Fear Itself #1
Written by Matt Fraction
Pencils by Stuart Immonen
Inks by Wade Von Grawbadger
Colors by Laura Martin
Letters by Chris Eliopoulos
Release date: April 6, 2011
There is a delicate line between the amount of realism that I am looking for in my fantasy escapism and Fear Itself, the newest event from Marvel Comics, straddles the line very closely. The series, written by Matt Fraction with art by Stuart Immonen, is the next in a line of Marvel books that have taken a more “realistic” look at the world in comics. Marvel has prided itself by taking place in a world very much like our own. The President in our world is the President in the Marvel U. Problems in our world become problems in their world. They have examined many real world issues, such as drug use in Spider-Man, racism in Uncanny X-Men, and a host of other topics. However, I have to question just how much realism can exist in a fantastic world filled with colorful characters fighting against villains who can be blamed for all of society’s ills. How much realism is too much, and can real world issues exist in a world where they could be conceivably solved by the characters within that universe? I don’t just read comics for fun, I want my mind to be involved and I want the comics I read to inform the world around me. On the other hand, I still want to have fun while reading my comics, and I will admit that they are a form of escapism from the reality of my everyday life. So when reading this issue, I had to decide how much realism do I want, and how much do I just want to escape into a world where problems can be solved by an Ultimate Nullifier.
Fear Itself #1 starts out with former Steve Rogers, the once and future Captain America, dealing with a protest regarding a certain Mosque being built near the location of where the World Trade Center stood in New York City. The protest turns into a riot after an accident happens, and while no one appears to be injured, Rogers is worried that some kind of super-villain may have incited the fear and anger in the crowd. In discussing it with the rest of the Avengers, the story takes a weird turn, as Iron Man brings up the subject of trying to create jobs by rebuilding Asgard, which was brought to Earth and destroyed in Marvel’s last big event, Siege. Tony Starks’ plan is to put people to work by rebuilding the fabled city, but it turns out that the recently resurrected Odin has different plans. Meanwhile, the Red Skull’s daughter, Sin, has found the location of a hammer very similar to Thor’s and sets about releasing an ancient evil.
The start of the issue is an odd thing to talk about. The issue starts with Steve Rogers dealing with a problem that may be all too familiar to the reader, in the form of the Park51 community center, more commonly referred to as the 9/11 Mosque. To Fraction’s credit, he doesn’t editorialize the issue, and he doesn’t get preachy about it. He doesn’t have Captain America or any of the other Marvel Heroes give their opinion, and he shows both sides of the argument. It’s more of a plot point to get things rolling than anything else. The reason for the protest could have been anything that Fraction decided it to be, and the story would have remained the same. However, the issues with bringing up the 9/11 Mosque are two-fold. The first is that due to the nature of comics production, when Fraction was writing that scene, the Mosque was a very hot button topic that everybody had an opinion on and everyone wanted to share their opinion. Now it is six months later and we’ve had a dozen other controversial subjects that have replaced the mosque in our minds. For most of America knows, they could have built the mosque and no-one would really care. So it comes off as a little odd in this issue that people are still protesting it and making it a big deal, when it is not as big a deal to those of us reading it. I can’t blame Fraction for this. There’s no way he could know what people would be protesting about six months into the future when he was writing the script. However, it is part of the sticky issue of introducing real world issues into a comic book. It takes time to make a comic, and because of the speed at which the news media moves from one subject to the next, it is almost impossible for a comic book to be timely. You can go after broad subjects that don’t really change over time (drug use, domestic violence), but it is difficult to insert specific current events into a comic because by the time it gets to the reader, it isn’t current anymore.
The other issue with using the 9/11 Mosque in this issue is more specific to the actual story, and it is that we get about five pages of Cap and Sharon Carter dealing with the riot, and then we move into the Red Skull’s daughter chasing after enchanted hammers, Iron Man trying to rebuild a mythical city, and Thor having a spat with his dad. There is a disconnect in tone between those first few pages and the rest of the issue. And I really enjoyed both parts, but they don’t feel like they belong in the same book. I get the feeling that Fraction will tie them together at some point, and it would disappoint me if the opening scene never has any payoff for the rest of the story, not that I think that will happen. The realism used in this book never gels with the fantasy elements, and that also disappointed me.
As with any of Marvel’s recent events, they like to say that you don’t have to have read anything leading up to it, but it sure does help if you have. Fear Itself is drawing upon elements first introduced in Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run, specifically who Sin is, why she has a horribly scared head, and what her general deal is. You can find information about her online, but to get the full story, it helps to have read all of Brubaker’s run. Fear Itself also draws a lot from Matt Fraction’s run on Invincible Iron Man (to a small extent) and also his recent run on Thor. The Thor information is important if you want to know why Odin is back from the dead, and what the deal with the World Tree is. There isn’t a lot of specific information that you need to know, but as with most comics events from any company, you get a richer reading experience if you have been invested in the characters for a decent period of time. That’s just the reality of these types of projects.
Those concerns aside, I still had an enjoyable time with the issue. It’s an extra length issue, so I certainly got my money’s worth, and I liked the big story that is set up. Fraction has a good handle on the characters, particularly with Iron Man and Thor, the main characters that he has worked on before. There is already a good fight scene in this issue, and the main villain seems to be the major league threat that I am looking for in these kinds of events, so I’m hopeful for how the series will go. I’m not the biggest Thor fan in the world, and it seems to me that this series will be very tied into that corner of the Marvel universe. That would be the only thing that has me concerned about the series. If I can get into the Thor action going on, I think I will enjoy it.
The art on the issue by Stuart Immonen is up to his usual standards, as I was sure it would be. He’s still using the Marvel style that he has used since he joined the company. It is a very clean style that is perfectly suited for big superhero action, and he’s got a perfect handle on all of the Marvel heroes. When I heard that Immonen would be providing the art for this series, I was instantly excited, because I enjoy his work, and I knew that unless the story was absolutely awful, I would at least be able to enjoy the art. That excitement is paid off in this issue, and if you’re a fan of his work, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re not a fan of his work, well, I don’t know what to tell you. This probably won’t change your opinion.
Your enjoyment of this issue is going to come down to a couple of things: how much do you enjoy Marvel’s version of Thor, and how much reality do you like in your comics. If you’re not a Thor fan, you’re probably not going to enjoy this much, because it is very rooted in what has been going on with him over the last few years. Likewise, if you look to comics purely for fun action, this may not be for you. It is very much a first issue in a series and a lot of time is spent setting up the plot, but I think that it could be a good series once everything comes together. The issue is elevated by one of the best artists working in comics today, and it is worth picking up just for the art by Immonen. I’m going to give it a 4 out of 5, and I’m hoping that the series picks up steam as it goes, and that I don’t have to pick up a ton of the mini-series.
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