I No Longer Fear for Marvel’s ‘Fear Itself’
This is the first comic book review on my blog, and I hope to do more in the future. I used to write comic reviews for a website called www.mutanthigh.com back when I was in college, but the workload became too much after graduation and I sort of just faded away. I haven’t yet figured out how I’m going to do comic reviews. New comics come out every Wednesday, but I don’t always buy them that day. I also never have the time to read a whole stack of new comics Wednesday evening to get reviews up in a timely manner. At any rate, we’ll see.
For those who don’t know, writing comic books is my dream job.
Some people want to be rock stars, some movie stars, sports stars, reality TV stars, janitors – I want to write comic books for a living. But like all these dream jobs, you don’t just jump in and get to do it. You’ve got to work hard towards the dream and hope you catch a big break. This blog is part of my journey, which is why I want to include more comics content.
And I think it’s a good enough place as any to start by reviewing issue #4 of Marvel’s Summer event ‘Fear Itself’.
I’m sure that most people who read this blog know about comic books in general. Every month, new issues of your favorite superhero comic hit the stands telling stories about Spider-Man, Batman, Captain America, etc. Well, along with those usual titles, the big companies also put out Event Comics, which are basically the stories where everybody has to team up to take on an even bigger threat. These Event Comics sell really well, and Marvel and DC have been churning them out over the past few years. A writer comes up with a big idea and gets to tell one story in the main mini-series, while other writers tackle tie-in comics to tell the side stories. I assume a lot of people out there buy the main mini-series and a lot o the tie-ins.
I don’t. I gave up on tie-ins a few Events back. Most of the time they’re just not interesting.
Fear Itself is a 7-issue story written by Matt Fraction and drawn by Stuart Immonen, both very big creators in this day and age. I actually got to meet Fraction once at a comic book convention. He signed a free comic for me and I got to ask him why he used The Mimic (one of my favorite obscure characters) in a big X-Men adventure he wrote. Cool story all around.
Fear Itself is about a villain called The Serpent, and it’s based a lot in the Thor side of the Marvel Universe. Hopefully you all saw the movie this Spring, or at least read my review. At any rate, the Nazis have uncovered a long lost Norse hammer frozen in the depths of Antarctica for centuries. Head Nazi Sin, the daughter of the Red Skull, uses that hammer to awaken The Serpent from his prison at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, where Norse All-Father Odin imprisoned him centuries ago. The Serpent then called upon 7 other long lost hammers to fall to Earth, transforming 7 Marvel Universe heroes and villains into avatars of his destructive power. These avatars have been raining mayhem down upon the world, spreading fear and empowering The Serpent. Marvel’s heroes have fought back valiantly but with futility so far.
In issue #4, The Serpent has achieved enough world-wide fear as to reawaken his long dormant castle and make himself younger and stronger in the process. Meanwhile, Steve Rogers reclaims his role as Captain America and starts rallying he troops.
So far, Fear Itself has been very underwhelming. I remember putting down issue #3 last month and feeling very ‘ho-hum’ about it. Even though the issue ended with the lead Nazi Sin (now known as the avatar Skadi) killing the new Captain America, Bucky Barnes.
There have been a lot of big set pieces in the series so far, but they’ve been rather dull. It’s all a very basic show, with Fraction glossing over the big events rather than getting into the nitty gritty that would actually make the series great. Once The Serpent awoke, Sin led an army of giant Nazi robots to attack Washington DC. There were big splash page pictures of DC landmarks being destroyed. And Nazi Robots! But all we get are the pictures. We don’t see anybody reacting to the Capitol being blown up. We don’t feel the world shaking beneath the might of The Serpent.
We don’t feel the story – and that’s why it’s been dull so far.
Now, in theory, a lot of the reactions might be happening in the tie-ins. I’m sure a lot of those stories are getting into the more human aspects of the story while the main mini-series handles the big events. But I just don’t care. I’m not going to waste money on tie-ins about Speedball or the Black Widow. I buy comics, first and foremost, based on the characters. If there were a Multiple Man or Mimic tie-in, I’d buy that in a heart beat. But I’m not going to buy the Avengers Academy tie-in just to get a fuller version of Fear Itself. Besides, Marvel are always claiming that you don’t need to read the tie-ins to get a full story. The main mini-series should be enough.
But it hasn’t been so far. The story is pretty weird. Basically a new bad guy shows up, and his gimmick is giving a bunch of people their own version of Thor’s hammer. But this just turns them into mindless, rampaging brutes. When the Hulk got his hammer, there was a brief moment where he seemed to fight for control, and that could have been cool, but he soon gave in. I’d like to see the Hulk – the STRONGEST ONE THERE IS! – actually be able to shake off The Serpent’s control. But that hasn’t happened yet. The main series just shows a bunch of rampaging avatars, and it’s boring. We comic fans see rampaging super villains all the time. Not to mention that Norse hammers have a special purpose that is perverted by this story. Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, was specially crafted for him by Dwarven forgers. The Serpent suddenly being able to call on 7 magic hammers, as if everybody in Norse mythology uses hammers, takes away from the uniqueness of Thor’s hammer. So if everybody has special hammer, then nobody’s hammer is special. Everything becomes generic.
What makes a good story great is showing us the human reaction, the heart.
Fear Itself has not yet shown us the heart.
But they try in issue #4. Like I said, this is where Captain America starts rallying the troops. You may all recall the news story a few years ago where Captain America was killed. He wasn’t really, but everybody thought he was for about two years. Then he came back, but by then his old sidekick Bucky had taken over the Cap identity. So Steve Rogers stepped aside to be his own hero and let Bucky stay as Cap. But with Bucky dead, Steve puts on his old costume and becomes Captain America again in this issue.
But there’s no fanfare!
We don’t even see Cap standing over the body of his dead friend and promising him justice! We just see Cap already in costume sitting with his head down. Then the others come up to him and tell him it’s time to get going. None of the characters seem to care that Steve is Cap again, so why should I care? It’s cool that he jumps right back into the leadership role, and that provides a little heart. He gets Thor and Iron Man together and they each head off to take on a different aspect of the threat. Cap goes to join the Avengers in protecting New York City, Iron Man goes to try and reason with Odin and Thor goes to confront The Serpent head-on. We get a little bit more backstory about The Serpent, but not enough to make us care yet.
So issue #4 starts to put Fear Itself back on track. The first three issues were dull in that they were just mindless action for the sake of action. It was all build-up as the threats started getting worse, but they only showed us these threats in the most basic, glossed over sense. Sure some buildings blew up, some faceless extras got wiped out and a hero died, but so what? We’ve seen it all before. Some hero being sacrificed to give an Event Comic more depth has become cliche. Blowing up monuments no longer has any impact. And the villains just aren’t that interesting yet.
But with the heroes coming together in issue #4, we’re finally seeing some more character-specific actions. That’s what I want to read about. Big fights, like the one teased at he end of this issue, aren’t as interesting if we don’t care about the characters involved. So let’s hope the next three issues of Fear Itself have more heart than mindless violence.