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Fear, Rise!

August 2, 2011

Seriously, it’s rather hard to not notice the structural similarities between Fear Itself and Blackest Night. And the parallels continue in Fear Itself #4, which sees the Serpent finally come back to full strength. Thor finally makes it back from Asgard to Earth and finds the good people of Broxton, Oklahoma no longer interested in being friends with the Norse gods. Odd that Matt Fraction is using that story point in Fear Itself and Mighty Thor at the same time under different circumstances. The Serpent continues to regain his strength as the Worthy cause fear and wreak havoc across the world, and Iron Man, Nick Fury, and Black Widow mourn the fallen Bucky Barnes. Thor returns and gets them up to speed on info on the Serpent, and Captain America girds his loins for battle. Thor informs Steve of the prophecy about him and the Serpent, taken from Ragnarok, which says that they will kill each other. He’s willing to sacrifice himself to save lives, but Steve won’t have any of it. In Canada, Nerkkod: Breaker of Oceans wreaks havoc and slaughters Atlanteans, and the Serpent summons his kingdom in Antarctica, restored to his youth and wielding an impressive scythe. So where’s Batman’s skull to summon his undead minions? I’m only half joking. Thor races to the Serpent’s castle and takes on his minions, Captain America arrives in Manhattan to assist the Avengers, and Iron Man goes to the ruins of Asgard and gives up years of sobriety as a sacrifice to ask Odin for help. And Odin chooses to respond. Skadi attacks the Avengers, and the Serpent offers Thor an opportunity to evade both their fates by joining forces. Thor refuses, and the Serpent unceremoniously tosses him over to Manhattan, where he finds himself facing Nul: Breaker of Worlds and Angrir: Breaker of Souls both at once.

I find that this series is increasingly just a fun summer blockbuster. The story is somewhat there, and the stakes are big enough that it’s engrossing and distracting. But this is not the delightful character piece that you might expect from Matt Fraction. Black Widow has yet to get the chance to deal with her emotions regarding Bucky’s death. Steve only gets one page in the dark to do the same. We could have some excellent introspective on Bucky’s impact and how that relates to fear, but again, none of that. Tony Stark steals the issue with the best moment, which isn’t surprising, since Fraction’s done wonders with Tony for years. I’m interested to see how he’ll deal jumping off the wagon in the months to come. Thor’s pretty much a one-trick pony, continuing to act noble without any real doubt or questions that might make this a deeper, more meaningful story. We also still don’t get very many pictures of normal people being afraid; the only two are the panel in Illinois and the little vignette of the boy in British Columbia. A panel or two featuring common people reacting to Bucky’s death could have been particularly powerful, but we get none of that. This series just still doesn’t really feel like it’s about fear. It’s just about destruction. Things have also been rather slow in terms of bringing the big bad into the forefront, and again, his rise so strongly parallels Nekron’s that you can’t help but wonder if Fraction knowingly used Blackest Night as a blueprint. The whole thing is just lazy writing that entertains but doesn’t inspire. I expected much better from Fraction.

But just like with Flashpoint, the art is significantly better than the story. Stuart Immonen is quickly proving himself one of Marvel’s top artists with his work here. Every action page crackles with energy and dynamism, and he conveys emotions very well through his faces. All of the characters look properly majestic when the scene calls for it, and he manages to suggest complex emotions in Steve’s scene in the dark that makes up a bit for the weakness of Fraction’s script. I particularly like the parallel page layouts near the beginning of the book with the various vignettes and Odin and the Serpent talking. It shows us what many important characters are doing across the world (though again, more shots of common folk dealing with fear would have been nice) and reminds us of the connection between the two gods. Laura Martin’s colors are also absolutely superb, and their otherworldliness in the scenes with the Serpent and the Worthy really enhance Immonen’s art rather nicely.

So this is a fun read, but it’s just not what I had personally hoped. This book could have had so many more great character moments and could have utilized the concept of fear to much greater effect. Then again, I haven’t truly enjoyed a main Marvel event book in years, so I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised.

Plot: 5.5      Art: 9.4      Dialogue: 8.8      Overall: 5.8

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