Or – “Sowing Confusion Isn’t Always Easy…”

With the exception of the pervasiveness of the big storyline, I’ve been pretty impressed (in fact, almost HAPPY with) Fear Itself to date.  It’s given recognizable characters some recognizable moments and done things with Marvel’s big names that are interesting.  This is the issue where the excremental masses are reputed to really impact the rotating blades…  Will my positivity survive the experience?

Writer: Matt Fraction
Penciler: Stuart Immonen
Inker: Wade Von Grawbadger
Colorist: Laura Martin w/Milla & Molinar
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

Previously, on Fear Itself:  The Red Skull’s daughter turns out to be kind of a red herring…  Sin’s evil reign of terror has been at the behest of The Serpent (brother of Odin himself) a lost Asgardian deity with designs on the conquest/destruction of Midgard, which I guess is for revenge, or something.  The heroes of the world have been run ragged, but last issue gave them a plan and a slight reprieve.  Iron Man has been dispatched to Asgard to build weapons, Thor has been sent to Earth to fight the twin menace of a possessed Hulk and Thing, and Captain America has returned to battle with a helmet and a big gun (the better to resemble his movie incarnation.)  With our heroes back on the front lines and ready to rumble, this thing’s got to turn around soon, right?

Rally ‘Round The Family…

As some minor sort of writer, I often have to remind myself that stories (especially episodic ones) have a structure of acts, and that individual chapters of story can be intentionally designed to incite a reaction from the reader.  Last issue, the heroes of the Marvel Universe found a second wind in their battle against the Serpent, and things looked hopeful for a moment.  It was, of course, the middle of the story, and by design, more complications had to loom before things can be wrapped up and the new universe relaunched…  Or is that Flashpoint?  It kind of blurs together after a while.  The whole first third of this issue is about confrontations (Thor to the green-and-orange Brothers of Destruction, Cap to Sin, Iron Man to Odin) but things quickly turn sour.  Iron Man verbally castigates the All-Father for his inhumanity, Captain America is severely outmatched, and Thor…  Thor is forced to fatally wound an old friend to save his life and the lives of innocents.  It’s a quick ending for the optimism that cropped up last time, and leaves all our heroes even more demoralized than before.

…Crap, Forgot About The Pocketful Of Shells.

Matt Fraction is a good writer, for my money, but there are several dialogue segments this issue that feel very wrong to me.  When Sin threatens to kill him, Steve Rogers grunts “Your dad couldn’t.  Reckon you can’t either.”  In battle with The Hulk, Thor snarls, “You were always a PAIN IN THE ASS!”  Spider-Man telling The Serpent to “Suck it!”  (Okay, that one I like…)  It’s hard to explain, but somehow seeing these characters abandoning their old-school character beats (Cap’s moralistic speechifying, Thor’s thees and thous and thoosts) makes it feel artificial, as though they’ve been playing roles and now no longer have time for them.  It serves to underline the dramatic content and scope of our earth-shattering story, but it diminishes the heroes.  We do get two huge “Hell, YEAH!/Oh CRAP!” moments in this story, though.  The first comes when Captain America attacks the Serpent with his shield and the villain effortlessly catches and SHATTERS it to smithereens.  Ooooh, crap.  Then, as Franklin Richards, of all people, finds the mortally wounded Thing dying in the street, he whispers something that we’ve all realized for years:  “‘Member how I told Mom and Dad I wouldn’t use my powers?   I LIED.”  The Thing is restored both to normal and perfect health, and mutters about how Reed and Sue are gonna kill both of them.  Heh.

The Verdict: Troublesome, But Epic Enough

The issue ends with everyone clearly freaking out, as Captain America concedes that the battle is lost, Spider-Man gives up the fight to find his loved ones, and Thor collapses from his injuries.  It’s a shocking ending, but one that feels (to me at least) artificially inflated.  There are no fewer than FOUR of Marvel’s “everything you know is wrong!” moments used here to underline the seriousness of the conflict, and their cumulative effect makes me feel like my daughter is trying to get my attention.  Daddy?  Daddy?  Daddy?  Daddy?  Daddy?  Daddy?  Still, it’s a wonderfully rendered issue by Immonen and Von Grawbadger, and Fraction has a clear grasp of how the Marvel Universe works, even in its most remote scope, giving us wonderful details like Tony Starks’s past as a weaponsmith, the Richards children bickering and a wonderful series of interactions between Thor and the Hulk that elevate some of the fighty-fighty past mere fisticuffs.  My problems with the shock-and-awe approach don’t wreck the book, but definitely make it less enjoyable than previous issues.  Fear Itself #5 earns an above-average 3 out of 5 stars overall, and for all the things I’m probably overthinking, it does at least make you consider that the status quo is not going to be easily reset afterwards…

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  Is it better to do the unthinkable (i.e. break the indestructible shield; return Bucky from the dead; have Iron Man start drinking again) than to be predictable?  Or are the creators actually undermining their own creations with these ‘hotshot’ story beats?


The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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  1. August 11, 2011 at 8:00 pm — Reply

    I have to say, Matthew. My favorite part of your reviews are the questions at the end. I hope you do read these answers, since I would like to read your opinion as well.

    My answer is this: Doing the unthinkable is good in moderation. If you go years (and I mean more than 2) doing stories and suddenly the unthinkable happens!, then I think it’s a good thing in the end. However, when the unthinkable happens! every year (Iron Man and Captain America fight, Hulk the Barbarian beats Black Bolt, Earth was secretly invaded by shape-shifters, Norman Osborn is in charge of the heroes, No more mutants!, Good characters dying for cheap empathy, Tragedy Pr0n), then the effect is diminished and it just looks like your trying to top the last time. I know I’m taking a #2 on Marvel and that you could probably say the same about DC to an extent, but it’s easier for me to tell with Marvel than DC. Marvel was my #1 for a long time, but then things started to go downhill for me around the end of Civil War (maybe even before that).

    So, am I off base here? Am I pointing the finger unjustly an Marvel?

    • August 11, 2011 at 8:40 pm — Reply

      I hope you do read these answers, since I would like to read your opinion as well.

      Well, as a moderator, I tend to read ALL of the comments, even the ones marked as spam. Sometimes it just takes longer to get to them…

      So, am I off base here? Am I pointing the finger unjustly an Marvel?

      The ‘pull-out-all-the-stops’ school of storytelling has been pretty universal (and growing in intensity) for maybe a dozen years now. Marvel is more identified with it because of their willingness to do it in their core universe, whereas DC spent a lot of time with Elseworlds stories and books like The Authority or The Boys and such that did it through proxies and iconography. I tend to identify this with the dawn of the Quesada/Jemas era where, to be honest, their wild hairs and unthinkable stories were fresh and new. A decade and a half (and an undead Bucky and an unmasked Spider-Man and a fascist Iron Man and a Captain America assassination) later, it’s starting to seem like that pony needs to learn some new tricks. Mileage on this, as always, varies, but I don’t think you’re out of line in saying this is a Marvel gimmick.

      DC, to be fair, likes to repeatedly retcon things so that whatever the editorial team wishes the universal constants to BE, we are expected to suspend our disbelief and pretend that things have always been this way.

  2. Ricco
    August 11, 2011 at 8:18 pm — Reply

    Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Is it better to do the unthinkable (i.e. break the indestructible shield; return Bucky from the dead; have Iron Man start drinking again) than to be predictable? Or are the creators actually undermining their own creations with these ‘hotshot’ story beats?

    Let’s put it this way shattering Cap’s unbreakable shield was a “oh crap!” moment when it happened the 1st time, by now I sorta expect it to “show how powerful the new guy is”. You yourself said how every new villain would just come out of nowhere and beat the Juggernaut in a single punch, because he is THAT bad-ass. The unthinkable and the predictable are one and the same, they just change names to avoid paying child care support.

    • August 11, 2011 at 8:33 pm — Reply

      Let’s put it this way shattering Cap’s unbreakable shield was a “oh crap!” moment when it happened the 1st time, by now I sorta expect it to “show how powerful the new guy is”.

      Other then Secret Wars back in ’82, when has Cap’s shield ever been broken?

      • Ricco
        August 11, 2011 at 9:09 pm — Reply

        Ultimate Universe Valkirie in recent history for one and I’m pretty sure at least a couple “What If?” comics have had it destroyed.

        • James Adams
          August 12, 2011 at 5:04 am — Reply

          It also happened in “The Infinity Gauntlet”.

          • imtheseventh
            August 12, 2011 at 9:18 pm — Reply

            It also happened after the Waid/Garney relaunch. Namor brought back cap’s shield from underwater and it fell apart, which caused to make vibranium act strange everywhere.

  3. wdchefdave
    August 11, 2011 at 11:02 pm — Reply

    Thor or Hulk shattered Silver Surfer’s board once… way back in the 70’s… and he simply created a new one… instantly! I remember Cap’s shield being shattered during Secret Wars, when else? (Not picking a fight, just don’t remember when else.) And, I remember when Cap picked up Thor’s hammer when the Hulk couldn’t too! Has anyone stolen the Silver Surfer’s board for a ride?

    • Ricco
      August 12, 2011 at 12:04 am — Reply

      You and Matthew are probably right in saying it doesn’t happen that often, it’s just that I saw it done not so long ago in the New Ultimate that it seemed fresh to me.

    • Et Tu Cliche
      August 12, 2011 at 7:13 pm — Reply

      Thanos also shattered Cap’s shield in the Infinity Gauntlet and Thor dented it in the Standoff. Not sure if there are any other examples.

  4. wdchefdave
    August 11, 2011 at 11:05 pm — Reply

    It lasted long enough for Killraven and Vance Astro to play with it for a few hundreds of years!

  5. August 11, 2011 at 11:30 pm — Reply

    I have to say that the Franklin Richards moment was hands down my favorite moment in the entire issue. He’s such an underused character (rightfully so) as he’s one of those all powerful characters like Scarlet Witch who at this point can get away with almost anything but never uses his power.

    Sure it’s a cheap cop out in a way to have characters at that power level, but the fact that he legitimately hasn’t been using his powers until now and just to save his uncle fully makes it worthwhile. I can’t wait for the FF issue that that ties in with this or the next issue so we can see what happens to Thing’s hammer.

  6. Arbor Day
    August 12, 2011 at 1:05 am — Reply

    I wouldn’t have called Tony relapsing unthinkable, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner. The basic underlying personality flaws that lead him to drinking haven’t really changed, cause that’s what makes him Tony Stark. Marvel’s not going to do any real deep character development, just cheap deals with Mephisto and costume swaps/swap backs.

  7. KLP
    August 12, 2011 at 3:08 am — Reply

    Most comic book fans, I think are tired of epic story lines which “suppose” to change the universe and low in behold, six months later everything is back as if nothing ever happened! So whatever happens hear in Fear, won’t last forever and that really sucks Hulk big green toes!

  8. The Great NateO
    August 12, 2011 at 5:46 am — Reply

    That is their JOB to keep up guessing and entertained. Now I have just got back into the comic seen, but don’t they normally have a plan why they do the unthinkable. With some of these comics being as old as they are the only thing left is the unthinkable.

    Now with everything I have been reading and listening to (Major Spoilers ROCKS!!!) I like the unthinkable. I think for writers, it takes a bit of courage to take that unthinkable idea and make it part of their creations. Plus you may become too predictable and that I do not like, RED Shirt beaming down to the planet, oh you’re dead!

    • Seneca
      August 12, 2011 at 7:41 am — Reply

      You just got back into the comic book scene, that is why you are not suffering from event fatigue and the constant unpredictablility. The problem with constant unpredictability is that once it becomes a constant it is no longer unpredictable.

  9. Ced
    August 12, 2011 at 10:19 am — Reply

    Well for the shield, I guess it handy that Tony have access to the asguardian forge.

  10. Zombi
    August 12, 2011 at 10:20 am — Reply

    So, Franklin brought back Uncle Ben but not Uncle Johnny..? Someone is playing favorites…

    • Ricco
      August 12, 2011 at 10:54 am — Reply

      We never saw a body, which by all comic book conventions means he never died.

    • Usagizero
      August 12, 2011 at 11:19 pm — Reply

      “Hey Franklin, thanks for healing me an all, but could you also just stop all this with bit of your infinite power? Thanks.”

      “Oh, sorry, i said i wouldn’t use them, so i can’t, but i had to use them for you, because, you know, plot.”


      This right here is my big problem with characters like franklin in general. I have no problem with Doctor Strange, especially his more out there stories, because it's not even a matter of power, more head games, but really, why doesn't franklin just blink the problem away? Feature an all powerful character, then just use for this? Could have had the thing being injured a snapping point for him, and then him actually being the big bad of fear itself, which could have been kind of awesome. The big villain, not just a child, but a friend and child of friends, but he's out for evil.

  11. TaZ
    August 12, 2011 at 3:46 pm — Reply

    I wish I shared your positivity. I have just not been able to follow Marvel’s multiple “events” in any coherent manner, no matter how I try. Multiple “Fear” tie ins plus “Schism” tie ins plus “Spider Island” and tie ins and trying to relate to the movie releases (which “killing” Thor makes no sense whatsoever).

    As to the picture, the “hammer” actually looks like some of the old Norse/Slavic images I’ve seen of the symbol of Thor. Some renderings of the hammer show a war-mace that can be used to strike the ground or sky to make thunder. But, of course, I prefer Thor’s old rock with a handle.

  12. Trick502
    August 13, 2011 at 1:23 pm — Reply

    A bit off topic here……but has anyone besides myslef tried to translate the Old Norse Dialect used by the worthy? I’ve done a little research but there are so many different Runic alphabet/glyph systems when I look online. Sometime’s I wonder if knowing what the “Worthy” are saying may have us tolerate some of he main characters more hackey lines of dialogue.

    Also I’m taking bets that Tony Stark will build the shield even better with asgardian metal, and only the Cap will be able to lift it as if it was his own personal Mjolnir lol

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