Project 365: One Comic Every Day, Week 41

The premise is simple: read one comic every day for the entire year. It seems like a simple task but there is no way that I read 365 comics last year, even if you count the individual issues in collections. So, this year, I am committing myself to this reading challenge, in the hope that I can broaden my reading habits and fully engage with my favorite hobby again.

Gen V is delighting superhero fans on Prime TV with its mix of fascinating character work, twisted takes on superhero powers, and violent action sequences. It is a series that manages to deal with serious subjects, such as self harm and eating disorders, while also engaging in a superhero discourse, and still finds time to be funny and entertaining. Whether or not the series can maintain its momentum will have to be seen, but for now Gen V is great television.

We have also entered the Halloween season. So, mixing superhero stories and horror is where I wanted to go this week. I nearly read Marvel Zombies. I should have read Marvel Zombies but I couldn’t find the box they were in (I’ll keep looking). Instead I started reading the Marvel crossover/event story Fear Itself.

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Fear itself came out at a time when Marvel was running event stories at least once a year. Following on from the success of Civil War, the publisher just kept trying to recreate the excitement, drama, and tie-in potential, with more and more outlandish crossover events.

After Civil War came World War Hulk, an event I tried to re-read recently and faltered about a third of the way in. The central story was okay, Hulk hits things, but the tie-in comics were hard to read. They just weren’t engaging enough.

Then came Secret Invasion, leading into Dark Reign and Siege, until finally, we reach Fear Itself in April 2011. I was initially only going to read the main title but I realised I own about 20 of the tie-in issues so I’ve fed them in and, now I’m about a third of the way through.

Fear Itself book 1 and 2
Credit: Marvel Comics

Comic Number 279: Fear Itself #1-2

I read issues one and two before deciding to include extras so there are a number of comics that fit between these two.

Like all Marvel event stories, there appears to be a writers room of creators who all have their own titles that tie in with the main story, which is credited to one writer. For Fear Itself, Matt Fraction is the lead, with Stuart Immonen and Laura Martin on art duties. Strangely, Wade Von Grawbadger gets a credit on the cover but is not listed on the title page. (I assume this is a printing error as his name turns up in issue two)

According to Joe Quesada, Marvel’s Editor in Chief at the tie, Fear Itself was a reaction to real world events, especially the rise in terror attacks and alerts in the early 2000s, and this is clear from the opening couple of issues. Issue one starts with a riot in lower Manhattan and demonstrates S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ineffectiveness at handling such problems. Without a clear villain to punch in the face, the superheroes stand by and watch as civilians and the law enforcement clash. This chaos and sense of hopelessness is a foreshadowing for the superhero antics to come. Meanwhile Sin, the daughter of the Red Skull, takes her crew of Nazi’s to fight another group of Nazi’s so that she can get her hands on a magical hammer that will grant her astronomical power. Power enough to awaken the Serpent, a mythical villain of the Asgardians that only Odin seems to know about.

The result of Serpents awakening is that Odin leads the Asgardians off Earth, abandoning the Avengers to face the oncoming storm by themselves.

The over-sized first issue includes a lot of story, and a lot of conflict. The uncomfortable riot scene in the opening pages is reflected throughout as the comic seems to focus on internal fighting rather than fighting the good fight, or battling the enemy. Nazi fights Nazi, Asgardian fights Asgardian, and humans bicker among themselves. Matt Fraction is building a world of mistrust, fractured by general animosity. He is laying the groundwork for the fear that is to come.

Issue two has seven (I think) hammers crashing to Earth, each of which is found by a hero or villain. Picking up the hammer transforms them into an Asgardian-esque, angry, smashing machine. Just like the Hulk but with runes. What is noticeable from issue two, and I think this is exacerbated by the fact I only own a few of the 100+ tie-in comics, is the lack of story. The entire issue is a montage of recognizable characters picking up hammers. Without the impressive artwork, which captures the power of each transformation, this issue would be a washout. There is no depth to it and, as a reader, you know you’re missing the narrative from other comics.

Journey Into Mystery #623 and Invincible Iron Man #503
Credit: Marvel Comics

Comic Number 280: Journey Into Mystery #622 and Invincible Iron Man #503

After reading the first two issues of Fear Itself, I went back and filtered in the tie-in comics I have. These largely consist of Iron Man and Journey Into Mystery. I did, at one point, own a lot more of the tie-ins, such as Fear Itself: Spider-Man, Fear Itself: The Home Front, and Fear Itself: The Deep, but over time I have sold these off. I think that says something about my engagement with them.

Journey Into Mystery, however, is a definite keeper for me. This is because it is the start of Kieron Gillen’s run on the comic: an excellent and superbly orchestrated story with a very clear beginning, middle, and end. Gillen takes the overused villain Loki and transforms him into an empathetic character with a complicated history and future. The current interpretation of Loki used in the movies and on television owes a great debt to Gillen’s remodeling of the character. Kid Loki, as he comes to be known, is a genius character and the story that starts in issue #622 is a complex narrative that is more akin to a Sandman story arc than it is a Marvel Superhero.

Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man is also intriguing, as from this issue (and throughout Fear Itself) it deals with the characters reactions to the concept of death, whether that means the threat of or the actual physical experience. Fraction’s characters are placed in difficult situations and often react out of character as they try to deal, and even cheat, their fate. Unfortunately, the artwork in Invincible Iron Man is not always up to the task of conveying the strong emotional character acting. The visuals are dynamic but lack the nuance required for the complex discussions Fraction is trying to portray.

Journey Into Mystery #622
Credit: Marvel Comics

Comic Number 281: Journey Into Mystery #623

In which Gillen lays the groundwork for his run on the comic, albeit subtly and symbolically, just like Jonathan Hickman likes to do.

It also contains one of my favorite pages of artwork from this run. Doug Braithwaite’s painted style is magnificent and suits the epic, mythological tale that Gillen is weaving. And page eleven of this story is such a simple page but has a massive impact on me. There is something about the stacked panels and the slow zoom into the character, in this case Ikol the magpie, that packs a big punch. Braithwaite draws you into the page, into the moment and you can feel the suddenness of Loki’s arm appearing in the final panel. Despite the panel being on view from the page turn, it still has a visual impact. We see Loki leap into the pit, and the anticipation grows over the next four panels, getting ever tenser as the image tightens up on Ikol.

This is superb visual storytelling. I’ve almost forgotten what the comic was about.

American Psycho #1
Credit: Sumerian Comics

Comic Number 282: American Psycho #1

A break from Fear Itself to read a brand new comic from Sumerian Comics. American Psycho is a comic that I have very conflicting views on.

Firstly, the writing by Michael Calero is very good. The introductory voice-over resonates with Bret Easton Ellis’ original novel and lulls the reader into incorrect assumptions about the narrative. Coupled with the amazing artwork of Piotr Kowalski, the imagery and atmosphere created throughout this first issue is tangible and often unsettling. The subject matter is, as you would expect, difficult and not for the faint hearted.

And then there is a twist. When the twist comes, it doesn’t change the quality of the writing or artwork but it does frustrate me . This is because it seems to fundamentally misunderstand the original source material, just like the sequel to the Christian Bale movie. I don’t want to spoil the comic for anyone who is going to read it, but Patrick Bateman is the most unreliable of unreliable narrators, and by providing a third person perspective on the events it incorrectly interprets the narrative. This almost becomes a What If..? comic where the ‘what if’ reinforces a misunderstanding of the original text.

If this comic wasn’t linked to American Psycho, it would be easier to enjoy. But by making that connection, the creators are purposefully wanting the reader to link this to the other iterations, especially the movie version because throughout this Bateman looks exactly like Christian Bale. This is a sequel and is written with that in mind, but it contradicts the original in an important way. Unless, of course, there are to be more twists and turns and the reliability of the new narrator is as questionable as Bateman himself. In which case, this comic could become something quite special.

I think I’ve talked myself into liking this comic.

Invincible Iron Man #504-505
Credit: Marvel Comics

Comic Number 283: Invincible Iron Man #504 – 505

Tony Stark goes to Paris and fights an enhanced Grey Gargoyle. Don’t know who the Grey Gargoyle is? I don’t think it matters; I’ve never come across him before. In this story he has the ability to turn those he looks upon into stone. This causes problems when Iron Man battles him because they just keep smashing these statues to pieces.

This story allows Fraction to confront the cost of Iron Man’s battles and the lives that are lost. It’s interesting to note that the death of thousands of Parisians, although lamented, becomes a lesser tragedy than the death of a single member of the Iron Man cast. And not even a prominent member at that.

These two issues tie in directly with the larger story in Fear Itself, and the sense of terror that is a part of that narrative is prominent in both of these comics.

Fear Itself #3
Credit: Marvel Comics

Comic Number 284: Fear Itself #3

Technically Fear Itself #3 comes between the two Iron Man comics mentioned above but I don’t think it matters. At this point in the narrative, there is no sense of connection between a lot of the events that are going on. It’s like the writers had some good ideas about scenes that would look cool but didn’t know how to link them.

I’m being harsh. The purpose of this event is to entertain. They pepper the narrative with some clunky real world issues but that element doesn’t land very well. After the initial riot scene in issue one, a scene that narratively has nothing to do with the rest of the comic but is a tone setter, none of the conflicts have a meaningful impact outside of the superheroes the story focuses on. However, the hero-on-hero action is exactly what the readers of this type of comic want. Their scenes are big and brash; violent and destructive; cinematic and shocking.

So far Fear Itself has done what the Marvel Cinematic Universe has done over the last decade and a half: told tales of extravagance and excitement with characters that are larger than life.

Creepshow Vol 2 #2
Credit: Image Comics

Comic Number 285: Creepshow Vol 2 #2

Halloween is approaching and I have some great horror-themed comics ready to read. To be fair, I always have horror-themed comics ready to read, but this month I have a good excuse.

I’ve been enjoying the new Creepshow comics. The creators involved have been impressive and featured some of my favorite names, such as Becky Cloonan. This month is no exception with a beautifully chilling ghost story from Dan Watters and Abigail Larson. It has a creepy yet poetic narrator slowly unraveling the tale over carefully constructed images. Even the gutters are used to express the slow descent of the situation.

The opening story by Michael Walsh and Pat Brosseau is equally clever, misleading the reader through composition and expertly placed shadows. Although, in the end, this strip is more direct and grotesque with a final panel that will haunt me.

It’s been a good reading week, all said and done. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make it through more of Fear Itself next week and not be distracted by some real horror comics.

Darryll Robson
Darryll Robson
Comic book reader, reviewer and critic. A student of Comics Studies and still patiently waiting for the day they announce 'Doctor Who on The Planet of the Apes'.