This issue opens on The Avengers carrying a seriously wounded Thor through the war torn streets of New York City. Last issue, Thor was almost killed taking down the hammer-wielding and possessed versions of the Hulk and the Thing. Now, the Avengers bring the thunder god to Heimdall’s Observatory to be transported to Asgard where his father Odin can heal him, and Immonen gives us a great double page spread of the ruins of Avengers Tower. Fraction is showing the Avengers at their worst: their most powerful member is at death’s door, they’ve been bested by an evil god that appears to be succeeding in his plan to destroy the world, and this looks like a situation that can’t possibly end well for the Marvel Universe. Despite the fact that we know the Avengers will inevitably figure a way out of this pickle, as they have for decades, Fraction still makes it seem like now is the time to despair, and this might actually be a threat too difficult for our heroes to overcome.
While Captain America and a core team of Avengers accompany Thor to Asgard, Luke Cage stays behind to evacuate New York City with his own team. Fraction transitions to Asgard, and Immonen’s depiction of the world of the Norse gods is stunning. He illustrates the armies of Asgard, its towering spires and castles, and its godly denizens with a quality of ethereal beauty and ancient majesty that captures the essence of the Asgardian realm.
We see in Asgard that Odin has assembled an army to destroy Earth before The Serpent (his brother) can use the planet to control the World Tree. Captain America arrives in Asgard and confronts Odin. He demands that Odin “fix” Thor, and Fraction has the super soldier display just the right amount of bravado in the face of an unimaginably powerful god who is threatening to obliterate Earth. Instead of cowering before Odin’s army, Captain America, the soldier who stormed the beaches of Normandy and personally fought off the Nazis, simply shouts, “You’re gonna need more guys” at the patriarch of the Norse pantheon. It’s an awesome line that gives the reader the sense that Captain America is a hero who doesn’t relent, even when threatened with the very likely destruction of his entire world.
Odin teleports Captain America and his Avengers back to Earth, and we learn that they plan on evacuating the entire planet instead of just NYC. In the scene that follows, Fraction writes a series of captions featuring news reports of a world consumed by fear. It’s here that I think Fear Itselfreally becomes interesting, not with the possessed versions of the Hulk, the Thing, and the rest. Fraction’s Marvel Universe as a world dominated by terror is earily like our own: it becomes apparent when reading headline snippets such as, “Food riots reported in seventeen American cities tonight…”, “In response to North Korean military levels increasing in the Yellow Sea…”, and “Suicide bombers simultaneously detonated devices in a crowded downtown…” that Fraction is describing a world ravaged by the sort of fear and upheaval that the reader could easily imagine taking hold in the not-too-distant future. Fraction is offering a compelling commentary on the state of the real world, and this should have been emphasized more than the comparitively simplistic idea of giving out Uru hammers like party favors.
While I wouldn’t call Fear Itself a bad crossover, or even an unenjoyable one, I have to admit that something about the series has failed to impress me until this penultimate issue. Even though both Immonen and Fraction are among the most talented artists at Marvel, their crossover event didn’t interest me with its unfamiliar fear god antagonist and the lackluster idea of handing out Mjolnir knock offs. However, I think that this issue stands above the rest, as we see a Marvel Universe dominated by fear and on the brink of destruction. Fraction seems to be modeling the atmosphere of the world in Fear Itself after the fear and hysteria that we see far too often in the real world, and it’s an interesting concept to build a comic event around. Overall, this issue is illustrated beautifully by Immonen and written well by Fraction, and I’d recommend it even to readers who haven’t been following Fear Itself.