Fear Itself could have gone two ways. It could have been a visceral and exciting action epic or it could have been a psychological terror comic that examined what happens to the world when the world’s protectors are too afraid to fight. Fear Itself turned out to be neither of those things. Instead, readers were given a heavy handed, largely boring, and fairly incoherent seven issue series that ends as horribly as it began.
Fear Itself #7 is so bad that I feel compelled to take you through each stage of its awfulness. With everything that was hyped around it, with all the power it would supposedly have over the Marvel Universe, Fear Itself ends up being nothing more than a mediocre base with which to launch more titles. So, let’s really get into the depth of this double sized final issue and pick apart all the failures here.
The book opens with Tony Stark arriving to hand out his blessed Odin weapons. Stark tells the heroes that there isn’t one for Captain America because nobody can do better than his shield. Really? Weapons made in the land of the Gods and blessed by Odin can’t stand up to tech from World War II? That seems a little much on the Go-Go America tip. Oh no, say the heroes, Captain America’s shield was broken apart by The Serpent aka Odin’s Brother. There is no reaction to that statement and the fact a weapon that’s so good Odin couldn’t do better was easily broken is never mentioned again.
Then the big action starts. Odin’s Brother is screaming to Odin while purple electricity flies out of his body. He’s screaming that Odin took what was his but since Matt Fraction thought being cryptic was a sign of being clever, we have no idea what Odin’s brother is prattling on about. Then comes the first of what I call “Moments To Remember" – obvious little plot points that are supposed to make us all fuzzy about the rally to beat Odin’s Brother. This first one is a shot of the Avengers in their super armor flying into battle. It would be cool if not so obvious and cheap, particularly Captain America saying “All right, my team.”
Moving on, now it’s time for Fraction to start tugging on the old heartstrings by showing a gosh-darn-neato typical family and the husband who has decided to go back out and help Captain America because he’s tired of being afraid. A-HA! Cue the soft music because the rallying cry of the normal folks will help to suck the power from Odin’s Brother. That would be an effective scene except nothing in the other six issues really touched on fear or how the non-hero folks were affected. Then we get to “The Serpent”, and he’s an actual serpent. Yep, apparently the ultimate vessel of evil is something left over from a Dungeons & Dragons game.
Thor attacks The Serpent and they fight. Well, they talk a lot and also kind of fight. It’s been the problem with Fear Itself since issue one. Fraction loves to write dialog so much that it’s pretty much all the series has been, that and big explosions. This battle with Thor is more of the same, big explosions while Thor and Odin’s Brother yap like old women at a bingo parlor. Cue Moment To Remember #2; the normal folk come to Captain America’s aid because, like I said, suddenly they’re not afraid anymore. This leads to Moment To Remember #3, when Captain America actually says to the regular folks, “We’re all Avengers now” and then gives a loud "Avengers Assemble!!" It’s interesting that the Avengers heroes take center stage here and how often the term is used. Wow, it’s almost as if Marvel had a movie coming out or something.
Here’s where things get really funky. The blessed weapons wielding heroes go on a vicious attack and start hammering all the demi-god’s created by the bad hammers. Meanwhile, Thor and the Serpent continue to slap each other around. It’s the kind of souped up action that should have happened through the entire series, not just concentrated in the final issue. It smacks of too little too late. It also renders all the side issues and crossover work completely useless. The villains that tore it up so harshly aren’t given a real final stand. They just get whipped.
Fraction’s final sin (dig THAT pun) in this whole Fear Itself debacle is how Odin’s Brother dies. Thor slams the sword of Ragnarok into his head and the mighty winged serpent crashes to the ground, dead. Yep, that’s it. After seven issues of nothing even touching this guy it only takes one blow to kill him. Fraction tries to tie in this whole “people aren’t afraid anymore” idea by showing news reports of humanity conquering their fear but the placement of it doesn’t hit the mark, it’s actually easy to overlook. Without that point driven home, the death of the Serpent seems sudden. The battle isn’t epic, it’s anticlimactic and it makes the death of Thor even less spectacular.
Oh, did I forget to mention that.
Yep, Thor dies and it’s about as close to an afterthought as a writer could make it. Thor stumbles from the body of Odin’s Brother and dies in Odin’s arms. I can see how Fraction wanted it to be a tender moment, but I just think the God Of Thunder deserves better. From there, the final strings of Fear Itself completely unravel. At Thor’s funeral, as the heroes are building his pyre, Spider-Man cracks a joke. Really? Thor’s dead and Spidey is cracking jokes? Then Odin locks all the Gods out of Asgard so he can stay there alone and guard over his dead brother’s body. What? Why? Remember how Captain America’s shield that was way better than anything Odin could build was destroyed? It’s all fixed now except for a long scratch. Um, except all the vibranium in the world was destroyed so how did that happen? Oh wait, it’s Matt Fraction so the hell with continuity.
Then there’s Captain America’s little speech where he actually utters, “We’ll rebuild, Asgard, Manhattan, the world. We’ll rebuild it all.” He even goes on to talk about how everybody will dig deep and find the strength to get out of bed and face another day. Wow, awesome. The primary force of all that is evil has just laid waste to the world and all we get out of Captain America is a Tony Robbins “Believe in yourself” speech? Did anybody at Marvel edit this garbage?
Lastly, we have four epilogues, which is where Marvel launches their next series of books. First, some bug looking creatures free Sin and that launches The Fearless series. The second epilogue is the weirdest of them all. Banner and the Hulk are arguing (in Banner’s brain) about being used by the Gods of Fear. Hulk gets angry, grabs Banner’s head and when Banner wakes up he and the Hulk are split. It’s a really hamfisted scene that doesn’t even belong in Fear Itself. Epilogue three is the one that’s purposefully vague and sets up how a man named Marcus Johnson will tear the Marvel Universe apart. This epilogue launches the Battle Scars series.
The final epilogue goes back to the Hulk, who’s seeking the help of Doctor Strange in order to battle the evil spirit that possessed him during Fear Itself. That launches The Defenders. So that’s it. Fear Itself ends in the same messy, drawn out and unsatisfying way it began. What’s worse is how Marvel takes a final issue that is already too long and adds these tacky epilogues. Fear Itself could have been something really special, instead it’s a lesson on all the things writers and comic book companies should avoid.
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