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Feeling Fearful?

July 3, 2011


When I first heard about Fear Itself, Marvel Comics’ supposed blockbuster event of the summer, I was actually intrigued. To be sure, I had been enjoying the Heroic Age going on for a while, and I was wary of another event so soon after Siege. It was nice to see writers actually get to tell stories instead of having to twist their works around the next status quo-changing, game-breaking epic. But the idea of the Marvel Universe facing its fears, tapping into both the fears of individual characters and of the world nowadays, seemed timely and like a potential gold mine. The perfect kind of story to place after the Heroic Age. And Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen as the creative team? Fraction’s done a great job with Invincible Iron Man from the get-go, and his Thor work, while not quite as stellar, is still solid. And Immonen has been the artist who snuck up on me for the last year or so, as his work on New Avengers has truly wowed.

But once again, we don’t seem to be getting the story we were originally sold. Firstly, we’ve got some god of fear, a.k.a. the Serpent, who’s the real All-Father of the Norse Pantheon, and he’s making Odin even more cranky, stubborn, and unreasonable than ever. This is a big retcon for the backstory of the entire Thor cast, and it goes counter to everything we understand about them, including stuff that Fraction himself has established. Plus, I can’t say I’m a fan of Fraction making Odin such an ass. I felt like J. Michael Stracynzki had put him in the right place, fighting Surtur day after day, especially considering that it allowed the Thor cast to grow and develop in exciting, new ways.

Still, obnoxious retcons like this have been done before, and in the hands of the proper writer, they’ve been done very well. At the very least, if the story that results is good, that excuses some of it. But Fear Itself is… less than exciting, to say the least. For one, at least in the main series, we get almost nothing of how the common folk are afraid. Tell me, what do angry, screaming riots have to do with fear? Well, they could have a lot to do with it, but Fraction pretty much framed it as rage rather than fear. Most importantly, what do the Worthy actually have to do with fear? Yes, they’re all big, muscular, powerful warriors with giant hammers. That tends to be pretty scary. But are they actually awakening any sort of primal fear within those they terrorize? Not thus far. Thus far, they all seem to just… smash. Except the Grey Gargoyle, a.k.a. Mokk: Breaker of Faith, who turns you to stone, and then smashes you, and Attuma, a.k.a. Nerkkod: Breaker of Oceans, who drowns you and then smashes you. They’re a very one-note group. Especially since multiple of them are the same kind of character: the giant, super strong kind. And what does the Serpent himself have to do with fear? He’s an old god with special magicky powers who likes hammers. Thus far, that’s about it. All-in-all, these villains, who are pretty much the driving force behind the event, are rather uninteresting.

Even still, if we actually saw some kind of psychic fear effect they had on everyone, that would be better. But again, we get none of that. We do get the obligatory event comic book death in the form of the current Captain America, Bucky Barnes. As a huge fan of what Ed Brubaker has done with Bucky in an example of a retcon done right, that’s just disappointing. After we were convinced to invest all this emotional energy in him as a character and the direction he was taking Captain America in, that’s all gone. Presumably. For now. But again, this event seems more about smashing, breaking, and destroying than actual fear. Admittedly, destruction is rather frightening, but you’d think that a god of fear would have more up his sleeve. From what I’ve read, the tie-ins are using these concepts to far greater effect than the main book. Nick Spencer, who really should be writing Secret Avengers full-time, is doing a great job using the event to show the fear in the general populace and how people deal with this fear, as well as spotlight various Avengers. Herc continues to tell a compelling story and just uses the concept as a backdrop for Hercules’ conflict with Kyknos and Hecate. And Invincible Iron Man actually does make Mokk somewhat frightening, what with the people hiding from him in the shadows, even though it’s still ultimately about a high body count (giant pile of statue bodies). Those are just the books I’m reading. Plus Avengers, which is… meh. But Fear Itself: Spider-Man actually tries to use that concept of psychic fear inducement, and Fear Itself: The Home Front is revisiting Speedball and Miriam Sharpe, a whole relationship just full of fear.

Perhaps the next four issues will redeem this miniseries. It’s perfectly possible. It only took the last two or three issues for Civil War to lose what made it exciting in the beginning, and it was after only about two issues that Secret Invasion turned to utter trash. On the other hand, Siege was a story successfully told in only four issues, though in an admittedly blockbuster-like fashion relatively devoid of character development. Hm. That sounded less like an endorsement than it originally did in my head. Well, perhaps Fear Itself is screwed. At least Brian Michael Bendis isn’t the main person guiding the Marvel Universe anymore, even if Fraction doesn’t prove to be any better in the end.

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