Saturday, April 9, 2011
Fear Itself #1: The Verdict on Marvel's Next Big Thing
We've all fallen prey to sinister forces of corporate hype. Whether it's hype about JaMarcus Russel and Ryan Leaf being Hall of Fame NFL quarterbacks coming out of college or the promise that the Matrix sequels will be every bit as satisfying as the original, there's always been a forceful injection of excitement into the neck veins of society. Marvel comics has done this many times before with big events. They did it with Civil War, Secret Invasion, and Siege. They also did it with events like the Clone Saga and Ultimatum so they're credibility is more mixed than Barack Obama and Lenny Kravitz's family tree combined. So when they started hyping their big event this year, Fear Itself, the hearts of many fans jumped while their assholes clenched a bit.
Like every event before it, this event promises to completely change the Marvel Universe. As if there's any other way to develop it. I've never heard hype that says "we're just going to give you more of the same shit!" So I guess that's redundant. But what's it about? This is sort of tricky because Fear Itself could mean many things. Some stories you can pretty much tell what they're about. Nobody asked what the movie Snakes on a Plane was about and if they did they're fucking idiots. Secret Invasion and Civil War are titles that are pretty self-explanatory as well. But Fear Itself, based on all the cheerleading Matt Fraction and the rest of Marvel did, is based around a secret that has been kept under wraps for decades. Now it's finally coming out and bringing forth all sorts of hell that will cause pants shitting madness for everyone who dared to eat Taco Bell after 8 PM.
Now I usually don't review big Marvel events. I avoided reviewing Secret Invasion and Siege because this blog is largely dedicated to X-men. However, I did review Brightest Day and Blackest Night. Those events were orgasmically awesome and I've long hoped for Marvel to create an event that will measure up. So far they've come up short in most every attempt. Maybe I'm overly optimistic or I took one too many bong hits from Seth Rogan's secret stash that I stole, but I'm hopeful that Fear Itself can be that event. So since Fear Itself #1 came out this past week, I'm here to review it and hopefully I don't need to use as many poop jokes as I did in my Ultimate reviews.
Right off the bat, you can tell Fear Itself #1 is over-hyped. At the comic shop I went to, there was an entire rack for this one issue because it had six variants. The variants weren't all that good mind you. I only got one and if this event is good, I plan on arm wrestling the guy at the comic shop to get a copy of all the others. He agreed to do that if I let his dog hump my leg. Don't know why he asked that, but who am I to argue?
As for the meat of the book, it doesn't start off with a bang or a shot of Miss Marvel's ass as so many other events are prone to do. It actually starts off by depicting a real controversy that was a big deal to anyone whose head didn't explode from watching Fox News. There's a big protest in New York City surrounding the building of a certain structure in a certain area. Now most people know what this means. It's the whole Ground Zero Mosque controversy that had Pat Robertson and white Christian men shitting themselves. Now Marvel is VERY tactful here in that they never address it directly, but it's pretty clear where this scene was inspired from. As a result, Captain America (the Steve Rogers one) and Sharon are trying to keep it peaceful. Even a guy from the 40s should know it's never peaceful when people argue whose religious bullshit stinks less.
Not surprisingly, the protest gets ugly and for once it's not because a giant robot flew in and started shitting oil everywhere. There's no supervillain driving it. There's no magic at work. These are just a lot of pissed off people venting their frustrations for having normal lives that are nothing like they were promised as kids. It's a different kind of conflict that all the stars and stripes speeches in the world that Steve Rogers ever made couldn't stop.
If that weren't striking enough, Matt Fraction finds a way to show how the media in comics are every bit the assholes they are in the comics. While this riot is unfolding, some overpaid reporter that clearly had a facelift and a boob job (standard practice at Fox News last I checked) try to interview Steve Rogers. This in the middle of a fucking riot! There's being brave and there's just being a douche. It vindicates my theory that the media are the closest thing to real life supervillains.
It's a bad sign and one that leaves Steve Rogers at a rare loss. While the media is flexing their evil muscle, the daughter of the Red Skull, Synthia Schmidt aka Sin, is showing just how big a daddy's girl she truly is. She and a bunch of Nazi buddies who are okay with taking a break denying the holocaust storm an old Nazi compound in Antarctica. It's been guarded since 1942 by a contingent of Nazis kept alive by Nazi superscience. It's like a Nazi Disneyland and you would think Sin would be like a Japanese school girl at a Hello Kitty convention. In a ways she is because she goes on a fucking rampage trying to get to a specific vault that has been more closely guarded than Bill Clinton's porno stash.
It's a bloody attack and one that reveals a pretty ominous relic. It looks like a duplicate of Thor's hammer, not unlike the one you might see cos-players wielding at a comic convention. It's been on ice for decades and supposedly no one could lift it, not even the Red Skull himself. It's called the hammer of Skadi and Sin seems to believe that she's worthy. For some reason she feels so entitled to this shit that she's willing to kill off an entire contingent of her fellow Nazis. In other words, she's basically Donald Trump with boobs and no hair.
Well where her daddy failed, Sin succeeds. When she grabs the hammer, she's actually able to lift it. In doing so, she becomes a new breed of Nazi badass. This time mixed with Asgardian power. Plus she still has boobs so that's always a plus. Matt Fraction is good at writing shit with boobs so it doesn't come as much surprise that it's the daughter of the Red Skull that's worthy.
While the Nazis are getting some fresh energy, Steve Rogers is losing his. He meets with Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers. He believes that riot was caused by some outside force. Iron Man tells him outright that they didn't detect anything. There was no magic, no anomaly, and no deeper plot. For once, it was just a bunch of pissed off Americans and for a guy who embodies America that doesn't sit well. The man clearly has more lofty notions of America than Sarah Palin. All the democracy and freedom talk he's ever given never said anything about riots and that doesn't sit well. Iron Man thinks he has a solution to stemming this wave of fear. He plans on working with Thor to build a city for the Asgardians. As if somehow a city full of superpowered demi-gods who love Mead and fighting will make anyone feel safer.
So where will this city be built? Detroit? Seattle? Bumfuck Texas? Nope! The name of the place is Broxton, Oklahoma. That's right, the city is being placed in a state where the only two sports teams to follow are an upstart NBA team and a college football team (BTW, Go Sooners!). There are some nice moments here that show the actual people of this town trying to digest how this sleeply little blip on a map that you can only find while driving drunk at night will become the new home of Asgardians. Some see it a new tourist ploy. Some see it as a reason to leave. It's a lot of anxiety and something that seems similar to the riot earlier. It's one of those little things that make a good comic better and something I never saw from Matt Fraction during his Uncanny X-men run. But I'm glad I'm seeing it now!
So in a fresh publicity stunt, the Avengers show up to announce the new Asgardian city before Fox News and all the true villains of the world. Of course Tony Stark's company is funding the venture and probably stands to make a metric fuckton of money off it, but I'm sure that's besides the point.
One notable absence from this event is Odin. This isn't lost on Thor. He goes to find his father, who was basically going on a rant against Uatu the Watcher. Like always, Uatu gives Odin the silent treatment while Odin yells at the top of the lungs what an awesome god he is. He's a lot like Howard Stern in that respect. He's aware of what Sin did and that the prophecy surrounding will be fulfilled. So even though he's this awesome god and all, he's still capable of shitting his pants with truly holy shit. So when Thor does show up to urge his father to join the event, he's about as enthusiastic as an impotent necrophiliac at a supermodel's funeral.
Odin clearly doesn't like the idea of sharing the same air with frail humans who can't even lift a mountain without whining about it. That or he's just afraid himself because Skadi, or Sin, is out there fucking his godly shit up. She's apparently left her Nazi brethren behind in the ice cold Antarctic so she can take a dip in the Pacific Ocean. It's a dick move, but she's a Nazi. What do you expect? She's basically being guided by her hammer now. It's like an On-Star for gods and it's leading her somewhere important and since it's at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, it's pretty damn remote.
The hammer leads her to a few dragons, who are somewhat akin to those annoying speed-bumps that prevent you from drag-racing down residential neighborhoods at four in the morning. Then she arrives at a special chamber with an Asgardian rune. Once she knocks the proverbial door-bell and barges in, she meets a man who looks kind of like Odin, dresses kind of like Odin, and claims to be the All-Father like Odin. But his face and body look like Joan Rivers SHOULD look minus the surgery and after who knows how many centuries in the dark picking his ass, he's back. He doesn't look all that badass just yet, but with a Nazi super bitch on his side he's still plenty dangerous.
Odin being the other guy claiming the All Father role, he senses this and the holy pants shitting continues. He actually interrupts a feast of booze and meat with the Avengers to gather his children. They know a very pissed off old guy is back and for once it isn't Odin. So Odin gives the order to return to Asgard and as expected, Thor isn't too enthused by it. He's like a kid trying to talk to an alcoholic father by telling him that alcohol is making his farts smell.
Odin responds like any alcoholic father would and beats the shit out of Thor. Great parenting advice, Odin! Love to see how you treat regular humans! Thor actually tries to fight back this time. He's not a whiny little boy who responds by trying take his daddy's bottle of happy juice and hide in the closet. Now usually Thor puts up a pretty good fight. He is a god after all. But this is Odin. He's not having it. He does the equivalent of getting a pair of pliers and using them to drag his son back home by his ear. Again, great parenting techniques if your name is Charlie Sheen and your imaginary massive scrotum is too big for your pants.
Odin's display in shitty parenting doesn't go unnoticed by Sin and her new Asgardian daddy. He's pretty pissed in that he believes he's the true All-Father and Odin is just a shitty cover band. So with Sin by his side, they walk on water as gods are so prone to do and start planning ways to make the world as crazy as he probably is after being locked up for all those centuries. He's already got Odin trembling like a little bitch. So why stop there?
To spread the fear, the so-called true all father summons some help as he calls it. That help comes in the form several meteor-like impacts that look ripped from the first Transformer movie. It isn't shown what these impacts are. They could be shape-shifting robots. They could be an army of Donald Trump clones looking to destroy the world with their ego. Or they could be an army of Andy Dick clones looking to destroy the world with their douchiness. It's not clear and it's something Fraction wants readers to wait until the next issue to see. I would call that a dick move, but given that so much has happened in this one book I'll hold off. So the Asgardians are gone and a very pissed off psuedo All-Father is trying to get his revenge. This leaves the Avengers scratching their heads and shitting their skin-tight pants. I know I'm using that analogy a lot, but for a title like Fear Itself pants shitting seems quite appropriate for once.
Well there you have it! The first issue of Fear Itself is complete. Six issues of pants-shitting terror remain with plenty of equally shitty (in a good way) crossover books along the way. So what can we gather from it? How awesome can we call this event so far when it just began? Well I'm not going to immediately draw comparisons to Blackest Night or Civil War. Those stories are complete and for them, the first issues didn't give us a complete picture of just how great the stories would be. However, the first issue is important in that it sets the stage. It's that first and most important wave of awesome from which all other branches of awesome stem. Fear Itself is not trying to be like Civil War or Siege. It was marketed from the beginning as a different kind of big event. With that in mind, we can make some reasonable conclusions about this book.
In the most simplest assessment, Fear Itself #1 is a pretty damn awesome book. I read it and I came away with the same satisfaction I get when I eat an entire box of imported chocolate truffles. It's not quite an Roman orgy of graphic awesome for the eyes. Not yet anyways. But there's a lot to like about it. It doesn't have a bang, but it still has plenty of fighting, a few explosions, and a hoard of Nazis being slaughtered. It's conflict of a more subtle kind, which is somewhat surprising for anyone who has read Matt Fraction's Uncanny X-men run. But it's a pleasant surprise and one I applaud Fraction for doing. This book isn't subtle for the sake of being subtle. It's subtle in that it doesn't feel like something really big is happening when it very clearly is.
It's not a flawless work of comic euphoria just yet. There were a few small areas that felt underwhelming in a sense. While much of the Avengers cast showed up, very few of them had any meaningful dialog. And certain scenes surrounding the people of Broxton, Oklahoma seemed a little underdeveloped. However, those are fairly small flaws if they're flaws at all. The book is awesome, but not in the most complete sort of way. There is definitely a lot to like here and I'm not afraid to say that this book has brought me aboard and I will definitely be picking up Fear Itself #2.
So with this assessment that is so dearth of poop jokes, I give Fear Itself #1 a 4.5 out of 5. If you're a Marvel comics fan, this is an event you should be following or you should be barred from ever wearing any Marvel apparel until the end of time. Matt Fraction is doing something new and special here. It's an event that you know is big, but it doesn't feel like the gimmicky events we've grown so used to. For that, I deem Matt Fraction and his latest baby awesome. Nuff said!