Most of Marvel’s recent1 crossover events, if nothing else, have all had a good, simple byline for curious readers. House of M: “the Scarlet Witch changes reality and then there is a big fight.” Civil War: “Marvel’s heroes pick sides and have a big fight.” Secret Invasion: “Skrulls invade and there is a big fight.” Siege: “Norman Osborn invades Asgard and there is a big fight.” And so on and so forth. There may be twists and turns, but generally after one issue you know the basic reason as to why there is going to be a big fight, and that is the important thing.
Fear Itself boldly goes a different direction: its first issue reads like a #0 issue. There is a bit of Odin beating the hell out of Thor, but barely that. There is a bit of Sin fighting some Nazis, but villains beating up nameless flunky losers is never really that interesting to begin with. There is a riot so vague that you have to wonder if its vagueness is a plot point (seriously, at one point Captain America – er, Steve Rogers – is asked about “the issue” in a way that makes it seem quite possible that they intended to insert one but just forgot and then at some point a typesetter removed the brackets from “[ISSUE]”). It seems to be referring to the Ground Zero mosque debate from last year, sort of, but a Marvel Universe equivalent thereof where nobody ever says anything specific.2
And then the gods of Asgard go… back to Asgard. Presumably this is meant to be dramatic somehow, but I’m not sure why the gods of Asgard going back to Asgard is a big deal at this point. I don’t read Thor – to be perfectly honest it’s the one Marvel property I have never been able to really get into, regardless of who was writing or drawing it – but I know that the gods of Asgard are traditionally in Asgard, and that making this be a Big Deal seems wrong, much as it would be silly to make it be a Big Deal when Spider-Man starts wearing his regular costume again or when Steve Rogers becomes Captain America again. That doesn’t mean writers won’t try, but status-quo-restoring events are almost always less enthralling than disruptive ones: Captain America Reborn wasn’t as good as The Death of Captain America, Knightsend wasn’t as good as Knightfall, and so on.3
Equally silly is having Odin ruminate about a “final prophecy.” Never mind that it’s obviously bull in an ongoing comics universe to have a “final prophecy” be a plot element to begin with – after all, what’s the next writer going to do, except say “well, there’s actually a final-er prophecy.” But I know enough about Thor in the Marvel Universe to know that the reason the gods are on Earth right now (and, presumably, the reason Thor has a new costume) is because Ragnarok already happened in the Marvel Universe. It was the whole reason JMS had to write how Loki was a chick for a while. Come to think, it’s the reason the gods of Asgard are on Earth in the first place. How does a Norse pantheon get more final than frigging Ragnarok? Is this Ragnarok II: Pseudo-Norse Boogaloo?
Other than that, the issue’s big reveal is that there’s another Norse deity with another hammer and another Odin, or at least someone who suggests that the Odin that’s beating up Thor is a replacement Odin, like a Norse equivalent of Dick Whitman pretending to be Don Draper. All of this feels kind of repetitive, because it’s kind of repetitive: at present it feels like the same old “hey, what if there was another version of [HERO]” that’s basically been the same story over and over again in Green Lantern for the past four or five years.4
(Granted, “another version of something” has been a comic storytelling tool since writers first decided there could be more than one type of Kryptonite. But ultimately, the problem with it is that it’s only as useful as the property you’re re-versioning is popular. I was mildly interested in Green Lantern, so different coloured and themed Lanterns was mildly interesting to me; I don’t really give much of a damn about Thor, so I am not Fear Itself’s target market, and my dissatisfaction with the book therefore comes with a huge caveat.)
That having been said, I have a lot of faith in Matt Fraction’s storytelling abilities; the man has written a bunch of my favorite superhero comics of the past five years, including two (Immortal Iron Fist and Invincible Iron Man) that would make my top five. So I’m willing to give him time to rebound from what’s ultimately a lackluster beginning. But a lackluster beginning it unfortunately is.
- Okay, I know that going back to 2005 stretches the definition of “recent,” but you know where I’m going with this. [↩]
- Maybe they’ll get Doctor Doom to cry again. [↩]
- Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds is the rare exception of a status-quo-restoring event that’s generally better than what disrupted the status quo, but this is mostly because those disruptive comics were so incredibly shitty that a basically okay comic book was able to seem like spun gold in comparison. [↩]
- It doesn’t help that Skadi doesn’t actually appear to be associated with a hammer in traditional Norse mythology, making her feel somewhat shoehorned into the role of Anti-Thor. [↩]