Review by C.J. Bunce
Fear Itself, the seven issue limited series that has taken over all the Marvel Comics titles for the past seven months, just wrapped. Fear Itself was written by Matt Fraction, one of the Marvel Architects, those guys who are building the future of the Marvel franchise with superb art by Stuart Immonen. No doubt with Fear Itself, the construction of a Herculean storyline that spans all titles must have taken a fair amount of coordination. And it looks like it had to be fun to write and draw.
Fear Itself became the summer subtitle for Marvel, you couldn’t escape it, and even as someone who was not a regular Marvel reader I picked up the seven issues of the main title to read them once the series concluded, along with Seth Peck’s three issue run on Fear Itself: Wolverine tie-in, which I haven’t read yet.
Midway through issue two I was reminded of past Marvel world catastrophe storylines, like my first introduction as a kid in the 12-issue Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars and follow-up Secret Wars II series, which I also bought and read as a set once the series had concluded. Also, Marvel’s Civil War mini-series from only a few years ago, that resulted in Spider-man revealing his true identity and Captain America Steve Rogers’ death. I was reminded because you can’t just casually read these series. With all of these, a lot happens, there is a lot to absorb, and you only get full value by going back and re-reading each issue. What helps with this series is each issue gives a Star Wars type summary crawl of where the story stands at the beginning of each issue–a re-cap– and a cast of characters, so you can keep track of the difference between Odin and the All-father, for example, two guys drawn similarly that had me only slightly confused until their storylines became finer tuned.
The baddie of the series is the red-faced, ugly daughter of Red Skull named Sin. In issue 1, fear has already gripped the world, with general strife, Wall Street uncertainty, economic disaster, protests, etc…. real world kinds of things. Steve Rogers and his Avengers are trying to keep peace across the globe. Iron Man Tony Stark has corporate solutions. Meanwhile Sin seeks out a frozen Nazi stronghold buried far away by Red Skull, to find a powerful hammer that unleashes the beginning of the end of a great and horrible prophesy. She unleashes on old, banished warrior called the All-Father from the depths of the ocean with the power of the hammer. Odin learns of this and leaves Earth with other Gods, despite his son Thor’s protestations. The fighting between Odin and Thor is not new, and a little humorous because you know how it always ends. By the end of issue 1 the All-Father summons his “Worthy,” seven objects that come to Earth like meteors…
Issue 2 picks up with each meteor actually a hammer finding a hero on Earth and taking over each of them and turning them into seemingly indestructible beings devasting the planet. The heroes become the villains, or at least, the tools of their destruction. This includes Juggernaut, Attuma, Absorbing Man, The Hulk, and my favorite here, Titania, who becomes “Skirn: Breaker of Men.” By the end of this issue Sin is marching on Washington, DC, destroying the capital building.
In issue 3 we learn that the last hammer ends up turning Ben Grimm aka The Thing into the last of the “Worthy.” Bucky Barnes, donning the Captain America suit, leads the Avengers into a direct battle with Sin, only to be struck down and killed.
In Issue 4 Odin embarks on his journey to destroy all of Earth in order to ensure destruction of the All-Father–to ensure the terror will end as only he has faced this menace before and he knows the seven “avatars” are more powerful than anything the planet has yet faced. Nothing trivial for Marvel in this storyline! The All-Father seems to be thriving on the world’s fear, gaining power. He summons a sleeping army of the dead, prompting a humorous line from Tony Stark “we’re gonna need a bigger boat.” In a Luke and Darth moment, the All-Father reveals his true identity to Thor–that he is Odin’s brother and the true King of Asgard. Thor is left to confront…
In Issue 5 Thor confronts none other than The Hulk and The Thing–sure, not themselves, but a fun brawl and circumstance nonetheless, setting up the money shot for this series in a nice knockdown. Steve Rogers shatters his Captain America shield in battle and as he realizes the Avengers are going to lose the war in the end, he let’s Spider-man go off try to find his missing aunt. Is all lost for our super-friends???
By this time, readers have read so many Marvel character ads you need a break. Sleepwear, gum, even Marvel Slurpees…at least Twilight doesn’t get everyone’s marketing dollars! Hmm…where’s my DVR for comics…
Issue 6! The action picks up. Having told off Odin himself, Tony Stark is allowed to help the Asgard fight, earning Odin’s respect, and gets to fight alongside Thor and Odin at Asgard. A very cool moment for Iron Man and the second high point of the series. The issue ends with Steve Rogers, Captain America, ready to have the final stand directly on Earth with the King of Asgard.
Finally, the end is here in a double-sized final issue called “Thor’s Day.” Tony Stark has used the gods’ workshop to build mystic weapons to help the heroes fight on Earth. Odin has given Thor the Ragnarok, a powerful sword, and a set of armor for battle…
OK, enough spoilers. Iron Man brings magic weapons for everyone…except for Captain America, since Stark knows nothing is better than that shield, yet he didn’t know it was lost in battle. But that doesn’t stop this 1940s era Cap from leading the Avengers anyway… the rest is full of action, nice pacing all-around and what you’d call a “shocker” ending.
More valuable for the Marvel reader are the several denouements, more than even in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King….the seventh issue is a must read for anyone reading Marvel with the ongoing lead-ins for the rest of the Marvel Universe… like Sin’s fate to be revealed in The Fearless, a strange happening to the Hulk after he recovers in the new Incredible Hulk #1… and a lot more.
I am not sure where Fear Itself stands with respect to past Marvel cataclysm mini-series or even DC Comics big-event Crisis series, but it’s a a fun read and, for the hundreds of characters that the writers and artists attempted to incorporate into this series, the result was pretty successful. A hardcover version is due out from Marvel soon and now available for pre-order from Amazon.