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

The Story: The Serpent shows a massive growth in power, and Thor returns to Midgard to make plans with some old friends.

What’s Good: While I’ve been fairly positive about Fear Itself thus far, I really did feel that with this issue, the plot has really showed momentum.  I think a good part of this development has to do with the fact that over the last three issues, Fraction has really spent a lot of time scene-setting and creating the status-quo for this event.  He needed to show that our heroes had their backs well and truly up against the wall against massive odds.  Last month, Bucky Barnes’ death was truly the final nail in the “shit just got real” coffin, and the scene setting was complete.

So when we see Fury, Thor, Black Widow, Steve, and Iron Man talking tactics and plans, there’s a really satisfying and comforting sense of the story becoming better defined and moving forward.  It’s as though while we’ve seen that things are bad, it’s this month where we start to learn what the Avengers plan on doing about it.  Hence, there’s more story and character than big action and explosions.

But there certainly are big explosions.  Immonen’s art is gorgeous and characterful as ever (and includes a couple of really cool layout decisions), but he and Fraction really hit the big notes well.  Thor’s literal fall to Midgard, Steve’s being back in the Captain America uniform, the Serpent’s transformation, and the holocaust inflicted on the Atlanteans all really hit home and come across as truly large and epic in scale.  There aren’t just blips in the plot, they’re the big occurrences that are the bread and butter of a successful comic book event.

Then there’s Tony’s sacrifice to Odin, which is certainly a surprise and striking in its own way.

Fraction also makes strides in rectifying one of Fear Itself’s weaknesses thus far: the Serpent.  Up to this point, the villain has felt a bit like a generic big bad, his powers and motivations being bland and his character and history unremarkable.  Fraction goes about explaining his relationship to Odin a bit more, while also detailing his plans and powers, and just why he is doing what he’s doing.  It’s nothing shocking or groundbreaking, but it goes a long way and gives Fear Itself a bit more depth and makes things more interesting.

What’s Not So Good: As I suppose can be expected with an issue 4 of a 7-part series, this is very much a transitory “middle issue.”  There aren’t any really huge occurrences like there have been over the last couple months and really, it feels like this issue was entirely designed with the intention of leading into next month.

On the one hand, that’s great.   With so much going on right now, all of it interesting and well-coordinated, and a really cool last page, I was left really, really wanting the next issue.   However, with so much going on, there ends up being so many cliffhangers that it ends up being a bit frustrating.  Sin is about to take her shot on Steve Rogers, Tony’s about to have his chat with Odin, and Thor is about to rumble with Hulk and the Thing.  The whole issue was spent getting these characters to these positions, only to leave them hanging until next month.  In other words, a transitional issue with big plot beats being started up but none concluded.

Conclusion: A really fantastic and exciting read that puts on display all the fun to be had in a big, superhero comic.  Oh, and for what it’s worth, I thought it was significantly better than Flashpoint #3.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans