With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Artists: Stuart Immone (Tie-ins: Greg Land, Chris Bachalo, Cullen Bunn, Sean Chen, Tom Raney, Andrea DiVito)
Issues: Fear Itself #1-7.3, Fear Itself: The Book of the Skull, Journey Into Mystery #622-630, Avengers (2010) #13-17, New Avengers (2010) #14-16, Secret Avengers (2010) #13-15, Avengers Academy #15-20, New Mutants (2009) #29-32, Uncanny X-Men #540-543
Another year, another massive Marvel event. It’s around this time through my grand catch-up of the last decade of Marvel comics that I begin to feel the fatigue of large-scale back-to-back…to-back events.
I largely enjoyed the Bendis-led run that evolved from “House of M” into “Civil War,” through the “Secret Invasion” and subsequent “Dark Reign,” and culminating in “Siege.” In total that era encompasses a solid five years of comics.
But large events had become the new big business. We had barely a year go by before the literal hammer dropped, or in this case, multiple hammers in “Fear Itself.”
If the new post-Siege Heroic Age of 2010-11 was meant to be a throwback to the Silver Age of Good vs Evil comics, then “Fear Itself” was the appropriate event.
It all starts with Sin, the Red Skull’s daughter, now conveniently disfigured just like her dad from the events in Captain America: Reborn. She follows up on some research and notes left by Red Skull and discovers a Thor-like hammer in a secret research facility. She picks it up and voila! She’s transformed into Skadi, some kind of evil Asgardian-like.
I’m a bit hazy on the details but her transformation reawakens The Serpent, Odin’s evil fear-fueled brother. Together they summon seven more hammers that fall to Earth. Each of them calls out to a minor villain or hero, transforming them into super-powered creatures with power-levels similar to Thor. Titania, Absorbing Man, The Thing, Hulk, Attuma, Grey Gargoyle, and Juggernaut call themselves The Worthy. They’re bad news.
Even worse, apparently Red Skull just had this massive Nazi army with giant mechs laying around, waiting for this moment. Frankly the army causes just as much problems, if not more, than The Worthy. Soon entire cities are being razed to the ground. Washington D.C. goes up in flames, while The Worthy divide up into various corners of the world wrecking havoc and sowing fear. It’s your classic Shock and Awe campaign, and it makes for a brutally and desensitizing war zone.
Earth isn’t without its defenses, and all the Avengers quickly rally to help where they can. But they’re outclassed. Very few heroes come close to Thor’s power, and he gets his ass kicked and Odin declares a full retreat from Earth. His plan is to gather his forces and simply destroy Earth in order to defeat The Serpent.
The nature of the battle is a bit over-the-top and ridiculous with how apocalyptic it gets. Picture various horrible terrorist attacks in the past and magnify them all over the world. World economies would shatter and entire nations would be swallowed up. It honestly gets to be a bit much, and I found myself rolling my eyes when Cap tried to give the “we’ll rebuild” speech at the end of the event.
The deaths are also trite and lame. Every event has to have at least one semi-high profile demise. About halfway through “Fear Itself,” Bucky-as-Cap tries to take on Sin/Skadi, only to get a hammer in the face. And body. And, well she kicks his ass and is presumed dead.
Likewise Thor is destined to face The Serpent at the end thanks to a prophecy. He does so and predictably sacrifices himself to slay it.
These are major deaths but Marvel actually pulled its punches in the epilogue. Bucky is revealed to have survived, but only Nick Fury, Black Widow, and (later) Steve Rogers know about it.
He uses his public death to go back into the shadows, gladly relinquishing the role of Captain America back to Rogers. It’s a good direction for the character, especially as his death would’ve otherwise been incredibly meaningless. And Thor of course has died before but he’s a god and there’s the whole cycle and rebirth thing, so no worries there.
While “Fear Itself” was mostly middling, it had some surprisingly fantastic tie-ins. Usually these big Marvel events force some awkward tie-ins from all its current-running series. The nature of our new villain group splitting up is perfect fodder for various hero teams to tackle them. Likewise the plot of researching The Serpent and Asgardian myth helps fuel several others.
(I should mention I certainly did not read every tie-in. I picked and chose based on the series I had been reading. “Fear Itself” includes tie-ins for just about every ongoing series at the time).
The Avengers and New Avengers tie-ins are the overall weakest, but still pretty fun. They opt for a realty show set-up, with talking heads of our various heroes discussing the events, interspersed with a montage of action. Not much happens but I did find myself enjoying them, particularly the way the team in New Avengers came together, and for The New Avengers (2010) #15 which stars Squirrel Girl and her heroic savior of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ baby.
Avengers Academy (2010) continued to be a delight. I’ve really enjoyed this Young Adult series and here they tackle fear and war with all the strength and drama I expected. It also creates some important ramification as one member quits, Hank Pym’s mini-lab/base is destroyed by Titania and Absorbing Man, and the Academy is opened up for additional recruits.
Uncanny X-Men‘s “Fear Itself” issues were also fantastic. Suitably they end up dealing with the new super-powered Juggernaut (they all have new fancy Asgard type names but I forget). He’s even more unstoppable than ever before, and it’s funny seeing Cyclops deploy many different plans, tactics and mutants to try and stop him from tearing apart their new home town of San Francisco.
Ultimately it’s Ilyana Rasputin that has the final solution: travel to the realm of Cyttorak and tell the dark god that his avatar isn’t so much his any more. Cyttorak is furious and Colossus offers himself as the new Juggernaut to protect his sister. This startling change makes Peter go down a dark path, beginning with the immediate break-up of he and Kitty after he stops Juggernaut.
Colossus has received a pretty bad wrap ever since his excellent arc in Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men. Hopefully this new path leads somewhere interesting but I worry about his character development.
New Mutants (2010) and new series Journey Into Mystery both deal with the Asgard-related side of events. The New Mutants go to Hell, then Hel to save Hela thanks to Dani Moonstar’s previous relationship. It’s a fun, action-filled journey with lots of hell demons and always entertaining Mephisto dialogue.
Journey Into Mystery is straight-up awesome, and the stand-out series from “Fear Itself.” It stars kid Loki. Remember that Loki sacrificed himself at the end of “Siege?” Thor found his soul in a young teenager and brought him back to Asgard. What could’ve been an annoying twat is actually an incredibly fun, wily character full of wise-cracks, schemes, and crazy shenanigans.
Loki tames Hel-beasts, makes deals with undead cannibals and Asgardian demons, manipulates both Hela and Mephisto, and ultimately helps save the day by weakening The Serpent, allowing Thor to do the deed in Fear Itself #7. He gains his own fun entourage of motley characters and never loses his charming quick wit and teenage exasperation. Hell, there’s an entire issue that’s just Mephisto talking to a bartender and it’s bloody brilliant.
I seriously can not recommend Journey Into Mystery enough, though I found Marvel’s issue numbering aggravating (really should’ve just started at #1 with a new Volume). Thankfully I wasn’t the only that enjoyed it, and it continued on for several years, eventually starring a new iteration with Lady Sif in 2013.
My thoughts on “Fear Itself” are quite mixed. The action is solid and the art is fantastic (as is all the art in the tie-ins I read, rare to not have any complaints there!) but the event is just…too epic and devastating.
The actual story is fine if predictable but the big moments fall flat since everything is just one-upping itself, like The Serpent breaking Cap’s shield in half, Cap raising Thor’s hammer, or the Avengers being given Asgard weapons to battle The Worthy. It’s not horrible but I definitely felt desensitized to all the action and devastation.
Leave it to the tie-ins to pick up the pieces. In a very rare twist I found some of the tie-ins to be more enjoyable than the main event. Journey Into Mystery was a fantastic and unique series. I loved the way they split up the villains to be tackled by various groups. Even the dorky talking-heads format of Avengers and New Avengers was fairly well-written.
I may have started becoming cynical of Marvel’s big events, but damn it if “Fear Itself” still wasn’t a fun ride.