by Ed Brubaker (writer), Scot Eaton (pencils), Mark Morales (inks), Sunny Gho (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: Sin seeks an ancient weapon from her father’s past.

The Review: I’m often a bit wary when it comes to “prologue” issues.  Will I get a solid comic and a sign of things to come, or will I get a cash-in/extended advertisement?  Thankfully, Ed Brubaker’s Book of the Skull is entirely the former.

The script that Brubaker turns in for this one is rock solid.  While it’s largely Brubaker doing something he excels at (an old school, WWII Invaders story), it also sees him stepping outside the box, dabbling in a storyline that has occult elements.  The combination of Nazis and paranormal summoning almost feels Mike Mignola-esque.  The combination also makes the read a comfortable one, due it being a familiar Brubaker setting, but not boring or overly safe.

Tone-wise, Brubaker absolutely nails all of his characters’ voices, with each getting their moment.  Bucky battling a giant monster is a piece of the comedic charm that works so well for the character.  Namor’s rage is similarly well-portrayed, and his reaction to the tragedy that befalls his fellow Atlanteans in this issue is eloquent and restrained in execution.  Then there’s the Red Skull.  I’ll admit that I’m a Herr Skull fan and, while he’s not been dead long, it was fantastic seeing him again.  His ruthless arrogance and cackling villain persona is always awesome.

Then there’s Sin, who Brubaker continues to carve out as a unique, compelling villain.  She brings that same arrogance and ambition that distinguished her father, but injects a good amount of rabid insanity that is all her own.  Brubaker has always excelled at internal monologues, as he’s always been able to get into his characters’ heads in gritty fashion.  Seeing him give Sin this treatment this month is a real treat, though its never verbose or overwritten.  Her interaction with Baron Zemo is also solid, and a really weird team-up, leading to a parting of ways that hints at cool stuff to come.

Scot Eaton’s work is also really fantastic here.  It’s full of character and detail and is hard to find any real fault with.  Sunny Gho also brings much to the book that he brought to Secret Warriors, lending the book a dusty look that works well to enhance the spy flavor.  Together, the look is dynamic and, well, really Marvel comic book-y, if that makes any sense.

If there’s one problem I have with this issue, it’s how it functions as a prologue.  On the one hand, the very fact that this was a very well-written comic book with strong artwork is enough to lend excitement to Fear Itself, regardless of the fact that the creative team is entirely different.  The fact that this is a good book with “Fear Itself” on the cover is enough to make me happier about the event than I was going in.  On the other hand, I don’t feel like I know all that much more about Fear Itself than I did going in.  I know there’s a book, and there’s a weapon that Red Skull summoned up.  That is literally it.  It’s just a fun, largely WWII adventure at its heart.

Conclusion: Though I’ve come to not expect much from prologue issues, this was pretty good.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans