Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fear Itself #5 - Big Brawls of Awesome

There's an old saying about big comic events. The bigger they are the easier they are to bash. Okay, it's not old. I just pulled it out of my ass while high. That doesn't mean it's wrong though. Whenever Marvel, DC, or anybody who pays a metric fuck-ton of money to marketing firms to hype up a product, it raises expectations so high that the flaws stand out like Snooki in an abstinence convention. You have to have balls of vibranium to hype up an event like Fear Itself, putting that big target on your ass and daring the haters to kick it. Marvel spared no expense in saying this will be the greatest story you can read without the aid of LSD. And for the most part, it's delivered.

I don't hide from it. I was one of Matt Fraction's crazy drunken critics while he was writing Uncanny X-men. I bashed everything from his characterization to those goofy glasses he wears at comic conventions, but I'm willing to take all that and shove it up my own ass for what he's done with Fear Itself. It's the kind of event I haven't seen from Marvel in years. It's big, it's explosive, it's dramatic, it's heartfelt, and above all it's fucking awesome. It has gods fighting superheroes, family secrets fucking up lives, giant Nazi killer robots, and Tony Stark getting shit faced. It basically has all the trademarks of a great Marvel event. It hasn't been perfect. At times, it has been a little mindless and low on depth. However, the sheer scale and impact of the story has more than compensated.

The previous issue of Fear Itself dealt with the death of Bucky Barnes. It was a powerful moment, one that led Steve Rogers to dawn his old Captain America outfit and fight in the name of his fallen friend. It also had Thor returning to the battle after Odin had been a divine sized dick and threw him back to Earth while he cowered from the Serpent, who was terrorizing massive amounts of shit from every bowel on the planet with his army of hammer-wielding minions. And as I previously stated, it had Tony jump off the sobriety wagon and hit the bottle again. That's three big name Avengers stepping up, allowing their superhero balls descend, and take on the Serpent in a battle that was as epic as it was flashy. There was a lot of style and a little bit of substance. I gave that book a high score because of how it came together. Now all that style continues with Fear Itself #5. I've already swallowed many a shit from what I said about Matt Fraction. I'm ready to swallow more and I had a light lunch! So here we go!

Fear Itself #5 skips needless banter and soap-opera bullshit and gets right down to business. By that I mean Thor is going hammer to hammer with Hulk and Thing, two old buddies of his who were air mailed a couple of the Serpents Asgardian hammers and like dip-shits they picked them up. Now they're not just mindless minions of the Serpent. Their mindless minions with god-like power capable of liquifying bones with their pinkie toe. And Thor has to take them both on. Needless to say, Thor gets hammered in ways you can only get in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

While Thor is getting the kind of hammer treatment that only MC Hammer's bankruptcy lawyers could possibly comprehend, Captain America (keep in mind this is Steve Rogers and not Bucky) is facing off against Sin. The bitch killed his best friend so he's got plenty of incentive to fuck her up. Never mind the fact that she started this shit and is responsible for the Serpent in the first place. Just for killing Bucky, Captain America has plenty or reason to take her on. He skips the speech about how she killed him. He just lets her boast like Charlie Sheen at the bank and goes right after her. It's raw, it's basic, it's a little dumbed down, but it's still awesome.

But not all action need be mindless hammer bashing and revenge killings. Tony Stark got his ass kicked a different way. He picked up a bottle of booze again and went graveling to Odin, who is still hiding away and letting Earth get fucked worse than Bankok tranny on meth. In the last issue, Tony called him out in a very memorable moment that showed Iron Man at his most vulnerable. Odin heeds his call and it's here where Fraction shows some interesting characterization.

Keep in mind that this is a god and a man of science. One uses magic. The other uses machines. The contrast here is striking and it shows in how they carry themselves. Odin scoffs at the need for tools because he has magic. Iron Man scoffs at magic because he has tools. He doesn't ask Odin for help. He doesn't even ask him for a secret weapon. He just asks to use his workshop. That's it. He'll build the shit himself. That's like a guy saying "Fuck your fancy blow-up doll! Give me some silicone, a cow heart, and a car battery and  I'll build one myself!" It's one of the most powerful moments to date for Fear Itself and it sets the stage for a big moment for Tony Stark, hopefully one where he keeps his pants on.

Whereas Tony uses his words to get a message across, Thor still uses a more direct approach. And by direct, I mean he uses a big ass hammer. I can say from experience that a hammer goes a long ways towards winning a debate with someone. For a while, Thing and Hulk get the better of him. But Thor shows that he's more than capable of wounding his friends when he summons his hammer and it goes right through Thing. I'll repeat that. The hammer goes right through Thing like a fucking blast of buckshot to the chest. I don't care how much holy mojo the Serpent shoots into your ass. That kind of shit is hard to heal from. Not content with taking down Thing, Thor goes on the offensive against Hulk. There's no "HULK SMASH" or "HULK STRONGEST THERE IS" bullshit. Thor just lets his hammer shut him up and it's quite a sight to behold.

The battle against Sin and Captain America is also quite a spectacle, but it's somewhat tapered by the fact that Sin just won't shut the hell up. She keeps boasting about how she killed Bucky and how Cap killed her father. Granted, her father was a complete asshole AND a Nazi, but that’s besides the point. Remarkably, Captain America doesn’t seem to bring up how pissed he is that Bucky is dead. In fact, he doesn’t say much either. I don’t know if that’s because Sin keeps talking over him or if he’s getting his ass kicked that much. But this is where a slight problem begins with the book. After having such great dialog with Tony and Odin, he really falls flat here. Maybe it’s because he’s written Iron Man before, but he has to know that Cap actually talks when he’s kicking ass or getting his ass kicked.

It ends up making little difference because while Sin is talking Cap’s ear off, the Serpent shows up. And he’s not a grizzled old man that looks like Christopher Walken without the makeup. He’s actually quite dashing in a way that says nothing about my sexuality. That’s the result of all that yummy fear fueling his power. I can already some phony doctor trying to patent this idea and pay a supermodel in cocaine to sell it on an infomercial. Unlike their money back guarantees, this shit actually works. The Serpent lands next to Sin, proclaims himself to having the biggest most godly balls in the world. He’s basically like Donald Trump, but with slightly more humility and much better hair.

No matter how big his godly balls may be, the rest of the Avengers (at least their second stringers) show up to help Captain America. Unlike the Bush Doctrine, they don’t expect the red, white, and blue to do all the heavy lifting and be an asshole about it. So they all move in to attack the Serpent in what promises to be another epic clash. However, it’s over rather quickly. Not because it’s poorly done or anything. It’s because…well, the Serpent is THAT fucking powerful. He calls Earth’s mightiest heroes children. So with the godly equivalent of giving them the middle finger, he unleashes the kind of power that Kim Jong Ill probably masturbates to every night.

Now this show of force is pretty fucking awesome. However, there is a problem. It doesn’t kill anybody. Now how is that a problem? Well if he’s really that powerful, why the fuck wouldn’t he just wipe out all the heroes like a competent powerful asshole? Stalin didn’t have any powers and he did a damn good job wiping out pricks that annoyed him. It’s an age old flaw that so many comic villains make, but in this case it just seems way too fucked up. Not only that, the Serpent disappears afterwards. He doesn’t even stick around to wave his dick in their face. Again, it’s an old gimmick, but one that really comes off as cheap in an event that has done such a great job of balancing such elements.

Now the issue could have gone downhill from here, but Fraction does make up for it somewhat. While the Serpent is treating the Avengers the same way Colonel Sanders treats chickens, Thor is still battling Hulk. Remember, Thor was getting his ass kicked when this issue began. Well now he’s showing that being cast out by his own father has a way of pissing him off. He doesn’t take him down subtly either. When the time comes to deliver the finishing blow, he reminds readers that he’s the motherfucking god of Thunder and the Serpent could suck it! That last part is implied by the way.

As for the heroes who just got pwned by the Serpent, they wake up from the ashes with remarkably minor injuries. Considering the explosion earlier looked like something from the Akira movie, that's grounds for calling bullshit. What they say is even more shitty. They just walk around, talking about how powerful the Serpent is and how screwed they are. There's really not much drama here. There's no heart in their words. It's quite a change from earlier when Fraction demonstrated that he could write drama into a moment with Odin and Tony Stark. So this is quite a shift and it ends the comic on a bit of a bland note. Nobody's dying. Nobody's seriously wounded. They're just standing around, musing at how fucked they are. Not a good way to end the book, but at least the beginning and middle were decent. It's like a slightly better version of the Matrix trilogy that wasn't fucked up by Keanu.

It's a pretty bleak assessment. Marvel's mightiest heroes came together in their usual Rocky IV moment only to get bitch-slapped by the Serpent's inner Ivan Drago. This issue was heavy on epic battles. Hell, that took up most of the issue. You had Thor vs. Hulk vs. Thing. You had Captain America vs. Sin. You had the Serpent vs. damn near everybody. In the end, the Serpent proved he's the pimp and everyone else are the hos. The Avengers have thrown everything they could possible throw at him and they were brushed off like Tiger Woods's clean cut image. It's a spectacle, plain and simple. It fits the whole plain and simple model that this series has demonstrated since the beginning. That's still a major part of the appeal, but this time that fragile balance between awesome and mindless is somewhat upset.

The problem is the dialog. For the most part, it was decent. Odin's conversation with Iron Man was Matt Fraction at his best. His dialog towards the end was the kind of shit you pay a drunk hobo to say in exchange for a shot of whiskey. It got pretty bland. The Serpent just showed he's got the kind of power that would make Galactus piss his cosmic underwear and the best he gets is Captain America saying "We're going to lose"? The impact is completely glossed over. The sheer weight of the Serpent's power is understated if not in the artwork then certainly within the characters. There are no memorable lines at the end. Nothing ominous is said to soak the panties for the next issue. Everything from the beginning and most of the middle was wonderfully crafted. It was the end that just fell flat and it's a disappointing shift in the momentum of this event.

While the end was pretty weak, it wasn't weak enough to bring down the whole event. I'm not saying it was so poorly done that it warrants dropping the event. If you give up on Fear Itself just because of one weak ending, then you're just being an asshole. But the lack of impact and the underwhelming sentiment of the issue makes me somewhat less excited for the next issue. I'm not foaming at the mouth, punching myself in the kidney's in anticipation for the next issue like I was early on (speaking of which, anybody in the market for a slightly worn out kidney?). I'm still excited to see where Fear Itself goes. But for this issue, I can't be as enthusiastic as I once was. So for Fear Itself #5, I give it a 3.5 out of 5. It's still above average on most levels, but the end is disappointing. It's like a good meal followed by a bad shit. One overly compensates for the other. Nuff said!

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