Bendis’ Avengers: Fear Itself

After a streak of exciting events at Marvel, Fear Itself filled me with considerable hype. It seemed like the whole Marvel Universe was going to be affected by this event, including the Avengers, the X-Men, and even the gods of Asgard. The whole premise of Fear Itself was unclear to me at the time, yet the teaser images that Marvel released left me intrigued. Ominous images showcasing different heroes and their respective fears got me very excited about Fear Itself. This event seemed like it would be a very personal look at Marvel’s heroes. Moreover, the character designs of “the worthy”, the villains of the story, were both beautiful and intimidating. The villains’ massive hammers and looming figures portrayed a seemingly unstoppable group of monsters, leaving me curious as to who could stop them. Additionally, the designs for the heroes’ defense armor were very cool. I couldn’t wait to see the likes of Spider-Man and Wolverine go into action with these bright and colorful new weapons. Most of all, I remember Fear Itself as a great event for both Captain America and Thor. Both Avengers received plenty of big, crowd-pleasing moments, and it felt as if Fear Itself was centered around these two. While Fear Itself was written by Matt Fraction, it still connects to Bendis’ Avengers run.

Fear on the horizon…

In the context of Bendis’ Avengers, Fear Itself takes place during the Heroic Age. For the first time since Avengers Disassembled, it was a great time to be an Avenger. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes were bigger and better than ever, including many heroes across the Avengers, New Avengers, Secret Avengers, and Avengers Academy. Becoming such a widespread enterprise, the Avengers had never been in a better place. None of this would be possible, however, without Steve Rogers, the former Captain America. Relinquishing the shield and title to his former sidekick, Bucky, Rogers became the new “top cop” of the world. Placing Rogers in charge of global security not only made the world a much safer place, it also made life easier for costumed superheroes. Rogers himself, while unaccustomed to such a political position, could not have been happier with his role in global security. Alongside this brave new world stood Asgard, the home of the norse gods. This fabled land hovered above Broxton, Oklahoma, and the gods coexisted peacefully with humankind. Following the events of Siege, Tony Stark and his company were even helping the gods rebuild Asgard. Times had never seemed more optimistic in the Marvel Universe.

Avengers Assembled for a better future

The purpose of Fear Itself, then, is to challenge the security and optimism of the Heroic Age. Sin, the Red Skull’s daughter, unleashes a long-hidden Asgardian deity on the Earth: Cul, aka the Serpent, the god of fear. Cul manipulates the pre-existing fears of humanity, spreading panic and uncertainty across the globe. Additionally, seven hammers fall from the sky, finding and possessing several heroes and villains. These characters are transformed into physical nightmares and servants of the Serpent, wreaking havoc on the Earth. The Serpent is also destined to battle and kill Thor, eager to fulfill his purpose. Fearing for the safety of the Asgardians and his own son, Odin transports Asgard off of Earth, abandoning the humans. Despite Thor’s protests, the god of thunder is forcibly removed from Earth. Left to fend for themselves, the Avengers fight a desperate battle against Sin and the Serpent. All the while, the Avengers’ own fears are challenged, suffering considerable losses during their war with the Serpent.

Gods and Nazis

Out of all of the Avengers, Steve Rogers suffers the largest crisis of faith during Fear Itself. Indeed, from the very beginning, Rogers must deal with riots consisting of ordinary people who have given into their anger and fears. Rogers’ position as the world’s “top cop” is slowly becoming a considerable burden on the former Captain America. Compounding Rogers’ difficulties is the abandonment he faces by the Asgardians. When an overwhelming force such as the Serpent invades the planet, losing humanity’s most powerful allies essentially cripples global security. In the face of the Serpent’s attack, only the Avengers remain. Yet Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are not enough to stave off this attack, as their forces are spread far too thin around the world. Coordinating defense around this overwhelming assault often leaves Rogers uncertain about humanity’s chances. Indeed, in one scene, Rogers plainly says, “We’re going to lose”. It’s only when Bucky is killed that Rogers realizes what he must do. In order to restore humanity’s faith in heroes and combat their fears, Rogers takes up the mantle of Captain America once more. Putting on the stars and stripes again, Cap uses hope to fight fear. Rogers gathers a militia of civilians, rallying ordinary people through his own inspirational leadership and symbolism. In the end, when Rogers lifts Thor’s hammer, he exemplifies the triumph of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming odds.

Just like the founding fathers!

It’s this human spirit which, oddly enough, drives Thor. Despite being a god, Thor holds a special fondness for Earth. Indeed, placing Asgard eight feet above his adoptive home-world indicates Earth’s importance to Thor. The attachment which Thor feels towards Earth is largely why he fights so fiercely to remain and fight against the Serpent. Thor fights a battle on two fronts: facing the worthy, in defense of Earth, and confronting his own father, Odin, simply to leave Asgard and return to Earth. During both of these battles, Thor demonstrates an indomitable will, raw power, and even a crafty mind. For example, when Thor is imprisoned on Asgard, he works with his brother, Loki, to escape the fabled land and return to Earth. Thor also manages to fight off two of the worthy at once: the possessed heroes the Hulk and the Thing. Taking on the Asgardian-enhanced forms of these already-powerful Marvel heroes illustrate’s Thor’s strength and dedication to humanity’s defense. Even when the people of Earth turn on him, blaming Asgard for the Serpent’s invasion, Thor continues to defend humanity. Furthermore, Thor fights on despite the prophecy of his demise at the Serpent’s hands. Choosing to fight and die as a man on Earth, Thor confronts his fears on all sides.

Get ready to feel the thunder

None of the fears so far, however, are demonstrated on as personal a level as those of Tony Stark/Iron Man. Stark begins the story full of hope and idealism. Ever the futurist, Stark specializes in engineering, inspiring hope through the world he creates. For example, the project to rebuild Asgard, uniting gods and humans, all comes from Stark’s vision. Yet, as an engineer, Stark is finally confronted with a problem which his own ingenuity cannot fix. Every attempted solution towards the Serpent fails, rendering Stark’s Earthly methods useless. At the end of his rope, Stark finds that he must give in to the gods, humbling himself in front of Odin. Stark not only begs for Odin’s help, he even offers a sacrifice, relinquishing his sobriety in exchange for Asgardian aid. This is a powerful move, as Stark’s most personal demon is his alcoholism. Sacrificing his sobriety shows how far Stark is willing to go in the name of humankind. Stark’s act of faith pays off, uniting a man of science with the gods. Together, Stark and Odin combine the ingenuity of Earth with the weaponry of Asgard. Stark uses his talent for building to build Asgardian weapons against the Serpent’s forces. Giving in to the fantastical elements of Asgard and facing his inner demons, Stark creates a defense for Earth.

Going to work with the gods

Of course, it takes a while for Odin to assist in Earth’s defense. During Fear Itself, Odin is depicted as very apathetic towards humans. In fact, Odin is unsettled by Thor’s choice to place Asgard on Earth in the first place. There is a sense of superiority with which Odin carries himself, seeing men as petty ants compared to the glory of the gods. Odin is a very old-fashioned, cynical old man, accustomed to living high above humanity. For this reason, Odin’s mass exodus of Asgard from Earth can easily be seen as a sign of heartlessness. Certainly, Odin does not particularly show any affection towards humanity. Yet, overall, it is fear which drives Odin to abandon Earth. Specifically, the fear of losing Thor to the prophecy. There is a well hidden love that Odin harbors for his son, keeping Thor in chains for the thunder god’s own good. Despite his rough exterior, Odin is simply a father who is scared for his child. Witnessing the defiance of Thor and the Avengers, however, Odin is encouraged to confront his fears. Realizing that Thor will not stop fighting, Odin helps his son as much as he can. Working with Stark to build weapons of defense, Odin comes around to protecting the Earth, at least for Thor’s sake.

That’s racist

The rest of the cast is written pretty well. Bucky is given a good send-off, although Fear Itself does interfere with Ed Brubaker’s run on the character in Captain America. Indeed, it’s frustrating that Bucky was killed off during a bigger event, outside of his own title. This move limits the future for Brubaker’s Captain America considerably. It feels as if Bucky never really had a chance to explore his role as Captain America, especially on the Avengers. Killing Bucky also has little purpose outside of getting Steve Rogers back into the Captain America role. Still, Bucky’s final fight is very well written, especially when he finally yells “Avengers Assemble!” Bucky’s last stand against Sin does much to show his fighting spirit, something which would have been nice to see during Bendis’ Avengers. As a whole, it’s a shame that Bucky was killed so soon, with barely any time to grow into the Captain America role. I also think that Fraction writes Spider-Man very well, placing him in the “every-man” role once again. The scene where Spider-Man frantically searches for his Aunt May is a very human and relatable moment. The web-slinger’s interaction with his aunt is both touching and inspiring, motivating Spider-Man to re-enter the fight with his fellow Avengers. As a whole, the Avengers play a decent role throughout Fear Itself. The team operates like a well-oiled machine, constantly trying to preserve the peace. The size and diversity of the team says a lot about how far the Avengers have come during Bendis’ run. There isn’t any room for individual character moments, but the Avengers are still the well-assembled unit of heroes they’ve always been.

Going down swinging

Obviously, with a title like Fear Itself, fear is going to factor into the story. Indeed, it is the god of fear who invades the Earth, hinting at the theme in quite an unsubtle manner. The Serpent is a manifestation of Odin’s fears coming back to haunt everyone. Odin locked the Serpent away, yet the god still returned, illustrating how you cannot hide from fear. Rather, people must confront their fears head on. In the end, after spending so much of the story running from the Serpent, Odin finally decides to face him, uniting the forces of Asgard alongside humankind. Without the example set by Thor and the Avengers, Odin would never have faced his fears in the first place. Captain America confronts his fears by returning to his roots, Iron Man relinquishes control of his sobriety, and Thor faces death itself. In the end, the heroes look fear in the eye and fight back. In order to combat fear, the heroes use another primal weapon: hope. The hope which the Avengers instill in others is essentially weaponized when Stark creates Asgardian armor to combat the worthy. During the final battle, the heroes shine brightly, as news reports capture their inspirational actions on camera. Captain America lifts Thor’s hammer, indicative of the near-divine hope which heroes can instill upon others. Indeed, ordinary people stand with Captain America as a militia, inspired by the return of the legendary Steve Rogers to the role. The hope which the Avengers bring bridges the gap between gods and men. Throughout Fear Itself, Fraction examines the place of gods on Earth. While Odin is adamantly against the coexistence of gods and men, abandoning the Earth, Thor acts as a bridge between the two worlds. Despite being a god, Thor tells Odin that he chooses to be a man, fighting alongside his fellow Avengers. The Avengers themselves also stand as this middle ground, standing up for humanity as more than humans, yet less than gods. In the end, the Asgardian armor which the heroes wear indicates the middle ground between gods and men. Instilling hope in order to combat fear, the Avengers bridge the gap between mortals and immortals.

Asgardians, Assemble?

While Fear Itself has some nice ideas, the plot itself is fairly muddled. The main mini-series could have been significantly shorter and more focused. For example, much of Fear Itself jumps between many different settings, mainly to establish more tie-ins. The series generally lacks a focus on one central plotline, instead cutting from moment to moment. Seeing the hammers fall, one by one, reaching the worthy, takes up way too much time, doing very minimal for the overall plot. Even though Fear Itself does not feel like a cohesive storyline, there are still some great moments. Captain America lifting Thor’s hammer is inspirational, Bucky’s last stand is well written, Spider-Man and Aunt May’s conversation is sweet, but all of these moments seem strung together. None of the story feels connected, other than through mindless chaos and violence around the world. The story, overall, feels lackluster. Especially when asking the question: “what purpose does this story serve to the Marvel Universe”, I find that I have no real answer. The first and last issues of Fear Itself are fairly straightforward, establishing a premise and delivering a satisfying climax. Yet everything in-between is quite jumbled, losing the message of the story in between giant action scenes and irrelevant side-plots. Overall, Fear Itself tends to lose its way throughout its narrative

Pretty cool, out of context

Ultimately, considering the plot’s lack of coherence, Fear Itself‘s ideas even come off as quite lackluster. The story does not do much to explore the themes which Fraction establishes. Fear, as a main idea, is never very compelling, as the story isn’t as personal or character-focused as it should be. Characters like Captain America and Thor receive the most focus, and even then, it feels quite surface-level. The general idea of fear being overcome by hope is also quite generic, lacking in any real originality or creativity. I wish that Fraction had explored more of the division between gods and men, particularly when it comes to the role of gods on Earth. This theme is much more compelling than fear, and full of rich potential. I must admit, the artwork by Stuart Immonen is fantastic. Fear Itself is propelled much higher in quality due to Immonen’s pencils. The action scenes, especially, are entertaining to read. In particular, the fight between Thor and the Hulk/The Thing, and the final fight are both gorgeously rendered. There are plenty of great moments, which Immonen illustrates beautifully, but ultimately, Fear Itself seems pointless as an event. No real consequences come out of Fear Itself. Bucky is later revealed to be alive, removing the weight of his sacrifice, and Thor returns to life very soon after this event. The only real purpose of Fear Itself seemed to be making Steve Rogers Captain America again, just in time for his 2011 film debut in Captain America: the First Avenger. Fear Itself had potential, but overall, the event feels like a moderately entertaining waste of time.

So, what did this have to do with fear again?

The most substantial thing to come out of Fear Itself was the return of Steve Rogers as Captain America. In the pages of the Avengers, Rogers will become the team leader once again, finally returning to field duty. Additionally, Rogers’ return to the shield will make him a public figure for the team, communicating with the public and saving the world all at once. On a lesser note, Thor will be off the Avengers for a little while, at least until Avengers vs. X-Men, only a few months later. It’s weird to think that Thor even died, considering he’s gone from the pages of Avengers for such a short time. This death also does nothing for the character, since he essentially returns to life the same as he was before. Perhaps on a subtle level, Fear Itself introduces the re-emerging public fears and mistrust of superhumans. This mistrust does play a major role in Avengers and New Avengers, when Norman Osborn returns. Osborn will manipulate the media against the Avengers, attempting to reassert his position of authority from Dark Reign. While Osborn’s attempt is ultimately unsuccessful, PR issues will be a recurring trope for the rest of Bendis’ Avengers run. This may be the most lasting, yet subtle, contribution of Fear Itself to Bendis’ Avengers.

“Okay, so nothing’s changed. See you all tomorrow!”

That’s all for today. What did you think of Fear Itself? Are there any real consequences of the event that you can think of? Let me know on Twitter, @book_column, and be sure to share this blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Check in tomorrow for my look at Bendis’ Avengers/New Avengers tie-ins to Fear Itself!

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