This week, Asgard-flavored reckoning comes for the entire Marvel Universe. From the Avengers, to the X-Men, to Daredevil, Shuri, Blade, and even Venom, Earth’s heroes will unite to defend the realm of Midgard from the forces of Malekith, King of the Dark Elves, who has already conquered nine of the 10 realms.
The only thing left on his bucket list? Midgard.
When I put War of the Realms on our list of most anticipated comics of spring 2019, I said that Thor and Avengers writer Jason Aaron and his collaborators had been teasing War of the Realms since June. That was a bit of an underestimation. Aaron has actually been teasing the event in Thor comics since 2013.
And now that the War of the Realms has actually arrived, it looks to be that balance of interesting character interaction and Rule of Cool that makes the best superhero crossovers. The blind hero Daredevil gaining the all-seeing powers of Heimdall? Well, that sounds pretty badass — and like it’ll give Matt Murdock a lot to think about.
And in the meantime, how about the Punisher aiming a massive bazooka down the throat of a Frost Giant? How about Captain America riding a pegasus? That’s here, too.
If that sounds good to you, let’s unpack what you need to know about this final chapter of Malekith’s takeover of the 10 realms.
Wait, 10 realms? Aren’t there usually nine?
Well, one important thing to understand about Marvel’s Asgard is that it uses Norse mythology more as a set of guidelines than a rule of law. Back in 2013, the Marvel cosmos got an addition to the traditional nine Norse realms. That addition was Heven, a realm filled with warlike angels that is definitely not related to the similar place with an “a” in its name, so don’t ask.
Eons ago, Odin got mad at the angels and cursed them, severing their connection to the rest of the realms and the World Tree until Thor and Loki rediscovered it and discovered the newest member of the fractious Odin clan: Thor’s half-sister, Angela, who is part angel, part Asgardian.
So ... Malekith has already conquered nine realms
Conquered, or brought into his war alliance.
Jason Aaron and his frequent collaborator, Russell Dauterman, brought Malekith into their Thor saga for the first time in 2013, when acolytes of the dark elf sorcerer sprang him from his prison in Hel. Thor assembled a group of heroes known as the League of Realms to try and stop his rise, but, through slaughter and subterfuge, Malekith still managed to become king of the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim, commander of their armies.
Ever since, he’s been playing a slow and steady beat on the drums of war, throughout Aaron and Dauterman’s tenure on the adventures of Thor(s).
Spreading from his home realm of Svartalfheim, he allied with Muspelheim (the fire one), Jotunheim (the ice giant one), and Heven to conquer Niffleheim (land of the dead) and Vanaheim (land of the other gods), and raze Alfheim (light elves) and Nidavellir (dwarves) to the ground. He even killed the Norns at the roots of Yggdrasil so that his fate would lie in his hands alone.
Midgard is the last realm standing free of Malekith’s tyranny.
What about Asgard?
Well, Asgard is in a bit of a state.
Asgard as a realm hasn’t really been in operation for almost 10 years, after it was destroyed at the end of 2010’s Siege event. For a while, the peoples of Asgard lived on Asgardia, a high-tech city build by Tony Stark.
But at the end of last year’s “Death of the Mighty Thor” event, Asgardia was destroyed by the Mangog, a monster stronger than even Odin. In her last act as Thor, Jane Foster bound the Mangog in the chains of Fenris, attached Mjolnir to those chains, and threw the hammer into the center of the Sun. Neither Mangog nor Mjolnir have been seen since.
Feel free to insert your own guitar solo here.
Since the fall of Asgardia, All-Mother Freya has taken rule of the Asgardian survivors and their Midgardian allies, who are all currently living in a brownstone in the Bronx. Odin has taken himself off to drunken, depressed isolation in the remnants of Asgard.
Thor has been scouring the realms, looking for Malekith, aided by a succession of newly forged hammers, all of which usually break under his strength. He still misses Mjolnir, and spends his downtime living in a houseboat in Newark harbor with his Hel-hound, Thori, his goat, Toothgrinder, and lots of beer.
So what happened in War of the Realms #1?
War of the Realms is the six-issue miniseries that will contain the core story of the event, and it’s something you could definitely read on your own. Its first issue is even out today. But if you’d like a little more to wet your whistle ...
[Ed. note: This post will contain spoilers for War of the Realms #1.]
War of the Realms #1 is really concerned with two things: Malekith assaulting Midgard with a host of dark elves, frost giants, angels, and fire demons — and Malekith’s attempts to wipe out the ruling family of Asgard.
And as far as the latter, he’s mostly successful ... or at least it seems that way.
In the opening scene, dark elf assassins attack Odin in Asgard, and while we don’t see his body, things don’t appear to be going well. All-Mother Freya fares better, with warriors like Sif, Hildegarde, and Jane Foster on hand to aid her. Knowing his assassins would be no match for Thor, Malekith tricked the god of thunder into becoming trapped in Jotunheim in the middle of a frost giant ambush.
And Loki was eaten by his frost giant dad in front of Freya and all the Avengers.
On the one hand, that looks pretty bad for him. But on the other ... he’s Loki.
What comics do I have to read to keep up?
Like I said above, if you just want to follow the main story of the event, all you have to check out is the main War of the Realms series. It’s a six-issue, bimonthly book, so expect this event to last at least three months. And if you feel like reading some of the comics that lead up to it, check out War of the Realms Prelude, Marvel’s handy collection of Jason Aaron and his collaborators’ relevant stories. There’s a lot of good stuff in there.
But even if you’re not reading War of the Realms, you’re going to see its events tie in to other books all around the Marvel Universe, from Aaron’s Avengers and Thor, which seem like natural fits, to books as disparate as Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Venom, and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.
And, of course, War of the Realms has an accompanying slew of tie-in miniseries and one-shot stories, featuring the Punisher, the X-Men, and even Giant-Man.
But take it from this longtime comics event survivor: If you want to read War of the Realms, there’s nothing wrong with just sticking to the main series. Look into the rest of the checklist yourself, see which of your favorite characters are featured, and which of your favorite creators have come along to play in the War of the Realms sandbox. Then pick a few other books to check out. Happy reading!