REVIEW: Fear Itself #1

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Do you fear… event fatigue? I hope not, as Marvel is here with its latest big event, promising magical Mjolnirs for all the bad guys, paranoia and panic for the good guys, and expanded page counts for all the readers. The only thing you have to fear is not reading this review for Fear Itself #1!

FEAR ITSELF #1 OF 7
Written by: Matt Fraction
Pencils & Cover by: Stuart Immonen
Color by: Laura Martin
Letters by: Chris Eliopoulos
Edited by: Lauren Sankovitch
Published by: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99

“Volstagg and the Avengers! Imagine it, Steven! With your mind!”

So here we are, Dear Readers, with another earth-shattering, paradigm-punching, multiverse-mangling mega-event in the making. Fear Itself promises to force Marvel’s Mightiest to face up to their deepest doubts, and also give a bunch of bad guys magical hammer-y things. Right, so how’s it do?

STOP! HAMMERTIME!

Fraction starts the story off in Lower Manhattan in the middle of an angry protest/counter-protest regarding something being built on a suspiciously prominent hole in the ground. This is obviously supposed to signify the whole “building a mosque near Ground Zero” kerfluffle, and it’s something that works. Fraction obviously wants to make a statement about how fear can be toxic to society, and it’s a topic well worth exploring. How well it will be explored in this miniseries is another question.

At the protest, Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter are standing around looking good in their jumpsuits and ostensibly keeping the peace, when things go pear-shaped and Steve catches a brick in the face for his troubles. This leads to a nice bit where ex-Cap can’t believe that the riot wasn’t induced by some nefarious means and that regular, ordinary citizens are capable of violent madness all on their own. Then Red Skull’s daughter (Sin) gives us some Nazi-on-Nazi action, gets possessed by an evil hammer, swims past some dragons, and wakes up a skinnier, eviler Odin. Meanwhile, Odin yells at The Watcher, beats up Thor, throws a party, beats up Thor again, and makes all the Norse gods leave Earth.

Stuart Immonen’s art is good, but nothing really pops off the page. I do miss the cartoonier style he used in Nextwave, although that wouldn’t really be appropriate in this book. But without that distinctive style, there’s not much separating this from the usual Marvel house style. It’s workmanlike and efficient, but never really exciting. The same goes for Laura Martin’s coloring: good, but not great (albeit with one mistake, where Red Hulk turns green for a panel – they gotta let Thunderbolt Ross grow his mustache or this will happen a lot in group scenes).

ANOTHER THING TO FEAR IS AN ANGRY ODIN

The best parts of the story actually focus on the regular people. The riot in New York is fictional, but feels all too possible. The most fascinating pages focus on Rick, some random schlub from Broxton, Oklahoma, the new home of Asgard post-Siege. His neighbors are victims of the housing crisis, his town is overrun by gawking tourists, and his son is afraid of all the strange lights in the sky. Rick’s story gets swallowed up by page after page of Odin yelling at stuff, but the mortal’s is the more interesting drama. Odin gets a lot of ink in order to sell the epic nature of this series, but I hope that Rick or someone like him gets more attention, since it’s what links the nebulous super-hero-y God of Fear stuff with the very real fears that the readers all have. If this story is to be meaningful, it has to be grounded in something more than just “Juggernaut gets a hammer while Cyclops cries about being Magneto-esque.” Good science fiction is entertaining first, but it also creates metaphors for something involving the human condition. I think Fraction is attempting that here, but so far it’s too wrapped up in Marvel mythology to be truly compelling. I hope that changes in future issues.

I’m as sick of these big crossover events as anyone, and I was originally going to give this one a pass, but what the hell, I checked it out. And it passed the comics litmus test – I was entertained reading it and didn’t feel ripped off. But these big event comics have to be held to a higher standard than any regular monthly. After all, the writers and artists are asked to invest a lot more, as are the readers. And nothing other than page count separates Fear Itself from any other comic. I haven’t seen anything in this story that wouldn’t be at home between the covers of any issue of Thor, and honestly, this issue feels like it could’ve been told in less than 44 pages. If the publishers are going to push these big events, they really need a reason for these miniseries to exist outside of the usual monthly confines. I’m interested enough to keep reading, but if you’re ambivalent about Marvel’s latest BIG EVENT, don’t sweat it if you miss it.

Fear Itself #1 features four dragons, four blows to the head, three cows, Thor ignoring the first rule of the Ghostbusters (“When someone asks you if you’re a god, you say yes”), an interview with a VERY smirky Bendis and Odin chokeslamming Thor. It also majorly skimps on sound effects, providing only one (albeit very poignant) tch-chk.

Rating: ★★★☆☆