The art and writing are undeniably stellar in Marvel’s latest Big Event, but I still think Fear Itself fails to deliver on certain levels. Stuart Immonen’s depictions of epic superhuman battles are masterful, and Matt Fraction’s writing is dynamic and flows at a good pace. However, I think that Fear Itself falls a little flat.
This issue sees the titanic showdown between Thor and the evil hammer possessed versions of The Hulk and The Thing. This is a superhero fight that is illustrated so well that it makes the issue worth the cover price. Immonen captures the raw destructive capabilities of these three characters, and there is one panel in particular where Thor throws Mjolnir through The Thing like a bullet through a watermelon. Immonen illustrates this mortal wound to The Thing beautifully, and it’s a somewhat surprising moment that Fraction wrote into the battle.
Fraction has Iron Man sacrificing his sobriety and dignity to procure an audience with Odin. Here, Fraction’s writing really stands out. Tony Stark is a man of science, not a man of faith, and Fraction writes this scene, where an atheist must summon a Norse god, extremely well. Instead of asking for the god to grant him an Earth saving miracle, Iron Man just wants a fighting chance; he wants Odin to allow him to use his Asgardian workshops and do what he does best in times of peril. Iron Man petitions Odin to let him build weapons with a combo of Stark and Asgardian technology. This is a clever conceit, and we can assume that Fraction is setting up a moment where we’ll get to see all the Marvel heroes rally in their own customized Asgardian armors.
Despite the fact that there were a couple of strong moments in this issue, I still think there were some weaknesses as well. At one point, Odin’s evil brother detonates what appears to be a nuclear explosion in the middle of New York City. Captain America was at ground zero of this explosion, and he was lacking the shield that the Norse fear god just shattered with his bare hands. So if the Norse fear god “can do anything he wants”, and Captain America was within throwing distance of his nuclear explosion, why do we see on the next page that Cap was just knocked out? Shouldn’t he be blown into a couple billion atoms and scattered across the five buroughs? If the Norse fear god is truly as omnipotent as he claims, why did every single superhero escape his magical nuke with only bruises and scratches? Shouldn’t they all be dead? I found this to be a situation where Fraction wanted to have his nuclear cake and eat it too; it took me out of the story to see this dramatic explosion, but the mushroom cloud seemed completely bloodless and all the superheroes walked away unscathed.
Overall, I’m enjoying Fear Itself for its great art and writing. However, I’m not too excited by this event for some reason. Maybe it’s because the idea of pitting hammer possessed superheroes against other superheroes seems like a bit of a hollow way to get to these superpowered battles that everyone loves. I might enjoy the superhero fights if they were more emotionally charged than just “The Thing is possessed”. Having said that, I’d still recommend this event for Immonen’s beautiful art and Fraction’s always clever writing.