Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Comics! Fear Itself Accelerates!

I know what-all I'm supposed to be noticing in this week's release of the 5th issue of Marvel's increasingly entertaining "Fear Itself" mini-series about an Asgardian super evil-god (who happens to be uncle to the mighty Thor) and his attempt to take over Earth by transforming a handful of heroes and villains into mindless, hammer-wielding agents of destruction. At the end of the previous issue, we saw several plot-lines cranking up the excitement: Captain America was charging into the fight to avenge his fallen friend and former sidekick Bucky, Tony Stark was sacrificing his hard-won sobriety merely to gain the listening ear of Thor's near-omnipotent father Odin, and Thor himself was squaring off against both the magically-transformed hammer-wielding Hulk but also the magically-transformed hammer-wielding Thing. This current issue has been billed for the last month as exactly what its title suggests: a mammoth brawl.

So I duly paid attention to Tony Stark's wonderfully testy dialogue with Odin ("I can't express to you how disappointed I am that you actually showed up")(which is met by the perfectly imperious, "You are a war-brother of my boy, Stark, and thus I grant you special dispensation. But don't push it"). And I duly paid attention to Thor's scenery-exploding battle with the possessed Hulk and the possessed Thing, which was done in the Stuart Immonen style to such perfection that I begin to wonder if Marvel currently has a better artist. When Thor blasts his hammer right through the possessed Thing, he's fairly businesslike about it, noting that things are different with the possessed Hulk ("And him I liked. But you? You were always a giant pain in the ass")(a far cry from the Stan Lee style 'thees' and 'thous' of cherished memory). And I duly paid attention when the mad god bad guy shatters Cap's supposedly indestructible shield like cheap china (difficult to get worked up about it, since this is the third time in thirty years Marvel's pulled that particular surprise).

But despite all that, I couldn't help feeling distracted by one other scene, one that wasn't heralded by the fanboy press but is in its own way far more significant, in terms of Marvel continuity. The possessed Thing lies dying, and his 'niece' and 'nephew' Franklin and Val Richards rush to his side. And Franklin makes an astonishing revelation: "'Member how I told Mom and Dad that I wouldn't use my powers? That I knew how powerful they made me, and how dangerous that was until I got older, so I wouldn't ever, ever, never use them? I lied." And then, in a burst of white light, he not only heals Ben Grimm but completely undoes the Asgardian enchantment that had transformed him.

I'm not sure how old mini-series author Matt Fraction is, but some of us remember the original story of Franklin's mysterious powers like it was yesterday. Gigantic, reality-warping powers on a level to worry the Watcher and prompt the boy's father to put him in a coma for a while, to save all life in the universe. Fraction's deus ex machina here is a far more drastic measure than I suspect he realizes - in that one panel, he raises the possibility of a far greater threat to the Marvel universe than some dime-a-dozen crazy Agardian. The powers that be at Marvel have said over and over again that "Fear Itself" will have lasting consequences for continuity, but I just bet this particular consequence hasn't been thought through at all. How could it be? Franklin could simply disintegrate Thor's crazy uncle - and restore Bucky to life, and restore Manhattan to its pre-invasion state of repair, etc. Fifty years of Fantastic Four stories have characterized Franklin Richards as the ultimate ticking time-bomb, and in this issue of "Fear Itself" Fraction detonates that time-bomb without seeming really to notice what he's doing.

A great, enjoyable issue, of course ... but some things distract from the main events ....

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