Fear Itself

Event comics need a theme big enough to be relevant for all the characters tied into it. Siege didn't really have that, which may have been where my patience with these superhero titles ran out. Secret Invasion was inexplicable to those not already well versed in years worth of Avengers backstory, but at least it used alien shape-shifters to try and work in a comment on the 'War on Terror', suicide bombers and the dangers of imperialism (the latter in one page, after all the punching is over – this is superhero comics after all).

Fear Itself is in line with this noble tradition, while thankfully foregoing the requirement to be up to date with the latest developments. The book starts with a protest in New York: a subtle nod to the debate around the plan to build a mosque near Ground Zero, but also perhaps casting a rueful glance at the fate of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Avengers gather on the roof of their tower to take stock, and listen to Iron Man give a State of the Marvelverse address on the way people have been 'lied to and ripped off', the threat of chaos created, and the need for a new New Deal to 'make people feel safe again'. Crazy coming from a guy in golden metal armour, but this is superhero comics after all.

In fact, Stark's admission that 'we can't punch a recession' sounds awfully like the writer's admission that the genre he's working in is not fit for the purpose of capturing a sense of today's anxieties. Ostensibly, the book's project is to show the way angry people get violent when they get really really scared. But actually, it's the fear that's the important motor for the story. And in looking for an existential threat with a sufficient apocalyptic payload, the victims of imperialism are once again drafted into service. The Serpent is Odin's brother, deprived of the throne and bent on assuming it. Odin is an indifferent God, accepting the slaughter of humankind in order to protect his near and dear. Our heroes are caught between a destructive intentions of those at the wrong end of empire, and the rejection of the 1% at the top of it.

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