REVIEW: Fear Itself – Fearsome Four #1 (of 4)

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Or – “What Do These Characters Have In Common?”

I don’t know if it’s coincidence that Marvel has revamped their old-school Frankenstein the same month that DC gave their Frankie his own limited series, but in any case, it’s fun to see this many 70s characters together in a book that isn’t written by Bendis.  And while I’m still a little bit shaky on the entire ‘Fear Itself’ event, it would probably require some sort of injunction to keep me away from a book where 80% of the cast was created, defined or written by Steve Gerber…

FEAR ITSELF: FEARSOME FOUR #1
Writer: Brandon Montclare
Artist(s): Michael Wm Kaluta, Ryan Bodenheim & Simon Bisley
Colorist(s): Chris Sotomayor, Tony Avina & Simon Bisley
Letterer: Blambot’s Nate Piekos
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $2.99

Previously, on Fear Itself – Fearsome Four: A few years ago in the swamps of Florida, the Guardian of the Nexus of All Realities (a moss-covered mockery of a man that used to be scientist Ted Sallis) was witness to one of the strangest moments of all time, as an anthropomorphic duck walked out of the Nexus and into the heart of the Marvel Universe.  Not long after, The Grandmaster created alternate-reality duplicates of the Squadron Supreme, including a millionaire named Bruce Wayne Kyle Richmond, who was secretly Batman Nighthawk.  Shortly thereafter, the creation of mad scientist Victor Frankenstein who would become known by his ‘father’s’ surname revived from the suspended animation that had held him in stasis since the late 1800′s.  When a crime boss shot Jennifer Walters, an emergency blood transfusion from her cousin Bruce Banner infected Jen with gamma-irradiated blood and gave her the ability to become a gamma monster of her own volition.  Then, other stuff happened, probably involving Wolverine, and their books got cancelled.

An Oddly Literal Title…

Things begin in media res with the patented Wolverine first-person monologue, as we see the Man-Thing in the streets of New York, driven by the feelings of fear awakened by the Serpent in the pages of the main F.I. title.  Fortunately, even Manny has friends who look out for him, and one of his oldest is on his trail, as we discover that the mysterious narrator is none other than Howard (who is, as some have already surmised, a duck.)  With a little help from She-Hulk, Howard has followed Man-Thing’s path of destruction and has sworn to either retrieve his pal or, barring that, to stop him once and for all.  There’s also something going on with a mysterious MacGuffin, but that’s not explained before the trail turns into a trail of corpses.

Where’s Charlie-27 And Martinex?

The first portion of the story works better for me than the second, wherein Nighthawk, having just regained his mask and mantle after losing it in Civil War, returns to the streets in full-on Dadgum Batman knockoff mode (featuring bad Frank Miller dialogue that I really hope is meant to be parody.)  The credits list three different artists, but it’s hard to tell where the changes come into play in these first couple of chapters.  The Nighthawk segment feels slightly different art-wise, and the blood effects are quite disturbing, but as a whole, Nighthawk’s interlude is kind of a clunker for me.  The two stories intersect just in time to find Frankenstein wandering the streets, fighty-fighty misunderstanding, team-up blah.  The end is pretty spiffy, though, as Simon Bisley takes over the art as the team goes through some changes thanks to the influence of the Nexus, and the promise of more bizarre things to come…

The Verdict: Four Great Tastes That Taste Weird Together

Over the last dozen years or so, Marvel has started using the New Warriors theorem (pick several random extant characters, stack them together in new combinations, new character optional) regularly in what seems like an attempt to get the most out of their large pool of characters.  Sometimes it works (as with the New Avengers) and sometimes it doesn’t (Young Allies, The Loners, any given team limited since about 1999), but it always leads to interesting, if uneven, results.  The use of Howard as the central character, given his everyman (everyfowl?) nature, works for me, and exploiting the existing connections between Jennifer, Kyle and Howard is nice for the continuity junkies in the audience, but I’m less sold on the belief that somehow THIS world-shaking event is more frightening and important than the last five world-shaking events.  The theme that the Serpent and company are generating a huge undercurrent of fear hasn’t really been clearly established in the main title, so it feels a little out-of-left-field, and Nighthawk’s new attitude makes him seem quite unhinged.  All in all, though, it’s an entertaining, if somewhat flawed product, and I’m intrigued enough to stay and see where things are going next month.  Fear Itself: Fearsome Four #1 makes a good first impression, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall, and giving the crossover it’s own weird little Vertigo side-world to play with…

Rating: ★★★½☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Did I miss the part where The Serpent is generating a mystical fear-zone, or is that part just a metaphor?