Issue 5 (of 7)
Story by Matt Fraction
Art by Stuart Immonen & Wade Von Grawbadger
Cover by Stuart Immonen & Billy Tan
For those wanting to read a balanced review that isn’t essentially a bile-filled tirade, please look elsewhere. There are also spoilers aplenty.
You have been warned.
Fear Itself is a mega-epic, mind-blowing story that shakes the foundations of comics for all time and…sorry, I was auditioning for a role in marketing at Marvel.
Fear Itself is a sprawling crossover with a simple enough premise. A hitherto unknown brother of Odin, king and All-father to the gods of Asgard, has been freed from imprisonment and has bestowed Mjolnir-like hammers upon various super-powered characters in order to make them incredibly powerful servants.
This collection of twisted heroes and villains (known as “The Worthy”) are sent on a trail of destruction in order to raise fear among all humanity to feed Odin’s brother (known as The Serpent) to return him to his former nigh-omnipotent glory. His plan, once he has destroyed Earth, is to assault Asgard.
Heroes unite, some die, some fight and some go off on missions that will obviously later turn the tsunami-sized tide.
So is the basic premise that leads us to issue 5 of Fear Itself. Sadly, other than the death of Bucky Barnes, that is all one needs to know from the entirety of the first four issues.
After the previous issue I complained about this series being a bullet point list of “epic cool moments” with no character response and interaction to link them together in a satisfying way. In this issue Fraction tries to include some pauses between the wanton disaster in order to bring the reader along for the ride, to make it all matter finally.
It is such a shame that he seems so utterly tone deaf to the voices of the characters he uses. By voices I can of course include Thor’s manner of speech which I know is supposed to be toned down from his previous Shakespearean cadence, but “always a giant pain in the ass” just isn’t something Thor would say.
Thor names the Breaker of Souls as Benjamin, the name of his friend, then fells him with a fatal blow. Again I just don’t recognize this Thor who drops one of the people he respects most in a heartbeat, particularly when he knows Ben is not in control of his actions.
Thor of course does this as we are having a message bludgeoned over our heads. “This is epic, this is a true apocalypse, the heroes are facing something greater than anything else they’ve ever faced!”
So we have Cap’s shield shattered by the Serpent’s bare hands (done before by the Beyonder of course) and most egregiously we have Spider-Man give up. Spider-Man asks for leave to go see his family as they can’t win so he might as well spend his time with his loved ones.
Yes, that Spider-Man.
And Captain America agrees as he knows they have lost.
Yes, that Captain America.
Both of these characters have faced certain death many times and never responded in this way. Both of them have been absolutely sure they were going to lose and sacrifice their lives in the process and never wavered. Now apparently they’re really absolutely convinced they can’t win (before they were just mostly certain they would lose) so they give up.
Showing new aspects of characters in the face of new danger leads to an interesting story. Having characters do things that are completely against their nature in order to make a story interesting is cheap trickery.
Cap knows Tony is still out there and up to something. Thor is down, he isn’t out and he is destined to defeat the all-powerful Serpent, something that Cap knows and has already stated would give the evil Asgardian reason to be afraid. Most of the heroes in New York are still able to fight and there are still heroes (the X-men spring to mind) who could join the fray. There are still blatantly obvious options still to be pursued. But if Cap were to consider those things Fraction might lose yet another opportunity to have the neon flashing sign plastered over everything screaming “Danger!”
The strange behaviour could be all a ploy of course, Cap is trying to buy time, Spider-Man is playing along, off to try and find Tony (or Mephisto, “This time I’ll let you have my coin collection”). Even if that is the case, it still wouldn’t be a big enough twist to have the characters behave so, well, uncharacteristically.
This is the worst thing I have read by Fraction by a country mile. It feels like a story done by committee, written on post-it notes and then phoned in.
It’s a shame that the phenomenal art is having to service such an infuriating story.
The following is a response to Michel Faber’s article “Spider-Man’s lost lustre” in the Guardian.
1) The Ultimate series of books have been going for 11 years, so this isn’t something just created in order to shoehorn in a multiracial character.
2) The Ultimate version of Spider-Man, written by Brian Michael Bendis has been the most consistent comic in regards to quality of any of the books featuring the character. To state that the death of Peter Parker (he has died precisely once in this series) is meaningless after over 160 issues and 11 years is frankly ridiculous.
The sales of the Ultimate Spider-Man book have been, on average, favourable in comparison to the regular universe book. Therefore your statement that “his white counterpart continues to reign supreme” is also inaccurate, but let’s not allow reality to get in the way of your diatribe.
3) Storylines have been repeated, this is true, yet hardly surprising for a character that has had at least one monthly title released consistently for 49 years. The point of the Ultimate line is that the writers can do things that can’t be done in the regular title, hence Peter Parker can actually die. A new kid can take up the mantle, one with a different cultural background that might not only be appealing to a wider audience but also give fresh impetus to story ideas and characterisation. This is not a re-imagining of the character as being afro-hispanic, it is a new character following on in the legacy of the original. Peter Parker didn’t wake up suddenly as an Afro-Hispanic child.
4) You attribute the character of Miles Morales and the films you mention as evidence that these characters have no soul or worth. Apparently the characters have some inherent value due to their longevity (I’m sure you would be pleased to see your works as popular in 70 years). Are all of the stories interesting? No. Are all of the films successful. Absolutely not. But is that due to the character or due to bad writers, producers, directors and actors?
The Green Lantern film was bloody awful, does that mean that all Green Lantern stories are bad? If not then your generalisation seems ridiculously dismissive and inherently flawed.
5) The majority of the films produced by Marvel (Iron-Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk and Captain America) have been successful critically and at the box-office. Nolan’s take on Batman is seen as the standard that superhero films are set by and there is rampant anticipation for the third film next year. I would submit that using these examples as “dead horses shambling towards you” indicates that you need to find better evidence for your obviously biased and ill-thought out tirade.
6) What is the actual point of this article “New character isn’t white and so proves there are no ideas left in superheroes”? I’m sure that can’t be the case as that would mean any medium would be unable to introduce anyone of a minority background for surely it would be indicative of tokenism and creative impotence rather than a change in editorial outlook or a greater understanding of multiculturalism?
Perhaps you believe that the mask is the sum component of the character? Therefore any change underneath it is simply a cheap trick. Perhaps the Miles Morales example is just that, but as you haven’t read any of the stories that include the new Ultimate Spider-Man it’s doubtful you have the first clue of what you write outside 10 minutes of Wikipedia research.
But I am, of course, being disingenuous. You obviously aren’t interested in these characters at all. You are simply advocating that a genre of writing is without merit, that the storyline and character changes being discussed are only done by a distasteful adherence to a new cultural outlook. If the book is “all very Barack Obama” then I would understand that to be a bad thing in your eyes as it can only be a cynical ploy. Again, you know this without having read a single story involving the character.
Perhaps you could look at this in an alternative manner and still make your Obama link?
A non-white person achieving power (great power with quite a bit of commensurate responsibility) makes others with a similar background more acceptable to a modern society.
Well, to some members of it anyway.