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Posted: Sunday, June 5, 2011
By: The Comics Bulletin Firing Squad

Matt Fraction
Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger (i), Laura Martin (c), Chris Eliopoulos (l)
In the newest issue of the Marvel Comics summer event, there's high drama, at least one shocking moment, and lots of shit blowing up. What more could a 12-year-old boy ask for?

Shawn Hill:
Sam Salama Cohén:

Shawn Hill

There are two reasons still to be buying Fear Itself. One is the beautiful art, which depicts Marvel's best heroes exactly the way you actually want to see them. The other is Fraction's handling of the characters; not only do they look like themselves, they sound like themselves. Each of them is being challenged by this crisis in different ways, resulting in moments both poignant and badass as their basic natures kick in.

The plot, however, maybe not so much. It's completely by the numbers. It's not in fact all that unlike DC's Final Crisis, where the world was being destroyed by those infected with Anti-Life. Here it's not everyone that's possessed by divine hammers falling from the sky (that'd be a lot of hammers!), just a select group of super-strong bruisers, so that each can do the damage of legions. Pretty messy.

Who's the Serpent? Why does Odin know about him but no-one else? Why is Thor the only Asgardian who cares about Earth? Why did they all high-tail it out to the newly weaponized Asgard at Odin's whim? Why are things so bad the Earth must be razed? Why do these quasi-Norse godlings seem to feel such a heavy simpatico with Sin and her neo-Nazi trappings?

Better not to ask. It's just Marvel doing what it does, fighting the fascists, even if they are divinely demonic, or decades old robots, or your best friends with newly glowing sigils covering their bodies and already formidable powers magnified exponentially. When Odin dismissively lets Thor head off to die with his Midgardian buddies, it's a diss best served cold as hell.

That last part is really perhaps the crux of the story for Fraction, because it's about family. It means something when Ben Grimm tells Yancey St. to "DIE!" or when Bruce tosses Betty (in her durable red and black form) through a roof. We're used to Titania and the Absorbing Man throwing their weight around, but the Hulk and even the Juggernaut have lately been better than that.

Fraction/Immonen nail those moments fraught with emotions like fear and betrayal, and they also sell moments of great tragedy or wicked cool ones like Super Soldier jumping out of the Quincarrier because it's time to kick some ass. The proceedings are undeniably epic; but there's also super-duper old-fashioned about the whole enterprise. Maybe that's the right move in the summer before DC reboots everything, Marvel playing to their strengths without the moral complications of a civil war, a secret invasion or a morally confused and disastrous siege. No moral ambiguity here: the good guys are simply getting their asses kicked by the bad guys, and no one yet knows why.

Sam Salama Cohén:

Matt Fraction already told us: this is all about the Mighty Thor and Captain America -- god and living legend -- now both living conflicted and troubled moments. And while some people might argue that this is supposed to be a Marvel Universe-spanning event, it’s not bad to see the focus on the god of thunder’s personal fight, on Bucky-Cap fighting a god-empowered Sin and on Commander Steve Rogers --the former Captain America -- leaving the sidelines and joining the battle.

As a seven-part crossover, Fear Itself has its own pace, which until now has meant a really big opening issue, with the revealing of the real All-Father, Sin -- Red Skull’s evil daughter -- becoming an almost unstoppable avatar of terror, the Asgardian gods leaving town and a crude depiction of how the people on the street -- powerless citizens just like you and me -- suffer and try to cope with fear of losing their jobs, houses... fear of losing it all.

The second issue was a necessary bridge to advance events, where, while keeping the ball rolling, Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen delivered a very visual book, cautiously narrating how well-known characters such as the Hulk, Juggernaut and Titania got transformed, elevated to a godlike status -- avatars and chaos-bringers which only answered to the reappeared Serpent God, the god of Fear while shockingly introducing a tremendous attack on Washington DC as it suffers the torment of fire and destruction brought by Skadi (the god inhabiting Sin) and an army of Nazi war machines.

Here’s where this third installment of Marvel’s big event of the year starts: Bucky-Cap, Black Widow, the Falcon and the Secret Avengers are sent to defend the capitol, and a spectacular and violently personal fight between Skadi and Bucky erupts. The story develops very nicely on all of the fronts that were left open on the second issue, and things look pretty bad for our heroes in particular, and for Earth in general, as Odin has created a new Asgard where there was nothing, with the single purpose of becoming a war engine. War against the Earth.

See, Odin is afraid to confront the Serpent and knows that, the more popular the reborn god gets by creating terror and panic all over the world, the more followers he will have. And just like with your Twitter account, more followers means more power.

However, as hinted on Journey Into Mystery #623, Loki (now reborn into a little boy’s body) offers his half-brother Thor a door to salvation for both Asgard’s name and Midgard’s existence. Even Odin, once again confronting his stubborn son, changes his mind, if only a little bit, giving Thor a chance to help save the Earth from the evil unleashed upon it.

Matt Fraction gives readers a fast, action-packed issue that almost goes MAX in some of the latest scenes, where the future of a very important character might be drastically changed. He gives us a gigantic tale which, however, goes strong in the more intimate moments with Hulk and Betty, Bucky and Natasha or -- my personal favorite -- with Thor and Lady Sif. This latter scene was particularly well depicted by superstar Stuart Immonen, who had the invaluable help of an impressive inker such as Wade Von Grawbadger and colorist Laura Martin.

It is the quasi-perfect combo of artist, inker and colorist that has this story develop its own personality, acquiring a Blockbuster Summer Event dimension, without losing the detail on one-on-one, intimate scenes. After all, if you had hit with the big splash page but missed on the emotional parts of the story, the overall product would have been much less satisfying, right?

As with the latest big Marvel events, many plot threads will jump to ancillary titles, to be further explored in these so-called tie-ins to the bigger, bolder, arch.
I should say, however, that I have one regret regarding Fear Itself #3: it was only 22 story pages. And, after seeing what this team is capable of concocting, I would love to get more from them. Now, sadly, I’ll have to wait one whole month to see Thor and Steve Rogers join the fight.

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