Fear Itself is a Marvel event comic. Every year one of the Big Two (Marvel and DC) publish a series of comic books that ties into every major character they have and tells of some big world-changing event after which nothing is the same. Which normally means a big character dies (and comes back 1-2 years later). As you probably can see, event comics are a mixed bag. They are mostly event- or hype-driven and rarely story-driven. Some are good, most are okay, some are bad. Fear Itself is, in my opinion, one of the worst Marvel events, despite being written by the mostly good Matt Fraction and illustrated by the always good Stuart Immonen. It looks great, but the story is not really interesting and gets caught up in too many details that don’t necessarily make sense.
The first issue is interesting, though, not only because it creates an interesting mood for what’s to come (and to disappoint), but it tries to make some statements about the world and time at which the comic was published (summer 2011). Let’s take a look:
Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Sharon Carter try to stop a demonstration in Manhattan that starts to become violent. Rogers’ statement that this is not chaos, but democracy of course gets my attention. What he is trying to say is that it’s the citizens’ democratic right to demonstrate, even if it’s chaotic, but the way all of this is shown, makes it clear that we’re not supposed to totally agree with him, but to see that his old-fashioned values (he comes from the 40s after all) don’t work anymore. The world is just chaos now. He then goes on to explain, but Sharon doesn’t follow his line of thought, all she sees is a ‘riot.’
The whole scenario obviously plays on the protest against the building of the Park51 Islamic Center at Ground Zero, where reason lost against hysteria.
The next page shows (click to enlarge) the whole Avengers rooster at the time contemplating what happened that day. Rogers still can’t believe that people got so angry and violent and is sure there must be some villain behind it. He is disappointed in the people for getting so upset over something so trivial. The next panels show that he feels responsible for the people, as he did during WWII. But times have changed and Tony Stark (Iron Man) tells him that ‘people are madright now, and they’re broke and they’ve been lied to and ripped off.’ There could hardly be better ways to describe the state of many people in 2011. This was a very special year, the year of Arab Spring and Occupy, the year where people for the first time in decades rose up globally to protest against this flawed society. Some of those movements failed, some keep going but have to battle their media perception. Anyway, it’s interesting to see how a Marvel comic tackles this, at least in one or two panels. Stark goes on to explain that the answer to make people happy is to build something. Here, the semi-critical voice disappears and it doesn’t sound like an answer to anyone’s problems, but like a distraction, which is a very typical reaction in our culture if people start to become discontent and restless.
So, while this is not really a comic that criticizes society (it basically consists of Nazis attacking the U.S. and big hammers falling from the sky), it is still interesting to see those themes popping up, especially considering that most mainstream comics seem to take place in a timeless world without any clear references to the real world.