On Dec. 21, Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada and vice president-executive editors Axel Alonso and Tom Brevoort announced Fear Itself, Marvel's latest company-wide crossover "event," starting in earnest in April, with a prologue issue in March.
Here's what we know so far: The comic was preceded by the "Do You Fear…" teaser campaign, the main series is seven issues by Invincible Iron Man, Thor and Uncanny X-Men writer Matt Fraction and New Avengers artist Stuart Immonen, and there will be, as these things go, plenty of tie-ins along the way. It depicts Marvel's heroes facing their greatest fears, touches on real-life issues, and fittingly, involves the God of Fear.
Other than that, not much else was revealed at the press conference — so in their first interview following the announcement, Newsarama talked with both Fraction and Brevoort about Fear Itself, learning more about who it involves, how it got started and what kind of work goes into constructing an event like this.
Newsarama: Matt, let’s start at the beginning and the conception of Fear Itself. For a major crossover like this one, does the idea come first, and then you come on board, or was it your story all along?
Matt Fraction: The cart and the horse very rarely get in front of each other. Maybe before somebody has said, “we need an event, figure it out, come up with a multi-part epic!” but I’ve never been told that. What happened actually was that Tom contacted me and [Ed] Brubaker, saying, “We’ve got this Captain America and Thor thing happening this summer, so we’re wondering if maybe there’s a Cap/Thor series that could capitalize on that?”
As Ed and I started to talk and I kind of got into it and he kind of got out of it, we came up with this story, but we kept having trouble figuring out, “how do you make this work for a movie audience? How do you start part one in May, and then have part three in July, and still have it make sense, and not have somebody have to go back, and buy two parts?” Just getting wrapped up in the logic of it all during a retreat. Joe [Quesada] just said, “F*ck it, what’s you story?” That kind of freed me to not worry about marketing and scheduling in my pitch — I had the core of the story, but I couldn’t figure out where it all fell. Once Joe said that, I was like, “Oh, great, well, here’s the story,” and I started to tell what I thought was a good, interesting, satisfying, Cap and Thor story. As we started to talk, Joe — it sounds like such a whore-y line — got a little sparkle in his eye, and said, “This sounds like it could be an event.”
Then I really started pitching, and really going for it. It just kind of got everybody more and more excited, and we realized that not only was this a great Cap and Thor story — and by great, I mean, big, I don’t mean, like, “this is so good, let me tell you how brilliant” — we realized we had a big, massive, Brando-sized story. We started to realize how modular it was, and that this really did work as an event, because people could connect their books where they chose to. It was a big enough and a broad enough idea that it could be very specific, and very explicit, and very literal, or it could be very oblique. For all the pyrotechnics and all the top-level stuff, it’s still very character-driven in its nature. It’s a bad guy that affects everybody differently on a one-on-one kind of level. That gives you all kinds of ground to tell stories. It started off as a very simple, “maybe we can find a miniseries or something to do,” and it became this big thing.
Nrama: So would you say Cap and Thor are still the main characters of Fear Itself?
Fraction: Absolutely. It’s still very much about the two of them. There’s an alliance between Sin and this guy, the Serpent, the God of Fear — this fellow that Odin banished millennia ago. You’ve got a big nightmare for Thor, which is basically a monstrous problem of his dad’s, and then with Cap you’ve got the Red Skull’s daughter — she’s sort of like the ultimate trust fund kid, she’s earned nothing but been given everything, which makes her completely lethal and completely horrible to deal with.
You’ve got Cap and Thor dealing with their worst nightmares come true simultaneously. It irradiates and touches everybody else outside of that, but it starts and ends with Cap and Thor.
Nrama: And it looks like Brubaker is still pretty heavily involved, given that he’s writing the prologue.
Fraction: Yeah — the connection between the Red Skull and Sin is one of those things where Ed and I could get on the phone 430,000 times because it coordinates with stories that he’s telling, or he could just do it. So it was like, “Why don’t you just do it? Here’s how it needs to end. Get us to this point and we’ll be fine.” And off Ed went. He’s going to end where I need it to end, and it’s a nice little piece of back story if you’re the kind of person who wants to know about the connection between Red Skull, the second World War, Captain America and how all of that kerfuffle set up what happens in the modern day.
Nrama: And given that it’s you who’s writing the main story, and Cap and Thor are the main characters, I’m guessing Iron Man also plays a big role?
Fraction: It’s not the role that people will expect. He is a part of the story, it’s very much about the big three and their relationship to one another, but Iron Man takes a path that I hope surprises people; that he thwarts your basic assumption.
Nrama: You’ve also been writing Uncanny X-Men for a few years at this point, and Cyclops was in one of the teasers…
Fraction: That’s the other thing, trying to find a front and center position for the X-Men in the middle of all this, too. They tend to take the sideline during these things for one reason or another — the opportunity to get them on the main stage is very exciting.
Nrama: A major way Fear Itself has been initially promoted is that it reflects, to an extent, on real world fears and concerns — albeit, obviously, though the lens of epic-scale superhero action.
Fraction: Nobody wants to see Spider-Man punch a recession.
Nrama: At what point did incorporating a degree of real-life relevancy become an important part of the story?
Fraction: I think that kind of came with that spark in Joe’s eye, where Joe saw it as being a thing that we could go deep on. “Look at how this resonates to where we are right now.” It came organically out of the idea — the idea was together, and then it was like, “oh, look, you can talk about it like this, and you can look at it like that.” That was how I found my way in. Suddenly, I knew what the story was about, and where it was going, and it just all kind of fit together.
It’s modular in terms of how people are going to come to it. You can handle it very literally — Cap’s worst fear is Sin being a better Red Skull than her father. That’s it on one level, but what if it happens at a time when Captain America is kind of an ironic joke? A time when people have lost faith in Cap, and in America, and he’s not the symbol of our greatest potential that he once was, but rather this kind of weird relic. That kind of puts it in a different space; that makes it a different story to talk about. We found the echoes once we found the core direction of everything else.
Nrama: Rather than just saying “let’s do a story that touches on real world issues!”
Fraction: Like I said, nobody wants to see Spider-Man punch a recession. We got the story, and when the story was there, the rest of it revealed itself. It very easily becomes a look at where we are now, just by pulling out a little bit, and widening your focus just a little bit, and you can fit all this other stuff in the frame — you can talk about that general, free-floating anxiety that’s in the air, you can talk about all of the fear that soaks through every thing we do these days.
Nrama: It seems that that’s something you’d probably gravitate towards to as a writer anyway — after all, every story aims to work on more than just one surface level.
Fraction: You would hope. I hope, anyway.
When you invest the time and energy that this has taken so far, just to get it up off the ground, you kind of have to be into it. You have to love the story, there has to be something for you to take a bite out of — for me, anyway. I need something more than just fight scenes. That we have this really versatile character that lets us tell all these different stories, and all these different perspectives, is a great blessing to my sanity.
Tom Brevoort: I think people don’t really realize — maybe because we make it look so easy — what a massive undertaking one of these things is, and the enormous mental drain and drain on time of putting it together. Not even just the core story, but all of the other connectivity through the assorted tie-in books and so forth. Certainly, with a story that massive, that’s going to take up a thousand pages of pulp paper —
Fraction: And eight months of publication time.
Brevoort: And probably at least double that of our lives, if not the readers’ lives — you hope that it has something to say about something. And something universal enough that all the various writers and artists who get to contribute to it in and around the edges, all the way up to the center, can find their own statement or their own insight into whatever the question is, beyond just toeing one single line.
I think that’s one of the things that made Civil War so effective, is that the central premise of it was fairly universal. Certainly, not all of the creators involved agreed politically on exactly where things should be along that spectrum. Some guys were more conservative, some guys were more liberal, some guys were more whatever, and that point of view tended to come out in the stories — sometimes even if the same character was talking. On Monday, Iron Man would say, “we should kill them all!” and on Tuesday, he would say, “Well, probably we shouldn’t kill all of them.” Even that little inconsistency that would show up every now and again, which would sometimes vex some of our more continuity-minded fans, I think is good, because it speaks to creators responding to an issue genuinely, trying to put forward an idea — their position, their perspective on where the world is, and to represent truth as they see it. Which is a pretty lofty thing to do when you’re talking about guys in tights flying around and thwacking each other.
Fraction: Again, but if you’re going to be talking about it this long, you’ve got to be doing more than just fight scenes. Maybe some folks can, but I would go crazy.
Nrama: That speaks to something I’ve always been curious about, when constructing these big events. It seems that since there are always a lot of moving parts, so many characters and creators involved, and certain benchmarks fans expect to see in a Marvel event comic — lots of heroes gathered, big battles…
Fraction: What? Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa — slow down. We have a lot of talking. We have a lot of Ingmar Bergman-style close ups.
Brevoort: There’s a brunch in issue #3 that’s phenomenal. “Infinity Brunch.”
Nrama: But is it perhaps a challenge in all that to retain your own style and voice?
Fraction: I think this is very much me. It feels very much me. It’s a story that I’m really into. It’s a story that if nobody bought it in the room, it would have ended up in Thor. The exact nature of the catastrophe, as it is revealed, is a very personal thing, and it plays with that kind of faux-Shakespearean familial dynamic that so peppers the Thor stories that I love.
And that I can plug into this anxiety that I feel is just sort of therapeutic, if nothing else. I don’t think many creators do well with marching orders. I’ve walked away from stuff when it didn’t feel right for me, so this has felt nothing but right. It’s been big, and it’s been intimidating, and thrilling, all that other stuff, but making it feel like me — very early on, Tom said, “the first issue of this is going to be more read than anything you’ve ever done.” Meaning, editorially. And he’s right — every single office has read it, there’s been all kinds of notes, all sorts of stuff. I don’t remember how many drafts it went through before finally they were like, “Alright, it’s drawable.” But it always made it stronger. Just by nature of my own inexperience — this is my first rodeo, but everyone else is pretty seasoned, so everyone was very nurturing, for lack of a better word. Now that Stuart is cranking on the pages, and we’re getting art in daily, I’m very proud of this. This feels right.
Brevoort: If you want to live through a dark night of the soul as a comic book creator, you want to write the first issue of one of these big event stories. It ultimately doesn’t even matter how many times you’ve done it — Brian [Michael Bendis] I think has done maybe three of these, and it’s exactly the same every time. I’m sure there’s some point, after getting an e-mail, or getting off the phone with me or whomever, he walks around going, “I don’t know if I know how to do this.”
It is the most demanding, the most draining challenge that a creator can have, because it’s such a big story, it’s such a big part of our publishing plan, and so many people are going to weigh in on it. You’re going to get more feedback than anything else, particularly on the first one.
Fraction: Right now, it is a very intensive, all hands-on-deck experience. It would be one thing if it was just one series that was being looked at by a lot of people, but I finished the script, and it didn’t just go to all the editors, it goes to all the other writers, who are now presented with, “OK, guys, this is our event. Do you have anything to say about this?” You get notes from all over. You get notes from your colleagues, and your friends. That’s where it gets really scary. When I found out that it got sent out to other writers, I was like, “Oh, Jesus.” That was when I really got nervous. It was fine when it was just going to editorial, editorial’s used to watching me whiff it. It’s so weird to say that, but that’s what I was really bracing for, getting sh*t from other writers. They have all been pretty polite so far, though. I’m sure there’s still time.
My jumping in at Marvel was in the middle of Civil War doing Punisher [War Journal], and it was in the middle of Mark [Millar]’s health issues. I was getting every revision that Mark was doing, and things were changing on a daily basis. It was a crazy way to start a career at Marvel Comics. I wrote the issues all out of order, it was just bonkers, just because of the nature of the beast. Having lived through a real force majeure sort of catastrophe with that stuff, I just became very aware what this does to other people. What these documents do to someone’s life. I’m very acutely aware of what my colleagues are going to go through and be doing. I was trying to keep my own experience in mind when going forward and planning it, and trying to make it as modular and accessible as possible. And as inoffensive, most importantly, and unobtrusive as possible.
Stay tuned for later in the week for more from Fraction and Brevoort on Fear Itself.
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