Trouble with Comics

Fear Itself Tie-Ins

With the fourth of seven issues of the main Fear Itself miniseries published, we’re at the halfway point of Marvel’s latest event. I’ve actually been pretty impressed with how most of the ongoing series have been able to incorporate the storyline into their own series without completely losing their own plot threads or identity, while for the most part the tie-in miniseries, while not “necessary”, are pretty good, too.

Thunderbolts #160 by Jeff Parker/Declan Shalvey.

As The Raft supervillain prison island is rocked by the impact of one of the Seven Hammers and upgrade/escape of Juggernaut, I like the T-Bolts B Team biding their time for  when they attempt their own escape. It’s much smarter than usual supervillain behavior, and well in keeping with Thunderbolts tradition. I’m also really digging Shalvey’s art, which is somehow cartoonish, fragile, humorous and horrific at the same time. Bright future for that guy, maybe. I’ve always said that for a second-tier superteam book to work, you need not only a good writer but a distinctive artist. If I had any complaints about this issue or the recent issues of this series, it’s only that Luke Cage has dropped out of being the lead, but it’s really fine, as Parker has found good handles on Moonstone, Songbird, Ghost and the others. I even like Satana.

Heroes For Hire #9 by Dan Abnett/ & Andy Lanning/Kyle Hotz.

This one also takes place at and around The Raft, with a new monster created from a chemical spill and Killgrave the Purple Man using his powers to control a bunch of unnamed villains to protect him from capture. As is usual for the book, Misty Knight coordinates and seems not to understand when Paladin cannot fight and talk to her at the same time. The premise for the book is the same: Paladin joined by Marvel B-and-C-listers, in this case Gargoyle, Shroud, and used-to-be-somebody Elektra. An assassin like her is a bad fit for this rotating team, and Abnett/Lanning know this, having her receive twice her regular rate not to kill anybody. Not a great idea, and it leads me to think some of these characters are forced on the writers by editorial. Hotz isn’t an artist I’ve really liked much, as I find his exaggerated musclemen and pixieish women often don’t fit the tone of the material (a la Bret Blevins), but since there’s a big monster angle here, it works okay. Although DnA have done a nice job making Paladin interesting, the series is still struggling to stand out, and the lack of a consistent art team doesn’t help.

Uncanny X-Men #540 by Kieron Gillen/Greg Land.

What’s with all the Juggernaught love?? I get that he’s a good villain and the costume redesign is pretty cool (how do the six eyeholes work with a two-eyed guy again?), but it seems like some of the other “Worthy” are not getting as much attention. As Cyclops, who clearly should be relying on Warren or someone else to speak to civilians due to his lack of tact, tries to reassure the mayor that San Francisco’s safety while other major cities burn is not due to the X-Men making some sort of deal with the Norse menaces, Juggy shows up, turns a nobody into his herald, and threatens the decadent SF with destruction. I like the idea of the X-Men having to protect the city from a homophobic threat, but I think Gillen should have saved it for another day, as human sexuality seems well beneath the notice of these old Norse gods.

Fear Itself: The Home Front #1-3 (of 7) by Christos Gage/Mike Mayhew/Peter Milligan/Elia Bonetti/Howard Chaykin/Various.

Having a separate miniseries with short stories spotlighting non-essential characters affected by the main event is a solid idea, and one Marvel has done in the past. I think they get the most out of it here, with a fine Gage/Mayhew serial story that finds Speedball trying to make some sort of amends for the Stamford tragedy by working for the woman whose son he indirectly killed, at first in disguise and then openly once they come to terms. Good take on a character who has long been misused; he’s actually better here than in Gage’s own Avengers Academy. Still, Juggernaut again?! Milligan writes a decent Agents of Atlas adventure as they try to discern what the Red Skull and the Thule Society were doing by torturing Atlanteans in WWII. Jimmy Woo is cracking up due to fear and his relationship with Namora is not only out in the open but falling apart. Both stories take up most of the issue and present compelling emotional conflicts, unlike a lot of your typical tie-in nonsense that usually just fleshes out plot points that didn’t need it. Chaykin is given one or two pages per issue to tell curious little anecdotes that should shed light on the human side of Fear Itself but unfortunately are really forgettable and barely coherent. The final slot in each issue is given to a short by a different creative team. The third issue has an interesting, really downbeat Cardiac story by Ben McCool and Mike DelMundo. Not fantastic work from either, but good enough that it should hopefully lead to other opportunities.

Fear Itself: Fearsome Four #1 (of 4) by Brandon Montclare/Michael Wm. Kaluta/Ryan Bodunheim/Simon Bisley.

First, I’m happy for this relatively unknown Montclare guy that he gets to work with a couple big names in Kaluta and Bisley, even if neither are exactly going all-out on their artwork. I don’t really get why you have three artists with totally different styles on a linear, non-modular series, either, as the results are always jarring. The story is fairly ludicrous and another example of throwing some lesser heroes together for trademark servicing. Man-Thing is going nuts due to all the fear in the air, so his old buddy Howard the Duck recruits She-Hulk to help stop him. And then Nighthawk shows up, written as a grinning, psycho Batman, and then they see Frankenstein’s Monster, who does nothing but say, “leave me alone” as he punts Howard off the page. Other than having a decent take on the Howard/Man-Thing relationship, I’m not sure what Montclare is going for here, and none of the characters shine. Howard is deadly serious, which to me robs the character of much of his interest, and She-Hulk has no personality at all. I didn’t care for Bodunheim’s depiction, which is basically the movie version of Howard. Kaluta does fine, but drawing Nighthawk beating up thugs seems like a waste of his talents. Bisley shows up at the end, briefly drawing a classic Howard before reality warps and the entire tossed-together team is all buff and monstrous. Not a bad call to have Bisley draw this, but if they’re going to stay like this for long, the series will be in even worse shape than it started here.

—Christopher Allen