This war’s beauty only runs skin deep.

We’ve seen time and again how great ongoing comics suddenly become less great when forced into the crossover event mold. Jason Aaron’s Thor run is just one more unfortunate example. War of the Realms is an entertaining romp, yes, but it struggles to blend larger-than life spectacle with real human drama in a way that’s always come easy for the monthly Thor comic. It’s a problem that seems to be growing worse, not better, as this crossover unfolds.

With so many moving pieces to juggle and tie-in books to accommodate, War of the Realms #4 doesn’t have much time to devote to any one character. Portions of the book plays like a greatest hits album, touching on the various scenes of battle but never lingering in any one place for long before venturing elsewhere. The end result being that this chapter delivers a lot of fun, silly moments (such as Punisher coming to the aid of the Light Elves and Ghost Rider living out his worst heavy metal fantasies) but rarely gets to the emotional core of the conflict. As large as the scope of War of the Realms has become, it doesn’t really *feel* like the apocalyptic battle of the ages it was made out to be. It reads more like just another crazy day in the lives of the Avengers.

To be fair, this issue does eventually stop and try to dig in deeper with some of the Asgardian characters. What emotional weight that can be found in this chapter comes during those scenes. Characters like Odin and Freyja have borne the brunt of the destruction and suffering so far, and they have the most personal stake in the fight to turn the tide. Unfortunately, this material is also undercut by the fact that we already seemingly saw Odin die once back in issue #1. Because of that fake-out, it’s hard to know whether to trust any of the dark developments surrounding Odin and his family. How do we know War of the Realms won’t just double back all over again?

War of the Realms’ biggest selling point continues to be its gorgeous artwork. As disappointingly straightforward as the plot has been so far, Russell Dauterman’s art and Matthew Wilson’s colors are consistently gorgeous. It’s more than just the level of detail Dauterman brings to every page, though that’s certainly impressive in its own right. Every panel is packed to the brim with characters of both the superhero and mythological variety. Half the fun of this book is seeing those disparate elements come together as a cohesive whole. It can’t be easy to throw Frank Castle into the middle of a war involving elves, giants and fire demons, yet somehow Dauterman and Wilson make it work.

What truly makes the art shine is the way each and every character shows such vitality, regardless of how many other figures might be sharing the same space. Nowhere does Dauterman’s flair for facial work and body language shine more than with Malekith, a figure who oozes contempt and malice in every single appearance. Dauterman also works wonders with both Odin and Freyja. Both characters receive major visual overhauls in this issue, with Freyja especially becoming a figure of raw power and fury like never before.

The Verdict

War of the Realms is certainly a looker. Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson have long since established themselves as one of the finest art teams working in comics right now, and this series continues that high standard. Unfortunately, the series is still struggling to find success in the narrative area. It’s fun seeing the Avengers confront one wacky situation after another, but a conflict of this scope really needs to carry a greater sense of weight and urgency.

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