out of the story for a couple of reasons. First is just the ‘stunt’ of it all, because that’s sort of what it feels like. There are other ways to get across ‘this is a flashback story’—the recap page establishes that just fine. Including the Towers didn’t feel necessary at all in that respect, and felt designed to get people talking about an otherwise pretty average story. On top of that, putting on my continuity hat for a moment, from that perspective, I think it raises some flags. Marvel has always functioned on a sort of ‘ten years’ span of continuity, meaning the oldest stories took place ‘ten years ago’ from the current time. Even if you expand that to ‘fifteen years ago’, that’s still after 9/11. Maybe I shouldn’t be thinking about it that much, and I usually don’t if the continuity ‘error’ is in service of a good story. I just didn’t feel like the inclusion of those buildings was worth it.
Frost: Is this story canon or just a special maxiseries? I wonder if that might assuage any issues regarding timeline issues?
Grunenwald: It seems, based on the end note, like they’re doing everything they can to make it canonical. And again, usually I don’t care about continuity stuff if the story warrants it. But it felt totally unnecessary here, and like kind of a cheap way to get a shock in.
Jones: I can see where you are coming from even though I believe I interpreted the sequence much differently. Marvel continuity is also really strange and I can’t see this title helps streamline that idea. I’m still enjoying this issue enough to give it a BUY. I think the writing is really solid aside from a few blemishes we mentioned earlier. Mining new ideas with this character can be really difficult.
Frost: My verdict for this issue is a STRONG BROWSE. Lots of great material here, but also some problematic elements. Readers should decide for themselves.
Grunenwald: I thought Symbiote Spider-Man #1 overall was a pretty fun throwback issue about a period of Spider-Man’s history that I already loved. I wish it had a stronger artist on it, but even as is I’d give it a STRONG BROWSE as well.
Final Verdict Joe and AJ say STRONG BROWSE, while Alexander says BUY!
The War of the Realms tie-ins keep on coming next week with a Punisher-centric tale!