Saturday, October 22, 2011
Fear Itself #7 - Fearless Awesome
Get yourself a spare pair of underwear, Marvel fans! The end has come on yet another Earth-shattering saga. Yes, I know that Marvel routinely blows up their world more times than Rick Perry in a presidential debate. Say what you will about it as a shameless marking ploy, but when the stories are awesome who gives a damn? Civil War was awesome. Second Coming was awesome. World War Hulk was awesome. Even if you make an ass of yourself hyping the event, so long as they're good then ass yourself to death! Fear itself is the latest event/ploy/whatever you want to call it. Marvel has made a big deal out of this story, building up the anticipation like a man's first trip to a strip club. For the last six issues it has delivered Fear Itself has been the kind of oversized, explosive, and just plain over-the-top story that will bring a tear to your eye while making your dick hard enough to joust with. But it isn't complete yet. I can't put this event on the same level as Civil War and Second Coming until the end is upon us.
Now when I say a lot has happened, that's not the same as me saying I got a little tipsy last night. The six issues of Fear Itself has spanned the entire Marvel universe. The Serpent arose from centuries of being pissed off at Odin for beating him for the title of All-Father. He distributed an array of magic hammers to form an army of Asgardian thugs that he's used to terrorize the whole freakin' planet. As the fear grows, he gets stronger. He went from looking like Betty White's snatch to a pre-crazy Mel Gibson. He put Thor, Captain America, and the rest of the Avengers on the ropes. He killed Bucky Barnes and broke Captain America's shield. Now he's gathered his army of brutes in the ruins of Asgard in Brokton, Oklahoma where Captain America has assembled the Avengers for a final showdown. A lot of insane shit happened in between, but I'm too drunk to go over every detail. All you need to know is Captain America is leading every hero with the balls to fight against the Serpent to defend what's left of their overly fucked world.
It's basically an Alamo scenario for Captain America. His shield has been shattered. Everywhere around him has been blown to hell worse than downtown Tripoli. All the while the Serpent really doesn't seem to notice. He's more focused on drawing Odin out so he can pay him back for being locked at the bottom of the ocean for so damn long. All the heroes that are opposing him and the people he's terrorizing are just a mild rectal itch to him. He really hasn't been threatened that much since this whole fearfest began. He's come off as both overly powerful and overly douchy. Since this is the last issue, it's about damn time the man's balls get shoved back into his stomach in a completely no-gay way.
But just throwing themselves at the Serpent like they did before would be fucking stupid. He beat their asses worse than every gay S&M club in San Francisco before so they need a little something extra to guard their tenderized asses again. Enter Iron Man, much more sober and wielding his own Asgardian weapons courtesy of Odin's forge. Since it worked so well for the Serpent when he passed out his magical hammers, why shouldn't it work for the other side? Yeah, he's basically ripping the Serpent's idea off, but villains have been doing that shit to heroes for years. It's about damn time someone turned it back on them!
The Serpent remains unthreatened. He still has a hard-on for his brother in a completely non-incest sort of way. He's spent the last six issues trying to call Odin out so that he can take on the role that Odin won so unfairly. Never mind that he has to fill the world with destruction and fear. When it comes to sibling rivalries, pretty much anything is fair game. Sadly, I can see how this would happen between myself and my own siblings if we were gods. If we get pissed enough, then of course you're not going to care about unleashing unholy terror all over the world. It's your siblings fault for being such a douche!
It's heroes vs. god-powered supervillains. It's the kind of brawl you could put on pay-per-view, charge an exceedingly unreasonable fee, and still get plenty of people to watch. Yet at the same time, there's a distinctly human element that doesn't go unnoticed. While this super-powered brawl is going on, the people of Braxton are huddling together just hoping this shit ends before they tear the whole fucking world one too many assholes. Now these are not the kind of people that look good in spandex. These are normal people who most comic fans won't jerk off to. They look like real people, the kind you see driving by at rush hour or the kind you buy pot from. They all start getting sick of being so scared because let's face it, at some point you run out of ways to shit your pants.
Now this is one of the elements that makes Fear Itself so great. It takes time to focus on the effects these massive hero mash-ups have on real people. It's an element that often goes unnoticed in comics. There are ordinary people that actually live in the Marvel universe and their story often gets lost. So I'm glad Fear Itself has taken time to explore that element and not just rely on the senseless destruction, as awesome as that may be.
But if you're already bored by the added human element, you either have ADD or just care about watching superheros fight giant dragons. Now I won't criticize your tastes or lack thereof, but you're in luck! Thor, who has been in the thick of the battle for the past few issues, ends up fighting the Serpent in said dragon-like form. He already beat the shit out of Thor while looking like handsome body double for George Clooney. Why not do it as a real actual serpent? It sounds more practical than it really is, but it makes for some kick-ass visuals and it shows Thor doing what Odin was too chicken shit to do.
During this fight, Thor's hammer literally comes to Captain America's aid. Keep in mind Thor isn't using his hammer. He's using the Odinsword that was given to him in the last issue, once again revealing that Odin has a hell of an ego even for a god because he has to name all his shit after him. In addition, that ordinary guy that reminded the readers that Fear Itself affected real people shows up. While he may look like George Costanza from Sienfeld, he shows more balls than most readers ever will and helps Cap up. It's a great moment that shows the bystanders of the Marvel universe aren't just a bunch of cowardly pussies. They can actually be of help. Inspired by their ballsiness, Captain America takes on Thor's hammer and quickly finds out that it's way more effective than a gun.
What follows next are the kinds of fight scene spreads that makes Marvel fans jizz in their pants. We don't just get gods fighting mortals armed with godly weapons. We also get Sin and her Nazi robots. Because you just can't have a battle like this without Nazi robots! It has every heavy hitter in the Marvel universe taking a stab at the Serpent's forces. Unlike last time, he can't just brush them off the same way Brad Pitt brushes off the panties countless women throw at him. It's over-the-top, it's excessive, and it's very basic. Yet it's still amazingly awesome. That's really all you can say about it.
In the midst of this battle some remarkable changes begin to take place. While Earth's Mightiest Heroes are fighting back against the Serpent, Earth's not-so-mighty heroes are doing their part. We start seeing broadcasts of rescues and stories that are won't make the average joe shit themselves. Why is this important? Well aside from it being part of that human element I mentioned earlier, the event is called Fear Itself, remember? The reason the Serpent is so damn strong is because he feeds on fear. Well when people stop feeling that fear, those massive balls of his start to shrivel.
Now all those Agardian-powered assholes start getting served parts of their own asses for a change. It doesn't just come from nowhere. There's actually a sense that there is a turning point, which can often go overlooked in a big event like this. I admit I expected Matt Fraction to gloss over smaller details like this. He has a track record of doing so in other comics, but he avoided it here. For that I applaud him. It's the little things that separate good comics from the truly awesome comics that rob me of my hard earned money and soils so many perfectly good pairs of underwear. But it's worth it!
So the Serpent is finally weakening, the heroes and non-heroes alike are showing some backbone, and Thor is taking on the Serpent with the kind of brazen attitude you would expect of any god. Finally, Odin decides to join in. Given how late it is in the conflict, this just seems random in addition to being a dick move. Seriously, he couldn't have sent his massive armies to stem the tide of this onslaught when it was just getting bad? Wouldn't that have gone a long ways towards alleviating all the fear that drove the Serpent in the first place? Just after it seemed Matt Fraction was putting all those smaller details together, this one just seems off. I tried wrapping my head around it, but I ran out of weed. Odin is simply without excuse here. Given what was just shown on how the fuck with the Serpent, all the action of the past few issues just seems unnecessary because Odin could have helped put a stop to it in the beginning. It's the first time I've seen an egregious inconsistency in Fear Itself. There are any number of ways it could have been spun, but this just feels like it's missing an important detail.
Now I would say it's better late than never that Odin shows up with an army of Asgardian's behind him, but this is one instance where that's just pure bullshit. Because as soon as Odin gives the order, Thor delivers the finishing blow to the Serpent. It's an awesome moment, one that demonstrates Thor's true badassery. He did what his father should've (and definitely could've) done. He drives the Odinsword right between the Serpent's eyes. With the fear dwindling and an army bearing down on him, the Serpent can't shake this shit off. Yet Odin's forces don't even get to fire a single shot. There's being fashionably late and then there's just being late. Even in a comic, being this late is just fucked up.
As the Serpent falls, all his hammer-wielding minions start to fall. Their weapons and their fear-fueled mojo starts to dwindle. Odin helps throw a little dirt on the fire, but the flames are already out. It just seems unnecessary at this point. Even Thor's fellow Asgardians seem to feel pissed that they're so late to the game because they don't arrive in time to help Thor. So now it's not just Odin that's a dick. All of Asgard is a dick because they didn't do shit to help out in this victory. It was all the heroes of Earth, the people, and Thor for giving his father the finger and disobeying him. It adds to the feeling that they really could have done more at an earlier time and made a difference. It was just Odin being an ass and fucking stupid that prevented them.
His price for being such a dick? His son dies. That's right. In striking down the Serpent, Thor dies. I know. I had the same WTF reaction. Thor wasn't wounded. He wasn't hurt. The Serpent didn't even say he was going to take his ass with him to the end. Yet somehow he just dies in the spectacle? For a series that has been so solid and adding method to the madness, it's not so much a shocker as it is a "Really? They actually did this?" moment. Just as Odin's final entry into the battle, this just seems so needless. There's no reason for this to happen aside from forcing some emotion into the story that really wasn't necessary. It feels as though plenty more could have been done if Thor was still alive. Instead he's just killed to prove once again that Odin was a massive dick-cheese, as if we needed any more reasons in this story.
Now a death in an event like this isn't completely uncalled for. Hell, they killed Bucky (again) earlier in the story. At least his death did have some merit to it. His death led Steve Rogers to become Captain America again. And he was actually wounded before he died. Here Thor is fighting the Serpent one moment and is dead the next. Marvel has handled deaths poorly before. While this isn't as egregious as they way they killed Jean Grey, it's still pretty lame. It takes what has been a truly awesome story and just makes it an "Aw! So close!" type moment. Very disappointing. Excuse me while I take a quick shot of vodka.
So the war that Odin had no excuse in letting get out of hand is over. In the ruins the Avengers prepare a funeral pyre for Thor. The emotions here are somewhat light, but I suppose the characters are just as jaded about the death as I am. Odin, in one last act of douche-baggery, isn't even present at his son's funeral. He's still standing over the body of the Serpent. So rather than stick around and apologize to everyone for allowing their world to be fucked six-thousand ways till next April, he takes the Serpent back to Asgard space and then seals it off. This not only strands the rest of the Asgardians back on Earth, it ensures that the Serpent is trapped. It's not a complete dick move, but if you don't think Odin is a complete ass after this what more does he have to do? Strangle a puppy?
So the funeral commences. We also get a shot of Buckey's funeral as well. Like Thor's death, it's somewhat glossed over. Iron Man also returns the weapons he made, which really doesn't seem to make sense because I have a hard time imagining that those wouldn't come in handy. On the plus side he does manage to fix Captain America's shield, albeit with a Liberty Bell style crack. It's not much, but it shows that this event will have more marks than just needless death. Captain America offers a nice speech to the Avengers and the rest of the world. It's your standard "Let's work together and repair" deal. Seeing as how it's only a matter of time before the world is attacked again, it seems rather redundant. That or the sense of needless deaths just further rob it from it's impact.
We do get one last shot of the George Costanza wannabe, the everyman that seems to represent the human touch of Fear Itself. He helps reinforce that element by offering help to other neighbors that are rebuilding. It's a nice touch that doesn't completely gloss over the deadpanned feeling of the ending. But it still works and it leads to a nice ending scene.
Now after the official end, there are some nice epilogues that cover characters like Sin and Hulk. However, they're really not all that important to how Fear Itself ends so I won't go over them. All they really do is just tie up some loose ends that really didn't need to be tied up in this issue. While it does make the issue feel bigger than it already is, the ending still falls flat. Given how amazing Fear Itself has been up to this final issue, it's a real let-down. It makes me feel like I need another drink, but then again I would probably feel that way no matter how it ended.
Now that this obscenely hyped event is over, I'm left with mixed feelings. I've enjoyed Fear Itself a great deal. It's been a wildly entertaining if not overly basic Marvel event. It doesn't have the same political undertones as Civil War or the same social undertones as Second Coming. Yet it succeeds in creating a vast, complex, coherent battle between the heroes of Marvel and a new villain. The build-up to Fear Itself was great. It followed the events of Siege and the story of Sin. However, the ending comes off as flat. While it feels complete, it also feels light on substance. We don't see at what point the fear stops gripping the people that have been fueling the Serpent. We really don't get a sense of why Odin no longer cares to let the Serpent butcher everyone on Earth. It feels as though he could have confronted the Serpent earlier and not a whole lot was done to change his mind. There was no method to his god-like madness. So when the Serpent is defeated it makes it seem as though this event was longer than it needed to be.
What really hurts this ending is the way in which it killed Thor. Now I know Marvel has made killing major characters a huge selling point for years now. They killed Johnny Storm. They killed Ultimate Peter Parker. It hasn't been the first time that Thor has gone KIA, but the way he died in this story just felt too flat. It was the same problem for Bucky. It wasn't completely callous, but it just felt hallow in the end. I'm not arguing that Thor shouldn't have died. I just think it could have been given more impact. It feels like cheap vodka that only gets you partially drunk while tasting bitter. The death doesn't completely kill the issue or the ending, but it certainly doesn't help either. Regardless of whether or not this death sticks, it is still lacking as an honorable comic book death should. We can make all the jokes we want about comic characters dying and coming back, but the key is and always has been the story surrounding those characters. It doesn't matter if they're killed or revived. If they story lacks impact, it really doesn't matter.
That's not to say this isn't a good comic. The battle between the Serpent and Marvel's massive legion of heroes was a sight to behold. Matt Fraction did a great job making this issue and all of Fear Itself the spectacle it was meant to be. The dialog is solid. He avoids writing anything that can be made into a bad internet meme, but nothing really sticks out either. The sheer breadth of the events and the story as a whole was very nicely done. Fear Itself really feels like a story that involved the entire Marvel universe. And getting ordinary people involved was a nice personal touch.
I was ready to christen Fear Itself the best Marvel event of the last decade. I was ready to make that bold claim and tattoo it on my forehead. Unfortunately, it looks like I'll have to cancel my appointment with the barber and the tattoo artist. Fear Itself is great both in the beginning and for much of the middle, but the end just falls flat. It's not a complete disappointment, but it's not a case study in comic book awesome either. It is what it is, a half-full bottle of booze that won't get you completely high but will still get you plenty of buzz. I give Fear Itself #7 a 3 out of 5. I would give the whole series a 3.5 or 4 out of 5 depending on how drunk I am. Marvel did a great job with this story, but like Tony Romo in the clutch it fell short in the big game. It's still an awesome series and I would recommend it to anyone as a starting point if you're just getting into Marvel comics. In terms of events, let's just say I'm already looking forward to the next overhyped story that Marvel has in their back pocket. Nuff said!