In the past couple of years Marvel Comics has done very little to make their “True Believers” proud when it comes to their big Summer blockbuster story-lines. Ever since the sub-par “hit” that was “CIVIL WAR” the publisher has continually rolled out bummer after bummer, and rarely have they cashed in on the checks they had written before the titles saw the light of day (here’s looking at you “HOUSE OF M”). However, for all of their mistakes, the shortcomings, and the ridiculously large amounts of wasted cash thrown by the way of stories like “SEIGE”, Marvel Comics has once again renewed readers’ faiths this year thanks to Matt Fraction’s brilliant “FEAR ITSELF”. This week will mark the release of the third issue in the standalone title’s run, and beyond the break you can get a 6 page preview and all of my ramblings as to why you shouldn’t let this one pass you by. Read on for the skinny…
“The blockbuster Marvel event of the year continues! Sin leads the most audacious attack on American soil the world has ever seen as global panic sets in and we fall sway to the power of fear itself. On Asgard, Loki hatches the scheme to end all schemes. And everywhere, the Serpent’s presence is felt…never moreso than when a major Marvel hero falls at his hands. The shock ending to end all shock endings…as the cycle of evil stretching millennia is at last completed.”
It has been a long while since I could hold my head up high and proclaim myself a Marvel Comics fan. Granted, it is easy to do when you are just casually waltzing out of a screening of the latest comic-to-film adaptation from the company and saying to yourself, “Man – that was a lot better than I expected.”. And while that might be a common theme for most, it has grown increasingly hard for someone such as myself (who had several subscriptions back in the day, some of which traced back many years.) to warrant the hefty $4 price-tag for a book that I know will leave me disappointed. So when I come to you and say that Matt Fraction’s “FEAR ITSELF” is by far the best thing to happen to Marvel in years, that should tell you something.
Admittedly I was skeptical at first that the series would just be another “SEIGE” in the making. In fact it was only until the week of the first books’ release that I decided to take the plunge and give it a whirl. Upon closing the pages of that first ish I was hooked, and I have even spent $3/4 dollars at a time every week for each and every issue of the title’s various tie-ins. Before now I was lucky to pick up the entire run of a story event’s CORE title, much less every subsequent crossover ish, regardless of my interest in the particular character’s involvement. That isn’t to say that each one of those titles have been as fantastic as “FEAR ITSELF”, but they have come pretty damned close at times. Fraction’s writing style, and his ability to pack each and every page with enough prose and dialogue to weigh-down most scribe’s entire arc, seems to be the key to success here. We had heard rumblings from experts for years that Fraction was potentially the “next big thing” over at Marvel, but no one could have foreseen a breakout such as his. In the first couple of days of its release “FEAR ITSELF” was nearly a sell-out debut, cementing its relevancy, and killing the whispers of its obscurity, while also restoring some much needed faith in its publisher.
Possibly the most appealing force driving the story itself is the bleakness of its tone and feel. Everyone will swear that their story will leave a “lasting mark” on the title’s characters “forever”, but few will actually make good on the promise. With “FEAR ITSELF” it is painfully clear that these stories and events will leave lasting scars on each and every character in the Uni big and small. Everyone from Captain America, to Thor, to Speedball is present and accounted for. Normally such a far reaching move would leave some readers isolated and confused, unaware of what exactly is going on with their favorite character unless they shell out the extra $50s a month to keep up with all the other tie-ins that go along with it. However, from the very beginning Fraction and the rest of the Marvel Comics crew have assured their fans that every precaution was being taken to not only ease the blow to their wallet, but also to give them the most coherent tie-in story possible. With a groan we all gave a sarcastic “Uh huh, suuure” response, but it has left us all eating crow as the title continually delivers fresh content that is specific to each title.
Possibly the biggest (and only) shortcoming to the series’ stand alone title is that it revolves heavily around setting up the rest of the stories that branch out from it. However, this sort “Swiss Army Knife” approach never feels forced, and in the hands of Fraction it almost seems too easy for the scribe to flesh out all of these moving parts at once.
As much praise as Fraction has invoked, and earned, there has to be something said about the pencils from veteran artist Stuart Immonen. The illustrator is a tour-de-force, and each and every page of the issues he donates his time to pop with more attention to detail than you will likely see from most artists as demanded as he is. Immonen is able to convey a rare talent for showing emotion and intensity with his illustrations, and has definitely cemented a spot among the most regarded and touted of his peers.
When all is done and read, “FEAR ITSELF” is a story that no comic book fan should miss. Wether you are a Marvel fan or a DC fan is irrelevant. Good writing is good writing, and great writing is something else altogether. Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen have captured lightning in a bottle and created one of the most engrossing stories of the year. So while I still can’t find it within myself to forgive the Marvel U for the “CLONE SAGA” or the “ULTIMATES” Universe, I can sure as hell start the healing process with “FEAR ITSELF”.
“FEAR ITSELF” Issue #3 Drops June 1st From Marvel Comics! (MSRP – $3.99)