Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Mane Event - Fear Itself

Through 2011 Marvel has launched its cross over series Fear Itself. It has been a seven part story which has also influenced over 20 different titles. Some have been influential, such as Invincible Iron Man, some specifically designed for the event such as The Worthy and others which have been tenuous links to say the least.

It has spawned three epilogue issues (#7.1, #7.2, #7.3) which set up new storylines within the MU and also acted as a vehicle for the reinvention of a new Ghost Rider. Furthermore there are two new miniseries - The Fearless, a twelve part following Sin and Valkyrie in the aftermath and the slow burning Battle Scars.

The architect for the whole story was Matt Fraction, one of Marvel’s big writers at the moment, which is why there is also such a synergy with Iron Man too. That said there is a large emphasis on the relationship and interactions of Thor and Captain America meaning the original Avengers are very prominent. The story is well written and full of big moments but that has also meant that there is a potential for big troughs for the readers to fall into as well. You also have to consider that this is all built on the one shot, by Ed Brubaker, The Book of the Skull which set a very specific tone. This was not an arc that was going to be soft and fluffy with a sadistic and focused Sin leading the way strongly and even more so when Skaadi was forging forward. With such a high pace the question you begin to ask is, “Is this sustainable?”

Fear Itself is the product of a prophecy. One that Odin has been trying to avoid for the sake of Thor. That Odin’s brother will return and in the process of defeating him Thor will die. Unfortunately for earth this means that as the “host” for the event that things are not looking good. Especially when the fuel for Sin is in endless supply from all of the inhabitants, FEAR.

The arrival of the Serpent in the mortal world also ushers in the return of Thor and his brethren to Asgard leaving earth’s hero’s alone in the world to fight an adversary they have no realistic chance against. To compound matters further the second issue is all about the introduction of the Worthy. Seven of earths heroes and villains imbued with the power of mystical hammers that land on the planet at the Serpent’s command. You could make an observation towards the adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely as it matters little if you are considered evil (Attuma/Grey Gargoyle/Absorbing Man/Titania), good (Ben Grimm) or ambiguous (the rehabilitating Juggernaut/reclusive Hulk) because all of them have little or no control over the actions they then take. All of them become harbingers of a fate that will potentially end the world.

Each of the issues has at least one big moment but not all saved for cliffhangers, such as the departure of the Asgardians or the blitzkrieg invasion of America. Some are more meaningful. The best example of this would be issue #4’s cry for help from Tony Stark. For those who are not familiar with Iron Man and his history, Stark has had a huge battle in his past with alcoholism which was captured in the Demon in a Bottle storyline. Following this he has been completely teetotal. But, in this moment of absolute crisis, whilst calling out for Odin, Stark makes a huge sacrifice. When a show and dignity and integrity hasn’t been strong enough to bring down the All Father, Tony gives his only thing of value he has left. His sobriety.

You also have the iconic moments, or the breaking of icons, where we are given death and chaos or the destruction of symbols of hope. These events only go to further feed the beast, making the Serpent even stronger, creating a feeling of even greater futility and struggle.

The final book of Fear Itself is one of strength and hope. If you read Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man as well you will have seen his journey and return to bring the Avengers blessed weapons which can finally stand up to the Worthy, leaving Thor to face his destiny and Odin to see if prophecy and fate can be avoided.

For me, this is where the whole story starts to falter, although some may argue that after the first two issues things had started to slow. After taking two issues to establish such a good base the next four issues open the story out into relevant miniseries. These continued until the final issue where wrapping it all up in one final comic simply seems too fast. The issue is hefty but that is because it also includes three epilogues which only one of them bears huge relevance to the previous arc.

The three epilogues revolves around the original Avengers providing unique perspectives in the aftermath. What I found surprisingly refreshing is that they are not “happily-ever-after” stories. Cap struggles with some of the more harsh realities of modern warfare and the balancing of what is needed and what is necessary. The Thor title is more about rebirth from the ashes of war with the arrival of Thanatos. Finally Iron Man faces up to Odin to receive perspective in the after event and at the same time provided me with my favourite moment and phrase of the entire series. In an attempt to make him understand his lack of significance, Odin shows Stark a glimpse behind the curtain. All Stark can ask is why him? To which Odin coldly replies “Who ever would believe you?” Simple and very satisfying.

Considering that this series will be one of the cornerstones of future events in the Marvel Universe (for instance the new Incredible Hulk title is established at the end of book seven) it is a good read. It’s not necessarily essential but will answer questions readers may have about Thor or Bucky for example. It is hard to completely evaluate it as it started as a strong story which turned a little too much towards marketing other names and future titles. We wouldn’t have The Fearless were it not for this story line and is it a story that can hold twelve issues when the original Fear Itself couldn’t do it for seven?

I can imagine that it’s hard to write a title which revolves around no one specifically but also is in depth enough to hold a reader's concentration. On this occasion I feel that it started really well and petered off towards the end but in doing so set up some very new and interesting titles (and revivals). Fear Itself would be something worth collecting and reading all together as the wait between issues won’t have helped. I enjoyed the premise and some of the cross overs for my preferred heroes but the delivery wasn’t always there. Whereas Fraction may have stumbled, Immonen provided strong and consistent artwork throughout, giving the reader a great visual representation. I’m glad that I have the main story and also that I had Iron Man to read alongside as it filled in the gaps that I found pertinent but be aware not all of the crossovers are as effective!

Matt Puddy is gearing up for the return of the Phoenix in 2012!

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