This Wednesday, Marvel Comics begins it’s newest event, Fear Itself. These days, it’s not hard to immediately roll your eyes when people start talking about “events” or you start seeing ads in your favorite comics. Just about every year, either Marvel or DC throw all their efforts toward the “next big story”. Every Spring for Marvel and every Summer for DC, we are hit with a barrage of tie-ins, stories that interrupt the natural flow of series, and the internet is flooded with people who praise and who hate on the big story. More often than not, our lovely culture’s negative sensibilities causes virtual fights in message boards. Those who love the stories tend to call those who don’t “stupid” and those who hate the stories get louder and louder trying to prove their point to be the right one.
Why Fear Itself Is The Event Marvel’s Needed For A Long Time
So, here comes Fear Itself. Frankly, I’m looking forward to it. Even after events that did nothing but lead into the next big story, actual endings to those stories be damned, my excitement comes from someplace other than being a lifelong Marvel Zombie. Here are five reasons I feel this is the type of event that Marvel needs…
5. Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen
Matt Fraction has proven himself time and again as a writer. He’s got a sharp view of characters. Despite what some may be saying in the Iron Man message boards on Marvel’s website, he’s made Tony Stark a very relevant character at the most important time for him to be a relevant character. Invincible Iron Man is an Eisner Award winning series that started about the same time the first Iron Man movie hit the theaters. Dealing with a character whose sales historically bounced up and down like a basketball, Fraction boiled down the character, and used who he is, what he believes in, and what he does to build a great series. Fear Itself is Fraction’s first crack at an event. This isn’t Brian Michael Bendis or Mark Millar pushing forward ideas that dealt primarily with their regular books’ characters. This is a guy who came up with a great idea and getting his chance after proving himself as a writer who can sell books.
Stuart Immonen’s getting the art gig. Immonen was the best part of the recent relaunch of The New Avengers. Considering his style is very straight forward in terms of what a comic book should look like, I have to say I’m really looking forward to what he’s got in store for us. While Olivier Coipel delivered excellent work on House of M and Siege (I don’t think I need to say anything about Steve McNiven’s work on Civil War), Secret Invasion’s look was a major departure of what you’d really expect from a major event. I’ve nothing against Leinil Francis Yu or his work, but his style is unique. For many it’s dynamic and exciting. For others, it is a little outside their tastes. If you’re going to publish a big event, maybe you don’t want a polarizing guy doing the visuals. Immonen doesn’t bring that with him. He’ll bring what we want to see out of an event – classic, yet still his own, COMIC BOOK art.
4. No Retcons, but Characters Are Forced to Look at Themselves in New Ways
Retcons are not unusual in comics. Particularly when characters have been around for a long time and especially when these well-established characters are about to have something big happen in an event. It’s probably one of the many things fans fear about events. “How much will my favorite characters change?” “Why do they have to change around a classic origin story in order to tell this particular story?” And so on… This story isn’t based on changing how characters became who they are or why. What it does do is force the main characters to take a look at themselves in the mirror and ask some very difficult questions. The three characters in question are Steve Rogers, Thor, and Tony Stark.
For Rogers, he’s forced to think about not only his new role, but his old one as Captain America and ask, “Does it make sense to be Captain America anymore in a country where so many are questioning America and her place in the world?”
Thor learns things from Odin that changes his perception of being a God. He’s learning that things he always thought he knew about the Asgardians’ history doesn’t match some realizations that are starting to come out about that past.
Tony Stark is forced to see what can only be called a “miracle” and ask himself, “How can I disbelieve anything outside of science and still see what I just saw and be friends with others like Thor and Doctor Strange. How can I discount them in the name of pure logic and science? How do these things exist in the world of science I put my faith in?”
These are the types of questions analytical readers may have always thought about, so while Thor’s own personal history may be in jeopardy, this isn’t a retcon. This doesn’t turn many moments previously seen in other comics upside down like Secret Invasion threatened to do. So, do I see much of a change in how characters will be coming out of this series? No. Do I think the introspective questions could remain for a while afterward? Yes.
3. The Story Feels Fresh
Unlike many events, we’re not getting beaten over the head with warnings that this panel in this random comic that we don’t normally collect is going to give a major clue to who’s behind everything in the next big event. I’m sure Fraction has planted seeds here and there, but, as a whole, this story hasn’t been building for a year or two or three. This is spinning out of a moment that happens and we’re not going to be left scrambling for trades or back issues that explains the feelings of the characters or who someone is. Not only that, but we don’t have this massive build up that allows room for prejudice on the series. Remember how long it took from the moment we saw the Skrulled out Elektra to when Secret Invasion actually started? It felt like forever. That was also after a year of “The Initiative” and led to another year of “Dark Reign” before that came crashing down. Sometimes, when you have stories that start spelling out those moments so early, people who don’t like it get stuck. Those who do like it get too anxious to the point that the actual event cannot pay off that excitement. It’s kind of refreshing to see Fear Itself just get started with a #1 issue and go from there.
2. The Main Series Tells the Whole Story
This right here might be the one point that gives me the most excitement about this story. I think there are two big reasons why people get the dreaded “event fatigue”. The first is the story. Some people expect great things from events, and they should if they are going to spend money on them. When the story disappoints, and then does so in consecutive events, people start to tire of these blockbuster types of series. The same thing happens in Hollywood. After a while, you just get tired of being disappointed. The other reason is the number of tie ins that, while usually not blatantly stated, seemed to imply the tie ins help you get the complete story. This has already been promised by Fraction himself to not be the case for Fear Itself.
While at the panel for the event at C2E2 last month, Fraction made a point to say that event fatigue is more of a result of the events not being very good. He talked about how he was going to make sure this would not be the case with this one. He stated that if he cannot make a logical transaction from one issue to the next, or if the reader can’t tell the difference between issues, he’s failed us. Fraction is a savvy writer. He’s got a fresh angle on characters. He cut his teeth in the creator owned world before hitting it big with his Marvel titles. He also seems to be one who doesn’t bs, nor does he like it. So as much as you’ll see the same image I put above on several comics, only buy the ones you want. Marvel isn’t going to screw you over by making you feel like you need it. In fact, someone on that panel mentioned that they are letting your enjoyment of the main title dictate how much more you want to read.
1. This Event Isn’t Derivative of Previous Events
Seven years ago, Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch launched the Avengers into a flagship role with The Avengers #500. It was the beginning of the “Avengers: Disassembled” story arc that tore the team apart. A few months later, The New Avengers #1 put the team back together. Shortly after that, House of M destroyed the Mutant population and tightened the Avengers team into a much more capable team. A short while later, legislation, under the advice of Tony Stark, proposed that those with powers should reveal their identities to the government. When the New Warriors were involved with a tragedy that killed several civilians, the law was passed and forced upon the super-powered population. Those who disagreed, led by Captain America, rebelled starting the Superhero Civil War ultimately ending with Captain America assassinated on the front steps of a courthouse. Now in command, Tony Stark acted too late to stop a Skrull invasion that had been in effect for years. When Norman Osborn fired a shot heard around the world, the insane former villain became the most powerful man in the world. This led to his “Dark Reign” that culminated in the Siege of Asgard. This Siege brought all the heroes together again to topple Osborn bringing about a new Heroic Age.
Take a look at the previous paragraph. Beginning with Bendis’ “Avengers: Disassembled”, each major moment affecting the whole of the Marvel Universe had been tied together. From 2004 to 2010, Marvel’s major stories acted as points in a massive, “connect the dots” picture. It creates a difficult situation when I’m asked, “I’d sure love to start reading some Marvel books. Where should I start?” It has been stated that Fear Itself will have some consequences for many groups, namely the Avengers and Fantastic Four (or FF?), and it will set a tone for a couple years worth of future stories, but the good news is that the six year period in which I spoke of in the previous paragraph does not have bearing on this particular event. If you pick up an issue on Wednesday, and like what you see, you can buy it and go home and read it without your buddy or Wikipedia helping you figure out who’s who or what’s what.
Maybe it’s my connection to Marvel as a reader that goes back many years. Maybe it’s that I’m a big fan of Matt Fraction. Either way, I’m keeping an open mind about this. I’m not going to focus on why this event is going to “suck” or why I don’t want to give it a chance. After six years of one big story, this is a new direction that should have a definite beginning and a definite end. That alone makes me want to get excited for Fear Itself. The rest of it is just like putting chocolate syrup on ice cream.