REVIEW: Fear Itself #5 (of 7)

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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?

FEAR ITSELF #5
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?
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?