Sunday, July 10, 2011
Fear Itself #4 - Assembling The Awesome
Four books in and Marvel has managed to keep me hooked like a Bankok transvestite hooked on meth with Fear Itself. I'll be honest. I didn't expect it to be as engaging. Big events involving the Avengers tend to get more convoluted and bloated than the Octomom when she's PMSing. Events like Secret Invasion and Siege have been needlessly complicated to me. They lack coherence. Fear Itself, like it's predecessors, has every other writer and their second cousin doing a spin-off book. However, the main title has kept things unified. You can follow just the main title and not get so lost that you wake up naked in an Amsterdam slum with toothless whore snorting blow off your ass. It's more basic without being too bland or mindless. It's just what Marvel has been missing in an event.
At the same time, the basic nature of Fear Itself has been a source of criticism. It's not unwarranted either. It's a book that has Nazi killer robots. That's as campy as it sounds. Yeah, it ditches the convoluted political undertones of Civil War. But Nazi killer robots? That's the kind of shit you would expect writers in the 60s to come up with during a bad LSD trip. I've still given Fear Itself high marks, but I have my reservations about how deeper this series can go and maintain the quality. So far I've been impressed. I want to keep being impressed. It feels good in a comic. Not as good if it came with a free bag of weed, but I'll settle for Marvel just keeping the damn thing interesting
Fear Itself #3 ended with some powerful moments. The battle against the killer Nazi robots in Washington DC went bad real fast. The Serpent grew his army by giving the wonderful gift of magic hammers to a collection of dangerous, pissed off superhumans who in turn used it to unleash an unholy terror on the entire planet. That terror feeds the Serpent the same way undeserved media attention fuels Charlie Sheen. As Earth's mightiest heroes weaken, the Serpent grows stronger. All the while, Odin is being a divine prick. He's shut off Asgard from Earth and basically insulated himself while all of humanity suffers. He knows what's going on. He knows just how fucked the world is and he's not doing a damn thing about it. He was nice enough to send Thor back with his hammer to help, but he still did it in a way that makes him a god-level dickcheese.
Fear Itself #4 follows this divine dick move. Thor arrives where this shit began in Broxton. This time the locals aren't so generous with their welcome. They no longer give a damn about all the tourism dollars that having Asgard nearby will bring. Thor's buddies have triggered a global fear event and now he's about as welcome as the gay pride parade in Saudi Arabia. Thor just shrugs his shoulders and flies off into the sea of pants-shitting terror that the Serpent has unleashed.
We then get a nice assessment of just how far the Serpents reach has gone. All over the world, the lucky bastards who got a hold of his hammers are having a blast and scaring people to no end. With every pair of pants that are shat, the Serpent grows stronger. It makes for a truly global scale conflict, the kind that should be legally required of every Marvel event. Odin picks up on this as well. He still comes off as a dick, but he also comes off as being genuinely scared of the Serpent. His power is basically terror with the personality of a cranky old man who is sick of having to rely on pills to get a semi anymore. He's basically willing to throw Earth and everyone on it under the bus. I get it. People don't worship Odin anymore or kill in his name, but he still comes off as an asshole. He also offers a pretty cryptic warning. Mankind's faith will basically be crushed. So the Richard Dawkins of the world may finally get their wish.
It's not like the Avengers' spirits aren't already wounded. If you'll recall, Bucky Barnes got roughed up in a way that only every Nazi in the Call of Duty games can relate to. It was a cryptic ending, but it's not so cryptic now. Bucky Barnes died. And this time Marvel didn't polybag it and use it as a lame sales gimmick (see Ultimate Spider-Man for how shitty those gimmicks can be). For this, I'm somewhat relieved. I'm also somewhat curious because if Marvel isn't making a big deal of this that either means Bucky isn't truly dead or they're just undoing the elaborate story that brought him back. Given how Marvel has used death as a gimmick more times than the last ten Friday the 13th movies, it's hard to tell. But it plays into the basic nature of the story.
Iron Man, Fury, Black Widow, and Steve Rogers (the REAL Captain America) all stand over and take a moment to mourn their loss. It's not glossed over. It's not overly emotional either. Black Widow is the only one that cries and why shouldn't she? She was boning the guy. But before Bucky 'died' he did offer the Avengers the first clue. He revealed the Serpent as the main douche-bag behind this global display of douche-baggery. Now the Avengers know who to take their angst out on.
So with Bucky fallen, Steve Rogers ditches the old knock-off costume which might as well have been Captain America lite and dawns his classic look. It only took a few years since he was 'killed' off. Sure, we elected a black president since then, but still it's not among the brain cells I've destroyed. So that lends little credence to Bucky's death. But I'm willing to overlook that because in his old costume, Cap can now assemble Thor and Iron Man as the big three. Since Thor is now back, they know who they're up against and they're ready to start kicking his ass.
Before his asshole can even clench, the Serpent ups the ante. All that delicious fear strengthens him the same way democratic scandals strengthen Ann Coulter's evil. From a simple lake, the Serpent goes out of his way to scar for life some casual fisherman and rise up his own little castle. I say little by god standards because it's probably big enough to get Donald Trump to raise an eyebrow. Just not big enough to make him ditch that stupid hair. It shows that the Serpent has arrived and he's got style with him now. Every other one of his minions feels it and like a kid who was just fed a box of sugar cookies, they're even more hyped up.
The big three each fly off into battle. Thor goes right for the Serpent. Captain America goes after Sin, who was responsible for Bucky's so called 'death.' I'll stop using those goofy quotes when it starts getting believable. They're met with the kind of resistance you would expect. Serpent's forces are playing like the New England Patriots against the Detroit Lions. It's not even close. But their presence does more than just add another body to the crossfire. It inspires everyone to kick more ass. However, it's what Iron Man does that's a bit more curious.
Rather than find the nearest fight and start blowing shit up, Iron Man does something that may or may not be all that productive. He flies out to confront Odin. Now keep in mind that Stark is a man of science. He takes the whole concept of Asgardian gods and magic about as seriously as Paris Hilton takes a lecture on quantum mechanics by Stephen Hawking. He demands to speak to Odin, calling him out in the sense that mankind no longer burns his effigies or worships him. So he decides to make an offering of his own. By offering I mean he chucks a bottle of booze.
Now why is that significant? I know getting drunk solves a great many problems with life, but what good could it possibly do here? Well keep in mind Tony Stark is a recovering alcoholic. In the history of Marvel comics, few people have been made more a jackass by booze than Tony Stark. He seemed to get sober and stay sober. Now he's basically sacrificing that for Odin. It's symbolic, something that adds some complexity to what is admittedly a basic arc. It's a nice touch that revisits a story that hasn't been touched on in a while.
It's not clear what Stark is trying to accomplish. The fights with Captain America and Thor are much more basic. Captain America makes it clear that he's going to take on Sin and she makes it clear that she's ready to kill Captain America a second time if he has to. When Thor confronts the Serpent, he no longer looks like a grizzled old man who just got fired from his Santa Clause gig for being drunk on the job. He actually looks like a dashing young 80s make porn star, complete with a mustache. It shows just how much power he's attained. When Thor confronts him, he drops a few more little secrets. He says that Odin is his brother and he usurped the title of All-Father from him. It presents a rather interesting question. Is Odin really the true All-Father? Or is Serpent? While you're digesting on that, he also claims that Thor is his nephew. Well if Odin is his brother, isn't that a given?
This scene was an opportunity to throw in more mystery or expand on others. It was already known to a point that Serpent was someone who was once in the running for the All Father gig. Then somewhere along the way Odin got the better of him and wasn't very nice about it either. This is where the whole simple approach to Fear Itself falls a little flat. None of this is very ground breaking. It moves the story forward, but it won't shock anyone more than an ant crawling along your toenail. The only intriguing part is how Serpent is so power that he's able to knock Thor around like a pinball with minimal effort.
When he lands, Thor finds himself caught between two of the Serpents hammer-wielding buddies. Both Thing and Hulk got their new Asgardian toys in the past few issues. They haven't really demonstrated them in this title yet (although they have shown up in the spin-offs, but I'm too busy/drunk to review those at the moment). Now the two of them are about to take on Thor and rather than shit his pants like the rest of the world, Thor prepares to take them on. It's hard to tell whether this is the beginning of a new battle or just the middle of the first one. I guess it could be either, but the comic ending here feels a little abrupt. It's not the worst way it could have ended, but like Kim Kardashian's sex tape it leaves plenty to be desired.
After reading this comic, it's worth bringing up it's basic nature once more. It's not a very complicated story. Nor is it full of many twists or turns. The Serpent being related to Thor is somewhat of a twist, but it's nothing too groundbreaking. This being the middle of the story, it's likely some of those revelations are still waiting in the wings. Even if they are, a few hints or even a light tease wouldn't hurt. Readers like me aren't overly demanding. Not every money shot has to be full frontal. A simple nipple slip is more than enough to add some extra intrigue. This issue really didn't have that. It was an oversized brawl with some of Marvel's biggest names. It did offer some dramatics with Steve Rogers dawning his Captain America costume again and Tony Stark falling off the wagon again with alcoholism. But again, it's pretty basic. It's nothing you need to write a college theses on.
It would be easy to criticize Fear Itself for simply being too basic. Some critics and fans have already said this. I could say this, but I won't. That's because Fear Itself isn't pretending to be more than it is. Yeah, Marvel's hyping it up. But they're not trying to polish a pile of shit and call it chocolate pudding. Fear Itself is exactly what it's billed to be, a large-scale battle with the Avengers and the Serpent. That's really all it needs to be and Marvel isn't trying to make it into anything else. So in that sense I can't say the simple nature of the book is a flaw. It's a welcome return to basics that make this one of the most accessible Marvel events in recent memory. Then again, my memory is fucked from years of pot smoking so maybe I'm not the best source for that.
Fear Itself #4 still doesn't offer the same impact as the previous three issues. It's the midpoint so it's going to get a little forgettable at times. The story doesn't necessarily drag, but it doesn't fall flat either. It's still coherent, which in and of itself is an accomplishment. There are no huge revelations that will blow your mind and there aren't any hints at future revelations. That doesn't mean they won't come. However, on it's own this issue simply delivers the core basis of Fear Itself. For that I give Fear Itself #4 a 4 out of 5. It's an awesome addition to an event that has delivered as promise. It's a great time to be a Marvel fan or to get into the mainline universe. Matt Fraction has done something really special here and he deserves all the praise and a few Brazilian hookers on the side. Nuff said!