Or – “The Mood Is About To Change…”
The Serpent’s assault is in full swing, and our heroes have suffered their first casualty…
FEAR ITSELF #4
Writer: Matt Fraction
Penciler: Start Immonen
Inker: Wade Von Grawbadger
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $3.99
Previously, on Fear Itself: When Cynthia Schmidt (aka Sin, the villainous offspring of Johann ‘The Red Skull’ Schmidt) freed a lost Asgardian known only as The Serpent, she opened not only an ancient tomb but a pretty sizable can of whupass. Given a mystical hammer similar to Thor’s, Sin/Skadi immediately decided to one-up dear old dad and go all ‘Ultimates Volume 1’ on the city of Washington, D.C. (which may not actually be a city at all, now that I think of it.) As she did this, more hammers fell from the sky, each one transforming a Marvel stalwart into an unthinking engine of destruction (Except for the Hulk, who was already pretty much an unthinking engine of destruction, and was thus just given a haircut and turned up to eleven.) Odin withdrew his people from the Earth-realm, including dragging his rebellious son Thor along, to prepare for war, but changed his mind and literally kicked Thor out of Asgard saying, in effect, not to let Jormugand hit him in the @$$. During the siege of DC, Sin went mano-a-cibernetico-mano with James “Bucky” Barnes, the latest Captain America. It did not end well for the Buckster…
Now, THAT Is More Like It…
I like Matt Fraction’s writing. I like it a LOT. And to say that I’ve been disappointed with the pacing of the first three issues of this series is probably putting it mildly. I kept seeing flashes of that Fraction brilliance, but quickly grew frustrated with their flitting about as we got more and more buildup. The situation hit critical mass last issue with what seemed to be a hideous injury in battle for Bucky Barnes, the kind of thing that would easily bring Steve Rogers back to the role of Captain America, just in time for his upcoming #1 issue. I was expecting to have more of the same this time…
Boy, was I wrong.
This issue comes on with a (literal) bang as Thor is thrown back into the world. We get quick check-ins around the globe as the chaos continues: Iron Fist in the far east; Broxton, Oklahoma as a paranoid stronghold; Odin lamenting what has gone before and finally explaining his fearful actions. And, most importantly, The Serpent explains that, yes, he HAS in fact been creating an atmosphere of fear and paranoia artificially, and it’s all part of his plan. Part of me likes that the reveal came in such a sneaky, underhanded manner (befitting the character) and laments my impatience at the first three issues, while another part of me just hums the Hogan’s Heroes theme and tries to remember the name of Lloyd Dobler’s best friend in ‘Say Anything.’
And It Got Worse.
The first punch in the gut comes as we see what is clearly the body of Captain America lying on a slab. The Black Widow lashes out at Iron Man and Nick Fury about their much-vaunted genius and sneakiness, respectively, giving a full-on ‘What The Hell, Hero’ speech. It’s effective as hell. Thor arrives, Steve Rogers puts his chainmail shirt on again, and the core of the Avengers each sets out on an individual mission to put the genie back in it’s evil Asgardian bottle. There are several horrifying sequences that follow, one in Paris, one on the Canadian seashore, and then The Serpent finally calls upon his men to do something other than random destruction. Captain America is way overmatched, Thor discovers the truth behind the Serpent, and Iron Man does the unthinkable as a sacrifice to get Odin to listen to him. I like how Fraction inverts all the roles, sending Captain America into an all-out battle that might befit Thor, sending Thor on the fact-finding mission that would suit the mind of Iron Man, and sending Iron Man on the mission to parley as one might expect from Captain America. The issue ends with a pretty gut-wrenching climax or three, and our final page has Thor ejected from the Serpent’s realm to find himself staring down the double-barrels of the Hulk and the Thing (or, if you will, Nul, Breaker of Worlds and Angrir, Breaker of Souls.)
The Verdict: Pow.
If you’ve complained that FI is dragging a bit, this is the issue you want to read, filled with strong character beats, big moments and a providing a bird’s eye view of a conflict that has spread across the globe and into the realm of Asgard. (Atlantean bodies floating to the surface after Attuma’s butchery are particularly disturbing.) The revelation of the Serpent’s identity (Not to be coy here, but I’m unsure if he’s Vili or Ve) makes Odin’s strange behavior palatable, and Captain America putting on a helmet and grabbing an assault rifle is a moment that quickly gets across how serious this situation has become. (People he fought WITHOUT such accoutrements include Korvac, Thanos, Nebula and The Living Monolith.) The key Tony Stark moments in this issue are moments of HUMAN triumph, finally getting him away from the endless Batman gambits that have been gumming up his works since about 1997, and the revelation that he vomited in his helmet at the carnage in Paris is both disgusting and wonderful development for his character. In short, Fear Itself #4 hits the mark, anchoring the wholesale slaughter with some lovely character work, and setting up a battle that finally justifies how pervasive the crossover has become, earning a very impressive 4.5 out of 5 stars overall. That’s the Fraction we know and love, right there…
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Have I been too impatient with this series? How much tension building is TOO much?