by Matt Fraction (writing), Stuart Immonen (pencils), Wade von Grawbadger (inks), Laura Martin (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story: Sin awakens an ancient power, Odin is happy about Thor and Tony’s plan to rebuild Asgard on Earth, and the Avengers try to find their place in a disillusioned and divided America.

The Review: In judging a comic book event, I often find myself seeking the balance between status quo and actual narrative.  What I mean by this is that weaker, or downright crappy, events often feel less like an actual story, and means to move the Marvel or DC Universe from point A to point B.

At the very least, Fear Itself #1 promises an event that avoids this pitfall.  It certainly isn’t a mere vehicle for simple status quo change;  Fear Itself presents itself as pure story, one that’s big and with a large cast, certainly, but a story nonetheless, not a mere marketing ploy or editorial shuffle, which makes it feel honest and more engaging.  Furthermore, in keeping it to one clear, concise story avoids the chaos that can result from such a large cast and setting.

Beyond that, there’s a definite sense of relevance to this comic.  It truly feels like a comic event that could only be written in 2010-2011.  In factoring current events and the climate of America into the comic, Fraction puts the “sort of real world” element of the Marvel Universe to good use, while also making a comic that feel a bit more real and important despite hammer wielding gods.  But this also reflects the other way around; much as Fraction uses superheroes to reflect on the social climate of our world, he also does the opposite as well.  There’s a sense of powerlessness in Fraction’s portrayal of the Avengers, faced with enemies like social issues, recession, and political tension, things that superheroes aren’t necessarily built for and certainly can’t be combated like a Dr. Doom or Galactus.  It’s a nice reflection on the nature, and limitations, of superheroes that make the story feel special.  They’re faced with things that they understand, but can’t really do much about, and end up left to wonder at the nature of their place in America.

With all of this in mind, Fraction tells a simple superhero comic book story that has both heart and sincerity.  That carries through to his writing of the actual plot as well; the tension and animosity between Thor and Odin is both violent and real.  It’s the sort of thing I wish we’d seen in his last couple of issues of Thor, solid character-work that it is.  The divide between the two has never been clearer, and Fraction does particularly good work on the rueful, frustrated, and hopeless Odin.

Art-wise, this is really rock solid work from Immonen, as you’d expect.  He does nothing technically wrong.  That said, I did feel that he’d toned down his cartoony style just a tad.

The biggest weakness, honestly, are the Sin portions of the issue.  With Fraction’s treatment of contemporary America and the role of superheroes, Sin’s dealing with ancient evils feels a little bit too straightforward.  It just doesn’t feel as special as the rest of what Fraction is getting at.  It steps back from the relevance and heart that the rest of the book has.  In fact, it’s’ so different in plot and tone from the rest of the book, that it feels oddly apart from the rest of the issue.  There’s a definite disjunction here and these portions of the book suffer from unavoidable and unflattering comparison, though they’re not actually bad.

Conclusion: Matt Fraction has an actual story to tell, which means this is a hell of a lot better than Siege #1.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans