Sunday, May 8, 2011
Fear Itself #2 - Expanding The Scope of Awesome
Fear has been the big buzzword for Marvel these past few months. The whole Fear Itself event has made everyone assess what scares them. For me it's running out of booze and another rap album from some douche-bag on the Jersey Shore. For others it may be any number of things. Wars, disease, spiders, or any movie that has a close up of Christopher Walken can all fill us with fear. Marvel seeks to tap this primal emotion and turn it into a big event that they can get filthy fucking rich over. I guess their greatest fear is not having a pile of money big enough to screw hookers on.
I reviewed the first issue and I was pleasantly surprised by how nicely it was assembled. Granted, the series was more hyped up than a fight between Mike Tyson and Hulk Hogan's ex-wife. I didn't expect it to deliver, but it delivered a lot more than I thought. It wasn't too over-the-top, which in and of itself is a statement. Traditionally, big comic events involve no fewer than ten explosions in the first issue to set the stage. Fear Itself took a different path. It put Steve Rogers, Thor, and Iron Man in some very uncomfortable positions. They weren't just fighting mean old super-villains that they could punch to death. They were struggling to deal with the fears and emotions that the people they swore to protect couldn't control. It's like trying to stop a teenager from masturbating in a room full of porn. It can't be done.
The first issue got me intrigued. I eagerly awaited the second issue to see how it would progress. In the first issue, Thor's old man is going through the male equivalent of PMS. He has a good reason. It turns out Odin might not be the only All-Father. And old fella named the Serpent has been awakened by the Red Skull's daughter who might also be PMSing on a massive scale. Odin reacts to this the same way Pat Robertson reacts to gay people. He loses his shit and summons every Asgardian away from Earth. All the while, the Serpent has summoned a Transformers style barrage of back-up. So the Asgardians are MIA and the Avengers are left scratching their heads and shitting themselves, hopefully not in that order.
Fear Itself #2 begins with the Asgardians returning to what's left of Asgard, which ain't much. It looks like a hotel room after Motley Crue threw a birthday party for Axel Rose. Naturally, Thor doesn't like this. He likens Odin's move to jumping up on a table and screaming like a little girl at the sight of a mouse. He's already on thin ice. Odin seems inclined to give him an All-Father wooping. His current policy is all Asgardians must cover his ass and let Earth go fuck itself. Of course he implies that in a more commanding tone and none of the Asgardians are in a position to argue.
Odin lays out this crisis in details so grim that Marilyn Manson could write a song about it. The Serpent is basically going to fuck over Earth, grind away it's yummy corpse-laden ashes, and use it in the same way Popeye uses spinach to attack Asgard. Odin's strategy could easily be considered a divine dick move. He's willing to use Earth in the same way terrorists use hostages. This so-called "All Father" is so afraid of the Serpent that he's willing to make all of Earth look like downtown Falluja in Iraq. For all those humans that used to worship them, they might as well start pissing themselves.
On Earth, the shit is in the process of hitting the fan and the stench is just beginning. Those shiny meteors that has Michael Bay suing Marvel as we speak have impacted. They aren't hitting the middle of nowhere for some random farmer to mistake it for cow turds either. One of them hit the Raft, a floating prison in the East River that holds prisoners so nasty that they would torture their own mothers if it meant that someone would jerk off their egos like an up-and-coming porn star who's behind on her rent.
One of the assholes on that island is none other than Juggernaut. He's just minding his own business, showing off to the guards how awesome his muscles are. Then the whole base is hit. It essentially means he doesn't have to go back to his cell and bone some guy for cigarettes. In the ruins he finds a hammer. Being the unthinking lug we all know and love, Juggernaut picks it up. As a result, he's turned into something even more badass.
Okay, maybe not. His uniform basically gets the equivalent of racing stripes on a car. It doesn't make the car run any faster. It just looks pretty. But he still looks pretty awesome and somehow he magically learned a new language as now. He's no longer just Juggernaut. Kuurth, breaker of stone! Yeah, it sounds like a bad wrestling name in an age where the heads of golf clubs are a lot harder than stone. But he shows he can break more than stone when he fucks up the prison more than Snookie at a crack house.
News of some mystical shit falling from the sky doesn't stay secret for long. Not in the era of Twitter, youtube, and lol cats. While the media and public are in the process of shitting themselves, Steve Rogers addresses the Avengers who are probably still scratching their heads after Thor made an abrupt exit in the last issue. When a living god is running for his godly life, you know you're in deep shit. His plan is simple. Go out to the areas where these Michael Bay copyright infringements are hitting and prevent as many people from pissing themselves as possible. And if they find the asshole behind it, fuck him up too. But that's probably just a bonus.
While Steve Rogers is rallying the troops, others are addressing more personal issues. Apparently a shit storm from Asgard just doesn't worry people as much as it should. Bruce Banner and Betty Ross/Banner are one of them. I say Betty Ross/Banner because if you've been following the recent Hulk comics (the shame of a thousand American Idol failures on you if you haven't) you know that Bruce and Betty have been working on their marriage. It's in a state so fucked up that even Dr. Phil won't touch it. Bruce is still the Hulk and that's always been a bit of a sore subject. Betty is now Red She-Hulk and enjoying it a bit too much for Bruce's tastes. You know it's fucked up when Betty is the one saying Bruce doesn't need to apologize for everything. That's right, a woman is telling her husband who can't stop smashing things that he shouldn't apologize. This when my ex-girlfriend made me apologize six times when I farted in front of her brother.
This marriage counseling of the fucked up kind gets interrupted when one of the incoming hammers strikes nearby. For some reason, this is all it takes for them to take on their Hulk forms. Wait a minute, when did meteor impacts make Bruce angry? Doesn't he need to be angry? Am I missing something? It saves Fraction the trouble of finding an excuse for them to transform. We're left to assume that the frustrations of any fucked up marriage are enough to make anybody hulk out.
In their much hotter hulked up forms, they find the next hammer. It looks only slightly more awesome than the one Juggernaut picked up, mostly because it's bigger. I'm guessing the guy who made it has a small penis. Regardless of penis size, Hulk is the one that picks it up. Like Juggernaut, he's transformed into a new type of grunge Asgardian. He's now Nul, breaker of worlds. Worlds, much tougher than mere stone, seems fitting for the Hulk. Although it's probably not the best way to spice up his marriage because he tells Betty to run. Even as Red She-Hulk, she listens. That's right, a hulked out woman listens. That's how you know this is pure fantasy.
At the same time, another hammer has already hit in South Africa. One of Hulk's old punching bags, Absorbing Man, is trying to absorb it (what else could he do with it?). Unlike Hulk, the damn thing won't budge. It's not making him a badass dark Asgardian. Then the much less muscular yet much more boobalicious Titania gives it a try and she doesn't even break a sweat. I'm pretty sure that means Absorbing Man's testicles have shriveled irreversibly. He looks like a kid who just caught his parents fucking when she tells them they need to head north. And by that she means "you're fucking coming along even if I have to drag you by what's left of your dick!"
These newly Asgardianized super-beings all have one binding link. That's the Serpent. He's the one pulling the strings. He's the one who wants to wage war on Asgard so badly that even Odin's scrotum can't bear the weight of his ballsiness. To show he's not dicking around, he orders his new hammer wielding minions to start inflicting terror. There's no specific target. There's no clear goals. He just wasn't everybody as frightened as possible. Not sure what kind of strategy this is. It could just be Serpent showing Odin that he's the bigger douche-bag. He certainly makes a strong case because no one seems to be in a position to do anything about it. The only strategy for the average joe is run, scream, and leave your dignity buried in the rubble.
Not content to have a few super-strong, hammer-wielding lug-heads on his side, Serpent takes it a step further. Remember that secret Antarctic Nazi base that Sin found in the first issue? Well it seems like a terrible waste to just let all that useful Nazi technology just sit there. So under Serpent's leadership and through Sin's guidance, they launch an all out attack on every capital on the planet. It's not just Asgardian super-magic. It's Nazi killer robots as well. Such a combination sounds like it would make a great Japanese video game, but it also makes for a powerful scene. It shows how helpless the world is and how overmatched the heroes of the Earth truly are. Plus, I'm still bitter about my taxes last year. It's satisfying on some levels to see the source get their proper screwing as well. If they attack the IRS building, I'll gladly worship the new All-Father!
So a world-wide attack has been unleashed. Nobody knows what the fuck is going on or how to stop it. The Serpent isn't making any crazy super-villain demands. He's just blowing shit up and hoping it scares people. All the while, the Avengers are trying to fight back. But with no Thor and with Odin being a massive tool, they're stumbling around in the dark. It's a powerful moment when at the end the order for the Avengers to assemble is given, but nobody's listening. This isn't like Secret Invasion or Civil War. There's no focused objective or clear villain. This is just some all powerful pissed off Asgardian unleashing fear. And so far he's winning and looking pretty badass in the process.
The theme for Fear Itself is pretty basic. It's the kind of superhero story that focuses on something very simple, but tries to do it in an over-the-top and overly awesome sort of way. It's sort of like Apple, minus the tyranny imposed in user agreements. Marvel is keeping the story simple while adding depth. It sounds like trying to pass a sobriety test while doing jello-shots off a hookers ass. Yet somehow, Matt Fraction has made it work.
Fear Itself #1 was a nice setup that brought Serpent into the fold. Fear Itself #2 showed Serpent asserting himself in a big way. He didn't go right for Odin or seek out the Avengers. He went all out, attacking the world psychologically in addition to blowing shit up. It sent a powerful message to both the readers and the characters. Serpent is pissed and he's taking it out on everybody. It doesn't feel like the Avengers just have to find the guy and beat his ass into a pulp. They also have to contend with the widespread fear that has gripped the world. That's not something they can punch. Serpent probably knows this and it's sure to make their fight a lot harder.
There was plenty of action and depth to go around in this issue. However, I'm hard pressed to give it the same praise as the first issue. While seeing characters like Juggernaut and Hulk take on their new Asgardian forms was an awesome sight, the overall simplicity of the story can come off as a bit bland. That and we really don't see the Avengers do much. They find out about the threat and we don't see them head out and try to deal with it while it's implied at the end that they did. It seems like a scene that would be pretty important. At the very least, it would make for another great spread by artist Stuart Immonen. The focus is on Serpent and his attack. It's only one side to the story though. I get that there are more issues to come, but too much of the focus on him just leaves the issue feeling a bit unbalanced.
Fear Itself #2 is still a damn good comic. The unbalanced focus is more than made up for with the overall scope of the book. It feels every bit as big as it's trying to be. Matt Fraction is setting up a story that has so many angles and so many deeper meanings that a reader could focus on just one plot and be satisfied with how it's developed. Fraction has always been great when it comes to high-level action and Fear Itself is the biggest yet. For the over-the-top scale and the deeper meanings behind it, I give Fear Itself #2 a 4 out of 5. This is the Marvel event of the summer and so far it's living up to all the hype. Unless you're too afraid, you should get this issue! Nuff said.