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Fluff Itself: Graeme Gets Into Marvel’s Summer Event Book

Graeme McMillan

I really meant to write capsule reviews, honestly; I got mailed the first two weeks of Flashpoint tie-ins, and thought “That would make a good post,” and then I started writing about Fear Itself and got into a bit of a rant. So Flashpoint will come tomorrow, and instead, here’s me getting carried away about Marvel’s big summer event book.

FEAR ITSELF #3: Maybe I was far too into the whole DC mindset last week when this came out – In a week like last week, I really didn’t feel like I had any choice but to dive into the DC mindset; they really won the comics internet last week, didn’t they? – but… I can’t be the only person who sped through this issue, got to the end and thought “This is it?”, can I?

Ignoring the fact that everyone in the entire world saw Bucky’s death coming – and, in case you hadn’t, Bucky even makes a point of announcing it midway through the issue when he says “What, you want to grow old and retire?”; there’s winking at the reader, and there’s flipping them off, and I’m genuinely not sure which this was. Also, Bucky’s death was one of the variant covers for the issue, released online before the issue actually came out – thereby spoiling the one “surprise” in the issue, it has to be pointed out: Nothing interesting really happened in this issue. We got lots of what should be filler material (That Hulk scene? Seriously, what was the point?), and four pages retreading last issue’s “transformation into the Worthy” scenes, only this time, it’s the Thing! And he can speak English, unlike the Hulk! And… Oh, I give up.

Unless you really, really care about Marvel minutae, this is a pointless series that’s so amazingly self-satisfied that it can’t see its own irrelevance. Bucky’s death aside, the major event of the issue is apparently “The Thing destroys Yancy Street!” Well… yes, but so what? The importance of Yancy Street isn’t explained anywhere in the book, so it’s meaningless, four pages that just seem like the other Worthy transformations and have no other impact. Everywhere else, characters tell you how important everything is (“Sir, we… you’re masterminding a global response to a cataclysm of unknown size and escalating intensity“), but it’s all weightless, a feeling not helped by characters who change their minds purely because the plot demands it (#1: Odin is pissed at Thor, pissed at the humans and leave Earth. #2: Odin gives a speech about why the Earth is screwed and how Asgard won’t get involved. #3: Odin lets Thor escape, go back to Earth to save the day and even gives him his hammer – “Here. You’ll need this. You can’t say your father never gave you anything,” he says, another smirky moment by Fraction that utterly undercuts whatever drama he was going for – and… why, exactly? Well, because Thor says “I wanna go” and Fraction needs him to rejoin the Avengers next issue. It’s just ridiculous).

Also: This is the end of the third issue – essentially halfway through the series – and I still don’t feel like we’ve really had anything explained to us beyond “There’s this guy that Odin is scared of, and he’s back, and he’s turning everyone into monsters with his magic hammers, and so that should stop.” Why is the series called Fear Itself? I have no idea (That’s not true, the tie-ins suggest there’s some kind of “fear wave” going around, but that’s not been mentioned anywhere in this series). Who is the villain, and what does he want? Similarly, no real idea. Why is he turning people into monsters with magic hammers? Again: Who knows. I’m all for mad ideas and moving past talky comics, but shouldn’t we have had some explanations by now? Or, failing that, more interesting things happening?

(I know, I know: That’s what the crossovers are for. Each issue ends with a handy key: “Follow The Thing’s rampage in Fear Itself: Spider-Man #3″ because, you know, having the core series do something with the bad guys it’s spent so many pages introducing would just be old-fashioned. I wonder what this will read like as a collection: “Hey! The Hulk’s gone bad! I can’t wait to see what happens next! Wait. Why doesn’t he show up again? Oh, never mind! The Thing has gone bad too! Man, I can’t wait until he… Hang on, he’s gone as well. What’s with all these Nazis? Stop showing me the Nazis!”)

In so many ways, this feels like it’s a parody of an event comic instead of the real thing. Fraction seems to be writing the whole thing ironically, inserting completely out-of-place dialogue in places that jolts you out of the experience and points out how stupid things are, and the plot just careers from event to event without any momentum. Really, truly Awful, and only saved from being Crap by the fact that Stuart Immonen and Laura Martin make it look far, far more beautiful than it has any right to be.

26 Responses to “ Fluff Itself: Graeme Gets Into Marvel’s Summer Event Book ”

  1. Thank you for the review. I agree with all your points. The art is very nice but the story is so insubstantial it makes me nostalgic for Civil War, Secret Invasion and even Siege. We’re half way through the series and it still reads like the prologue to a story that hasn’t started yet.

  2. Holy hell – I read the issue, and don’t remember Bucky dying!
    It’s quite possible I didn’t get to the end – may well have put it down to do something else – but that I didn’t remember to pick it up and keep reading is pretty damning in itself.
    I’ll have to give it another shot, though my hopes aren’t high (too not even remember I didn’t read it all… my brain unconsciously rejected it!)

    My question is – where were the heroes?
    Issue two ended with a cry of ‘where are they’, and from what I remember, the opening scene of number three had them fighting away.
    What happened inbetween?
    (And why didn’t they end #2 with a page of the heroes charging off into battle as the climax, rather than a question of where they were).

  3. — “this is a pointlesss series that’s so amazingly self-satisfied that it can’t see its own irrelevance.”

    Graeme, while I am in no way buying these books, I can’t help but agree.

    I may be an Old Guy, but comic events used to be an EVENT. They were the destination shopping of comics. You went there because the trip is what made it worth it. To succeed, they either needed to offer great spectacle and flash (not flashpoint — flash, as in HEROES ARE FIGHTING EACH OTHER!) or substance (the Anti-Monitor kills a bunch of folks, and continuity is dead! ZOMG!).

    Of the recent events, one and a half have worked because of flash (Civil War and maybe World War Hulk), and an equal number because of substance (Sinestro War and maybe No More Mutants). The rest, Amazons, Kryptons, Batman in time, Identities Crises or Disks, Killing kids at a footbal game because of the Aesir, Matt Murdoch gets eaten by a demon)…. well…..

    If the point of the ‘event’ is that it’s time for an event, you’ve hardly made your point. And Fear Itself has hardly made its point. And that’s why I’m not buying it.

  4. I’m wondering what’s wrong with me that I’ve found the series solid so far. Maybe I’m cutting Fraction too much slack because I’ve enjoyed so much of his previous work, I don’t know. I’ve wondered if that’s why I’ve tolerated the glacial pacing on his on-going Thor so far, too, to be honest. Maybe I’m just “in the tank” for the guy.

    I can’t say I’m as enthusiastic in my enjoyment of it as Graeme is in his disdain for it, nor can I say I’ve given it a lot of thought, but… hey, I don’t hate it! Maybe that will be enough to get a pull quote on the trade! I can say I’ve pretty much had blind faith that it’s totally going to go somewhere, which I can understand not everyone sharing. Maybe it also helps that I do read more Marvel comics than is probably healthy at the moment, and am getting some idea of a wider picture just because of that.

  5. Hell. Yes.
    If this is what’s meant to be the flagship book of the year, I think the question “why aren’t comics selling more?” needs to be replaced with “why are comics selling at all?”.

    I remain very interested in the next volume of Casanova, but I have a hard time figured out why material this bad is being considered acceptable by anyone.

  6. I only read the first issue but I bailed. Things happen more like dotpoints rather than a story. Odin beats up Thor then drags him away while everyone watches because it’s a family thing.


    Also, they should stop showing that baby being at press conferences. It’s ridiculous.

  7. I knew Bucky was supposed to die in this issue, and I read it, and thought “Oh, he’s not dead after all.” Because it just reads like any other “hero gets injured for token cliffhanger” scene. That’s how bad FEAR ITSELF is.

    Fraction still has a lot of goodwill from books like CASANOVA and IRON FIST, but seriously – THOR? UNCANNY X-MEN? And now FEAR ITSELF? I haven’t been reading his Iron Man, but has he completely lost the plot?

  8. Not completely, I rather liked his X-Men.

    I’ll read Iron Man when Gene Colan does it again.

  9. Aw, I had high hopes for this series. In a trade. Someday. If only because it’s NOT by Bendis, and I think Marvel needs to let some other folks try their hands at these things once in a while (World War Hulks being my favorite of ’em so far).

    Good point about wondering how it will read in trade. That’s how I read Seige, and it wasn’t even a story, just random events with little to no connection or context. If I didn’t work for a comics news site and hear about this stuff literally hours a day, it woulda been complete gibberish to me, instead of just mostly gibberish (Like, there was no evidence in the book that something in particular was happening at a particular point, but I would remember an interview with an editor or author explaining what was supposed to be happening there).

    Kinda like watching a foreign movie with no subtitles, and having a native speaker explain it to you later.

  10. Pretty much my reaction. After reading the first two issues, I still have no idea what’s at stake, what the book is about, WHO the book is meant to be about, why it’s called FEAR ITSELF, what the plot is meant to be, or why I should care about any of it. Immonen – who, I think, has done much better work, too – is totally wasted here.

    Frankly, the thought that this is by the same person who did CASANOVA makes me want to throw myself off a bridge. (Oh, and I still like INVINCIBLE IRON MAN, for what it’s worth, though it’s a lot fluffier and less focused now than it used to be in its first year.)

    I just hope Fraction is getting the biggest paycheck of his career for this crap. Creatively, he certainly isn’t doing himself any favors lately.

  11. A fairly common refrain is that today’s writing and artwork is “better” than it used to be. The truth is that, by and large, today’s comic creators are simply better at certain things which appeal to today’s audience while being not at all that good at other things which today’s audience doesn’t care about.

    Events like FEAR ITSELF are great examples of that. These sorts of books are inescapably plot-centric and far too many modern comic creators, especially the big names, can’t plot their way out of a paper bag. They can write individual scenes that are amazing, but structuring scene after scene toward a logical but still surprising conclusion? It’s just beyond them.


  12. That’s one reason I’ve stopped reading superhero comics: you can’t deliver the entire home country getting annihilated every year like clockwork with the same cast.

    Or, rather, you can, in a fun pulp way, as long as the story doesn’t demand that we dwell on the PATHOS of the whole thing, that we purchase our FEELINGS about Captain America for ever-increasing amounts of money, that we bow down at the IMPORTANCE of what’s going on.

    Most writers can’t communicate the heft, weight, length, breadth, whatever of a domestic war in any way that isn’t crass or dumb – put ten or twelve writers on it through various books and you’re only multiplying the problem.

    Add capes, and Jesus Lord Almighty.

    If 24 couldn’t deliver on the strategy of “blow up the world once a year”, who the hell thinks that Spider-Man can?

  13. Wait, what? I read the first issue of this and then decided it wasn’t worth the money to continue, but Bucky died? Does this mean that Cap is going to go back to being guilt-ridden and angsty about how he wasn’t able to save Bucky? Really? Geez. What a waste of several years of Brubaker’s story in Captain America. I’m stunned. I guess I won’t have to pick up anymore Captain America trades to see what happens next as at this point I just don’t care.

  14. The problem is, good writing requires time, patience and focus. You can’t write 80 pages of comics per month and have it all be quality work. You can’t “coordinate” your story with 20 other people and still have it contain any meaningful expression of inspired creativity.

    It’s just not doable.

    Simply put, most writers are stuck today. To get better at their profession, or even to not get worse, they need to find a better approach to their work than the ones currently offered by Marvel and DC. Otherwise, quality writing is pretty much impossible by design.

    You can’t even blame Fraction and company. They can either take their time to produce the best work possible, or they can turn in things like FEAR ITSELF and make some money instead.

  15. “Fear Itself” is SO Marvel: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

  16. Yes, big bad Marvel is corrupting yet another poor, previously talented “independent” writer.

    I have only read the first issue, and liked it well enough. But to say you hate the series and then absolve Fraction of any responsibility for it is ridiculous. He wrote it, his name is all over it, and he hasn’t disowned it so if you don’t like the series it is on him.

  17. I’ve read all three issues so far and thought they were. . . okay. Now, though, I’m not so sure. I finished issue No. 3 and put it away. Some time over the weekend, I was reading coverage of various panels from Heroes Con and there was one featuring Fraction. How odd it was to read that he was gleeful that he got to kill Bucky-Cap in his event. I’d just read the issue and had no idea Bucky was supposed to be dead. I’d only thought he was fake wounded enough to bring us back next issue.

    If the writing’s that bad, I’m going to be rethinking my position on the whole thing.

  18. … wait– there’s a fear wave that’s been going on this entire time?

    Also: the cover to the new CASANOVA is beautiful.

  19. “He wrote it, his name is all over it, and he hasn’t disowned it so if you don’t like the series it is on him.”

    Sure it is. But the point is, the current set-up of the company, as opposed to the way writers at Marvel were able to run their books from 2001 through 2004, doesn’t really allow for a much different approach to books like FEAR ITSELF or UNCANNY X-MEN. There’s too much crap involved that gets in the way of the actual story.

  20. And yet Mike Carey and (thus far) Kieron Gillen seem to have got by. I don’t think anyone expects Fraction to do his best work on X-Men, but it really didn’t seem to be for him. Fear Itself is bad on a number of levels that can’t be blamed entirely on the remit – failure to establish the premise, or to convey what was happening at the end of issue 3, for example.

  21. Sounds like mainstream American comics’ weird Peter Principle at work… to succeed in this industry, you’ve gotta write superheroes, even if you openly dislike the tropes (see Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis) or if your talents and best work clearly lie in other genres (see Rucka, Brubaker, Bendis, Jason Aaron, Azzarello, Fraction, etc., etc., etc.).

  22. Waaaaait a minute….I’m dead? I’m confused because I thought I was strapped to some commie Manchurian table in Russia. Seriously though, are you sure I didn’t just lose my arm. Don’t tell me I was brought back to replace The Man and carry my own title for years only to get killed in a MEANINGLESS “event” without a splash page to mourn my passing.

  23. Paul:

    “And yet Mike Carey and (thus far) Kieron Gillen seem to have got by. I don’t think anyone expects Fraction to do his best work on X-Men, but it really didn’t seem to be for him.”

    I don’t think anybody expects anybody to do their best work on X-MEN. Which I don’t think needs to be the case. Morrison’s X-MEN doesn’t have to hide behind his other work, for instance. That’s mainly down to Morrison being Morrison, of course but also to the fact that Marvel LET Morrison be Morrison.

    I don’t think they’d do that right now.

    And while I haven’t yet summed up the courage to give Gillen’s X-Men stuff a look, I disagree as far as Carey is concerned. His X-MEN work quickly turned into a soulless grind. Much better crafted than FEAR ITSELF, certainly, but still a waste of a perfectly good talent.

    It wasn’t much different with Brubaker, either.

  24. Ironically, on another podcast I listen to, one of the hosts had an opportunity to speak with Fraction at Emerald City (not on tape, though) and was excited to hear from Fraction that with Fear Itself, one would not have to read any of the spinoffs to get the story.

    Thanks for the review Graeme. I’m glad I kept that $3.99 in my pocket.


  25. C’mon, Bucky, you can do it. After all, you only got your bionic arm ripped off and a gaping hole ripped into your chest! C’mon! We’ve seen worse.

    Sheessh! Bucky makes so much more of an impression as Cap than Cap ever did, it’s such a sad state of affairs when they have to go to this level. Ugh! I’m outta here.

  26. I thought the 3 issues so far were ok, but not as great as I was hoping. I think Marvel has kind of latched on to having their events be so simple to sum up (Civil War – hero vs hero, Secret Invasion – Skrulls Invade, Siege – Fall of Asgard) that this one seems pretty stretched out (possessed villains cause fear by wreaking havok with Thor hammers!) to be a real EVENT. I also thought they tried too hard in issue one to play up the relevance angle.

    The art is very good, though! I remain hopeful future issues kick things up a notch.

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