Monday, 11 April 2011

Review - Fear Itself Prologue: Book of the Skull & Fear Itself #1

Fear Itself is Marvel’s latest big crossover event. I was naive enough to think that Marvel was going to take a break from doing this sort of thing for a while, after several years of non-stop crossovers – House of M, DeciMation, Civil War, Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, Siege, etc. – but here they are again, and here I am again, falling for it like a big sucker. I should point out that I didn’t actually buy any of the above events, but I did read most of them, did get quite excited about a couple of them before they started, and was left disappointed by all of them. So why have I gone and broken blog rules by paying £2.55 each for these comics – comics that I wasn’t even aware existed until last week because I lost interest in the modern Marvel Universe altogether after Siege and haven’t even been reading their online solicitations recently? Err, I dunno. I just missed reading new Marvel comics and wanted to catch up, I suppose. But don’t worry, I have no intention of buying all the crossovers – I’m not counting ‘Book of the Skull’ as a crossover, but I wish I had because was quite boring – or getting back into buying any other new Marvel comics, I am just going to buy all seven issues of Fear Itself – so that you don’t have to – and then I will go back to abiding by blog rules and will never speak of this again...

So, as I said, Fear Itself Prologue: Book of the Skull, written by Ed Brubaker and pencilled by Scot Eaton, was quite boring and I wish I hadn’t bought it. I thought it might be essential to my understanding of the main series, but it really wasn’t. Like nearly every issue of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run that I ever read, it flashes between the present day and World War II. In the present day, the Red Skull’s daughter, Sin – who was quite pretty the last time I saw her in a comic but now looks like someone boiled her head in chip fat – and Baron Zemo – hasn’t Captain America beaten him yet? – break into one of the Red Skull’s old hideouts to recover an old spell-book that is bound in the blue skin of sacrificed Atlanteans. In WWII, the Red Skull used this spell-book to conjure up a magical weapon but didn’t quite get what he was expecting – he wanted an army or a god and instead got an unmovable hammer. He also got interrupted by the US army and the Invaders. Basically, the portion of this comic set in WWII read like a poor man’s version of the first issue of Hellboy, with a hammer playing the part of Hellboy, and the whole comic seemed rather dragged out, which reminded me why I eventually gave up on Brubaker’s good-but-boring Captain America run. The dialogue was surprisingly bad, too, and Scot Eaton’s art, while okay, was lacking in style and not really good enough for such a high profile book. Luckily, Fear Itself #1, written by Matt Fraction and pencilled by Stuart Immonen, was much better.

Fear Itself could easily be dismissed as a cynical event. I mean, both Captain America and Thor have big-budget movies coming out soon, and here we have an event that revolves around the daughter of Captain America’s greatest villain – no, not Batroc the Leaper! – and the Asgardian gods. However, it seems to flow on quite naturally from what I remember happening in Siege – apart from Sin getting a serious case of sunburn, has anything happened in the Marvel Universe since the end of Siege? – and so far it looks like it could be quite an enjoyable event. It starts in New York, with Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter caught up in a riot. The cause of this riot is most likely the building of a mosque near to ‘Ground Zero’ (something that was in the news a lot recently). At no point in the comic are the mosque or 9/11 mentioned, but it is implied, and the message (later summed up by Tony Stark) is simple: ordinary Americans are pissed off and frightened, and when ordinary Americans get pissed off and frightened, ‘all hell kinda breaks loose’.

The action then cuts to Antarctica, where the Nazis built a base around the hammer the Red Skull conjured up in ‘Book of the Skull’. Sin has dreamt that she is meant to wield the hammer and become queen of the world, and sure enough, she manages to pick it up and turns into someone called Skadi, in much the same way that Donald Blake turns into Thor.

My favourite part of this comic is the bit where the Avengers all go to Broxton, Oklahoma, home of the Asgardian gods ever since J. Michael Straczynski got his hands on Thor a few years ago, to launch Tony Stark’s new plan to stimulate the American economy. Basically, Stark Resilient intends to put nearly 5,000 people to work in Broxton – the first of many public works projects – rebuilding Asgard, which still lies in ruins following the end of Siege (honestly, nothing much at all seems to have happened in the Marvel Universe since the end of Siege – the ruins of Asgard are still smoking! – so I have probably chosen a pretty good jumping-back-on point). Being quite a dull fellow, I could quite happily read an entire series in which Tony Stark and the Avengers do nothing but apply Keynesian economics to the American economy, and would really like to see how this pans out – would Marvel dare show the economy in the MU prospering, thanks to Tony Stark, while the real-world economy continues to decline? – but this being a Marvel comic, it had to have some conflict in it, too. And being a Marvel comic published very near to the release date of the Thor movie, it had to have some Thor-related conflict!

Odin – isn’t he dead? – is not at all happy that humans are going to be allowed to have a hand in rebuilding Asgard and thinks that Thor has gone soft. After a brief battle, in which Thor gets his arse kicked, Odin robs Thor of his strength and leads the Asgardian gods – including a defeated Thor – away from Broxton, and indeed the Earthly realm (so much for those 5,000 jobs!). Unfortunately, this happens shortly after Sin / Skadi kicks some serpent arse and releases her father – not the Red Skull – from his prison at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The pair then head off to summon ‘The worthy’, who I presume we will get to meet in #2.

So far, Fear Itself seems like it could be a decent event, and while I have no intention of buying any of the various crossovers, and really wish I hadn’t bought ‘Book of the Skull’, I think I’ll stick with it. I could have done with less action and more economics – now that I’m in my 40s, people hitting each other doesn’t seem half as exciting as it used to – but hopefully Marvel will address this in future issues, and even if they don’t, at least I’ll get to look at some pretty pictures, as Stuart Immonen’s art here, as usual, is very good indeed.

As I said at the top of this review, I paid £2.55 each for these comics, which have a cover price of $3.99 each. I bought them on eBay, from A-Place-In-Space, and while £2.55 is more than twice the price I am allowed to pay for a comic published by any company with a Diamond-exclusive distribution deal, and I have well and truly broken blog rules on this occasion, I don’t think £2.55 was that unreasonable, considering that price included postage.


  1. I'm glad it wasn't a complete waste of your money.

    I will hopefully be reading these later in the week when my monthly Ace parcel arrives.

  2. Ah, Ace parcels. I remember them well, and keep getting tempted to go back to them, but I know I'd just end up spending a fortune if I did.