Knock, knock. (who’s there?) Fear! (fear, who?) Fear Itself… sorry, that was a pretty corny opener. I’m just a little giddy that I get to cover Marvel’s big summer event for you classy crawlspace folks. Hopefully you can forgive me. Anyways, here’s the first issue of Fear Itself. I had a good bit to say so hopefully you don’t suffer from Logophobia… that’s right, the Fear of Words. Going forward with this series, instead of these little intros, I’ve decided I’m going to give you some insight into my own personal fears, of which there are many.
Fear #1 – The Ocean. Any ocean, it doesn’t matter. The deep, unexplored ocean is a scary, treacherous place. Have you seen some of the creatures that live in that watery world? How about the movie Waterworld? Where do you think Godzilla and the Cloverfield monster come from? Um, hello, Jaws? Yeah, lots of scary stuff down there, and this issue has a nice scene to support that fear.
Fear Itself 1: The Serpent
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Stuart Immonen
Colors: Laura Martin
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover Art: Stuart Immonen, Steve McNiven, Paolo Rivera
Plot: Steve Rogers is on the scene of an escalating protest in Lower Manhattan. When tempers flare and push turns to shove, the police intervene with tear gas and pepper-spray. A full-blown riot erupts and Steve Rogers is blindsided by a brick. Later, the Avengers gather and determine there were no super villains involved in inciting the riot. Steve Rogers is disappointed by the fact that it was just regular people who participated in the ruckus.
The city of Asgard, home to the powerful Asgardians such as Thor, sits in ruin outside Broxton, Oklahoma. The once-proud city was destroyed by a demented, power-hungry Norman Osborn during his dark over the Marvel Universe. At the site of the destruction, Tony Stark, is gathered with the Avengers and holding a press conference. He implores the reporters and anyone watching the broadcast, to join the heroes in rebuilding the world. He declares that his company, Stark Resilient, will begin building the future by creating a new Asgard for the gods to occupy. Thor is worried and claims that his father, Odin, should be present for such an important decision.
Odin, the Asgardian All-Father, is watching the press conference from a high vantage point when Uatu, a member of an alien race known as the Watchers, appears behind him, signifying that a momentous event is about to occur. Odin demands to know why the Watcher is present, but Uatu is forbidden to interfere or interact because of his status as a Watcher. Uatu remains silent and walks away.
Thor approaches Odin and asks his father why he does not stand with the other heroes. Odin is disgusted at the idea of a partnership with humans and the two gods exchange heated words before Odin throws his son to the ground. Odin demands that Thor choose between humans or gods and is disgusted when Thor chooses man. Odin calls his offspring soft and walks away.
Meanwhile, in Antartica, Sin, the daughter of the nefarious Red Skull, approaches Fortress Null, a secret Nazi stronghold. The base is rumored to store one of Adolf Hitler’s most prized possessions and is protected by Nazi soldiers perfected by the super sciences of the Third Reich. Sin and her men dispatch all the guards inside and locate the treasure in a vault behind a large door. A massive war hammer is frozen in ice.
Sin, claiming she has seen her destiny in a dream, reaches down and lifts the weapon, something Hitler and the Red Skull were both unable to do. Now endowed with the powerful forces of the god Skadi, Sin sets off to find her father. She dives into the Pacific Ocean and descends into the Marianas Trench. In the dark depths of the water, Skadi-Sin battles and defeats four monstrous sea-serpents, then enters a chamber. Skadi is greeted by a withered man hunched over a cane. He greets his child.
Back in Asgard, the Avengers and the Asgardians are enjoying a glorious feast when Odin enters and demands that his children join him in leaving Earth. Odin senses that the Serpent, an old foe he had locked away a long time ago, has been released and thus, an ancient prophesy is set in motion.
Thor rails against his father once more and the two gods come to blows a second time. The gathered heroes look on as Odin strips Thor of his power over the mystic hammer Mjolnir. Oding then proceeds to beat Thor to the ground. The All-Father tells the rest of the Asgardians to join him, and to bring his son. Odin creates a rainbow bridge which connects to their home world of Asgard, and leaves Earth. Steve Rogers tells Spider-Man that the gods have left them and the heroes are on their own.
The Serpent, walking with his daughter Skadi on top of the ocean, tells her that Odin is aware of his return. The old man claims that they will make everyone on this planet fear them, and he summons “The Worthy.” Several projectiles hurl through space and crash in different parts of the Earth.
What to Cheer:Seeing that this is the marquee event for Marvel Comics, reason would lead you to believe that Marvel would be putting some of their best talent on this series. From an art stand point they have. The combination of the illustrations, colors and inks are really polished. Immonen delivers some great character depictions and action scenes. The bold, black outlining and the bright colors are what I expect out of comic art and they really help give the book a classic feel.
I know next to nothing about the Norse gods in the Marvel Universe, but I really enjoyed the focus they received in the beginning of this story. Since the Serpent is supposed to be the god of Fear, I fully expect the Asgardians to be playing a large part in this series. I enjoyed Odin’s interaction with the Watcher. Because Odin is the all-powerful being that he is, he knows that the appearance of Uatu signals a great event. So it was interesting to see him appear helpless before the silent stare of the Watcher.
Thor gets the proverbial belt to the behind for disobeying his father, but this was on a much grander scale. The majority of the action in this comic was carried by Thor and Odin fighting one another, but in both instances it was pretty hefty. Thor attacking his father and then his wordy boasting was very theatrical. Seeing him lose control of his mighty weapon and being thrashed by his father in front of his friends was a real humbling moment for the powerful god of Thunder.
Readers don’t know much about the villains yet, and a Google search on them doesn’t offer much in the way of hints. Apparently Skadi is a goddess of Winter, the bow and the hunt, so I’m not sure where the large hammer comes into play. Skadi is also an ex-wife of Odin, so there could be some interesting family history between Odin, Skadi and the Serpent. I’m not sure how closely Marvel plans to stick to the Norse lore, but I don’t have a problem with them tweaking the characters when it doesn’t seem as though most people know about these gods anyways.
What to Fear: It can’t be easy writing dialogue for Norse gods. Fraction doesn’t really offer a lot of the classic Shakespearean Norse lingo but he does sneak in a “taketh” or “thus” every now and then. Fraction’s biggest problem comes when he has Thor talk too much like a normal human. Perhaps the point is to humanize the god more by having him speak more plainly, but it’s a bit jarring when he calls Odin a “one-eyed bastard” or when he challenges his father to “try it, old man.” I know nothing about Sin, but her use of the word “daddy” was annoying as well. I think she is still mentally a little girl according to her history, so that could be the reasoning behind it.
Then there was Tony Stark’s nickname for Steve Rogers, “Greatest Generation.” Sure they’re from different time periods, but they’re still practically the same age. I don’t understand why the heroes keep letting Tony run around with them. Like many other times, Tony’s solution to solving a problem is having his company fix it, which conveniently also pads his wallet. His motives always seem to be inspired by his bank account and the luxurious lifestyle he leads. Isn’t that the motive of ninety-percent of the super villains already out there?
While Fraction’s word usage was distracting from time to time, there was nothing that drew me out of the comic more than the not-so-subtle allusions to real world troubles. The protests that took place in Lower Manhatten harken back to the turmoil over a mosque being built near Ground Zero. The interjection of a depressed man having to move his family from Broxton because he lost his house and job was a bit much as well. Why were the Avengers so shocked to learn that a riot could be induced by normal people without the nudging of a super villain? Is Steve Rogers just delusional from being hit in the head by a brick during the riot?
I personally view comics as an escape from real world problems. When a fictional story clubs me over the head with how bad and scary the real world can be, I become removed from the story. I don’t need popular politicians gracing the variant covers of my comics, or Captain America dying needlessly in an attempt to try and make a statement. I certainly don’t need to see Spider-Man and Wolverine fist bump at the expense of a former United States president like they did in Amazing Spider-Man’s American Son storyline.
I understand the desire to try and relate the Marvel Universe to the real world, but this is counterproductive to why many people read comics in the first place. I believe politics have no place in a book when the next panel features two rather large Norse gods throwing haymakers at one another. This is a glaring problem in this first issue, and it tarnishes what could have been a great opening to a promising story line. Perhaps they’ll say that causing fear is the point, but if I wanted to be afraid, I’d just go read the newspaper.
The Big Picture: I love big events. I know many people get tired of the grand spectacles that they have become, but I really enjoy them because no where else can you get a story involving almost every character in the Marvel Universe. It’s odd I wasn’t more into history because I love learning the lore behind fake worlds like Marvel or the World of Warcraft. So in the last section I’m going to focus on how I think the events in the story will shape the Marvel landscape.
As far as the Spider-Man landscape, there’s not a lot to report on. He’s present and has minor throw away lines, but what can we expect from Spidey when his main writer Dan Slott, isn’t considered one of the Architects of the Marvel Universe. I don’t expect we’ll see a lot out of Spidey in this story, except for his tie-in mini-series which I’m sure will cover Spider-Man’s fear of losing those that are close to him.
Right now, the main focus is on Thor and the Asgardians as well as a little bit on Captain America. I wonder if Marvel is planning to use this story to help promote their two big movie releases this summer, the same way they helped promote Spider-Man 3 with the Back in Black storyline for Spidey.
It’s commonplace to see a character or two killed off in these big events. I think we may have gotten our first hint at one such occurrence. Sin claims she slew Captain America with the hammer of Skadi in her dream. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Bucky-Captain America fall in battle, paving the way for Steve Rogers to pick back up the shield in time for his July movie debut.
Rating: Good, art. Meh, action and character development. Poor, story and writing. 3/5 Frightened Marvelites.
“Remember that one time during the fight when it looked like you might actually win? No? Me neither.” – Marvel vs. Capcom 3
“Did I mention I beat up Firelord once? No, seriously. Firelord.” – Ultimate Alliance 2