***That's right, folks! Major spoilers for last week's Fear Itself #5 follow!*** Marvel promised a fight in last week's Fear Itself #5, and delivered with a three-way throwdown between Thor, the Thing and the Hulk — the latter two in their Worthy-fied guises of Angrir and Nul, respectively — that delivered some of the hardest hits of the series thus far.
But the book wasn't just one huge fight scene (though most of it was). Things got even bleaker for the heroes, with Spider-Man making a fateful decision at the end of the issue, Tony Stark making a request of Odin, and the Serpent shattering Captain America's shield — traditionally thought of as pretty much unbreakable — in a symbolic show of the widespread devastation running rampant throughout the story.For the latest installment of our Facing Fear Q&A column with Fear Itself writer Matt Fraction and series editor (and senior vice president of publishing) Tom Brevoort, we talk about all of the above, the nature of the possessions taking over The Worthy, Spidey's big move and the surprising controversy over Thor saying the word "ass."
Newsarama: Matt, Tom, we're back together for another chat, and at this point Fear Itself is five-sevenths done, which works out to about 70 percent.
Matt Fraction: I realized the other day, that by the time it's done — I don't want to jinx it. Tom, are you superstitious?
Tom Brevoort: I haven't put one of these events out, Matt, that's actually all come out on time, so nothing that you say can daunt me from my absolute belief that we're not going to manage this. So go right ahead. [Laughs.]
Fraction: Tom, I would be honored if we are not only the first to come out as scheduled, but that we would be the team that produces nine issues in seven months' worth of time. By the time you're all done and you add the pages up, it's about nine issues worth of stuff.
Brevoort: Yeah, with the big #1 and the big #7.
Stuart [Immonen]'s doing a great job. He's well into issue #7 now. He's in the home stretch, and it's feeling good.
Fraction: There's that thing in baseball about how you need a "five-tool player." There are these five basic, fundamental things, and I think in comics it's such a translation, with artists needing to be five-tool artists. Unwavering professionalism is maybe one of those tools, and Stuart has it in spades, and delivers A+ work on excruciating monthly schedules. It is excellence and reliability. What a rare pleasure.
Nrama: And there hasn't been an instance of someone else stepping in for an art assist for a few pages to keep on schedule.
Fraction: That's very true. Though the last 17 pages of issue #7 will just be script, but other than that it's going to be awesome.
Brevoort: #7 is big, too. It's about 40 pages, and then all the other stuff we're putting into it as well. #7 is going to be a huge chunk of comics for your Marvel dollar.
Fraction: It's weird seeing the finish line on the horizon. I kind of don't know what to do with myself. It's sort of like December 26. When you're a kid, the day after Christmas is always that weird, "Well, now what am I going to be obsessed over?"
Nrama: Unless you celebrate Boxing Day.
Fraction: That's true. And Stuart, being Canadian, very well might have a fondness for Boxing Day.
Brevoort: Speaking of Boxing Day, how about that Fear Itself #5!
Nrama: Right! Obviously in the issue, there was a big ol' three-way fight scene that ran through most of the issue between Thor, and the Worthy-fied Hulk and Thing. It seems that even though Fear Itself as a whole has been marked with some real dire moments, that this issue must have been pretty fun to write.
Fraction: Oh yeah. It was one of those things that I knew basically when we had the lineup of who the Worthy were, I knew "This is a scene that's going to be here." Just promising myself that treat and finally getting to do it was a blast.
Nrama: And you did a degree of research, right? Going back to the archives of famous Marvel fights?
Fraction: Yeah. Part of it was just sort of the fun of that being your job. Being able to legitimately do nothing but read comics for three days, and tell yourself, "It's research!"
In the original Avengers/Defenders War — at this time I was doing a lot of Defenders reading, too — there's a classic Hulk/Thor battle there, so it was very much in my mind at the time I was putting this together. Marvel books are known for fights rather than monologues, so it was nice to go back and revisit the Masterworks, if you will.
Nrama: One scene in the issue that sparked a bit of discussion was the ending, with Spider-Man choosing to leave the battlefield and check on his loved ones rather than remain in the fight, with some reacting, "Oh, Spider-Man would never do that!"
Fraction: But look, he did it! It sees print, so it happened!
Brevoort: I think — and this is just for me — when it comes to Spidey in particular, I think any point at which you're writing Spider-Man as an absolute, unshakable paragon of virtue who always does the right thing the first time and never makes a mistake, you're not really writing Spider-Man.
What Spider-Man's about is a guy who muddles through, who does his best, who sometimes makes a wrong decision or choices in the moment, and then has to deal with the after effects of that.
Fraction: Lest we forget, he has single-handedly kept costume-sized garbage cans in business in the Marvel Universe.
Brevoort: Spidey's greatest responsibility has always ultimately been to his family and the people that he's closest to. Staring in the face of a fight that Cap says that they can't win, I think it makes all the sense in the world that he'd go, "I'm going to go and spend my last hours looking after my family."
I can understand how on a Marvel Universe Handbook sort of level, people would resist that, but we're not writing handbooks. We're writing about characters and stories, and people do things like this. In the wake of any sort of tragedy, people make choices: "What's the most important to you?" In that moment, right now, Spider-Man being there is not going to make any difference to the fact that the Avengers are not going to win , but it'll make all the difference in the world — potentially — to himself, and to Aunt May, and to Uncle Jay, and the folks in his life that he has to protect, in a city that's completely evacuating, and has had buildings knocked down, and is just in utter, utter chaos.
Fraction: There's a second beat to Spider-Man's story that comes in the next issue.
I think it's fair to say that he's probably everybody's favorite. It wasn't like it was a scene designed maliciously to inflict some kind of out-of-character moment on characters we dislike. I think Spidey is the flagship of the Marvel U in so many ways, and if Cap's shield is broken, and he's saying, "We're going to lose," and Spidey is saying, "Then I'm going to say goodbye," hopefully that transmits how dire things are really getting right now. None of it was handled lightly — it's meant to be disturbing. It's meant to be sad, it's meant to be horrifying. This is how bad it gets.. There are two more issues yet, so keep reading.
Nrama: Then another moment that raised some ire was Thor calling Hulk a "giant pain in the ass," which was deemed by some readers as too colloquial for an Asgardian.
Fraction: As if you could hang around Tony Stark for years and not pick up certain tones and inflections.
The characters grow. There are no "thees" and "thous" and "verily" anymore. It's a growing, changing thing. In the heat of that particular moment, "Thou art a pain in mine arse" would have read stupidly. I promise you, your Masterworks and your Essentials remain untouched and unedited on your bookshelf.The language grows. The characters change. My Thor doesn't speak the way Walter's Thor did, and Walter's Thor doesn't speak the way Stan's Thor spoke, or Roy's Thor, or anybody else's. My Thor doesn't even speak like the way JMS's Thor spoke. Brevoort: That line may not have worked for some folks, and that I think is perfectly fine, because it's up to every reader to determine for themselves what works for them and what doesn't work for them. I also feel like, especially these days, and especially on a book with the magnitude of Fear Itself, people kind of come to the party looking for things to have a problem with — and frankly, if the worst thing they can say about that issue of Fear Itself is, "I didn't like it when Thor called Hulk a pain in the ass," I think that we're doing pretty well.
Fraction: My ears would burn and I would feel guilty if I didn't believe what he said. Haven't all the Avengers thought this about Hulk at one point or another? "Good god, you're a pain in the ass. Why don't we just shoot you into outer space and be done with you forever?" More to the point is, "is it true"? I would challenge you to argue that point.
Brevoort: There's also more people reading this than almost any other book that's out there right now. There are plenty of people who are reading Fear Itself who haven't been reading The Mighty Thor.
People are coming to this with their versions of the characters in mind — we all have our quintessential versions of who all these characters are, and how they sound, and how they act, and so forth. Hopefully each new story we do reveals and illuminates more angles, more facets of all these characters, and doesn't just play the same six notes again and again and again, but does so in a way that seems consistent and feels right with all the stuff that's come before. It's a delicate tight rope. I think we manage it more often that we don't, but we manage it for as many people as possible. There's always going to be somebody who doesn't like something. It's just the nature of the beast.
Fraction: I've been thinking a lot about some of the stuff that Morrison wrote in Supergods, and even some of the stuff now that the producers of Sesame Street have come out and said in the past week. "Y'know, they're puppets, they don't really have sex lives." "They're imaginary, they don't really die. They don't really have these powers. These aren't real."
He didn't really say this. It's imaginary. It's a story. It's like guys who argue over what a warp nacelle is exactly capable of in Star Trek — "You guys know it's all pretend, right? You know there's no such thing as positronic brain?" We get to a point where we're arguing the very nature of imagination itself, and it feels counter-intuitive and counter-productive to me.
Nrama: Another big development in the issue was Captain America's shield getting broken, which aside from being obviously a major moment within the story and a cool visual, also happens to be one of the few scenes from the initial round of Fear Itself teasers that has thus far proven to be literal, as we haven't seen Cyclops in Magneto's clothes or Spider-Man looking at TVs yet.
Fraction: Were people really excited for that? The chapter where Spider-Man goes to Tom's Electronics and finally picks out that 42-inch HD? "Dammit Spidey, you're worth it! Think of how good Two and a Half Men will look next season on this sweet baby, Spidey!"
Wait, I should say an ABC show, right? "Think about how good Modern Family will look." Synergy, baby!
This was a big thing for us. We needed to figure out, "How this is possible in this situation, why does this work?" This thing happening to the shield was a big deal for us. This got nitpicked internally. We had to consult the Oracle of Macchio to make sure it all worked.
Brevoort: There was some initial staging that we had some questions about. "Could this break the shield?" "If this happened, would it break? Would it not?"
Fraction: "Why here?" and "Why now?" This was the perfect illustration of where we are here and now, and this says how big the bad guy is, and how powerful he is. There was a weird concordance of what this meant.And then, "Does it break in half? Does he chip it? Does he crack it? Does it break like a tortilla chip? It was a whole thing.
Brevoort: We did talk about things like the shape of the shards and everything, too. Boy we have a lot of time on our hands! [Laughs.]
Fraction: Editors would pull me aside afterwards — "Don't do it like this, then we have to make sure all the makes sense now, and everyone's going to have to remember to draw it this way." This is a ridiculous way for grown men to make a living, and I love it.
Nrama: On Twitter, INDIGOTRIBESMEN was curious about the nature of the Worthy's possession due to what we see with the Thing in Fear Itself #5. Right before he's cured by Franklin, he starts to slip back to his familiar Ben Grimm state of mind — was that just due to the Mjolnir-inflicted gaping chest wound?
Fraction: These people are still conscious. They still are present and aware, and they know what's going on. What happens to The Worthy after Fear Itself will be an object of debate: "How much did you know?" "Was this temporary insanity?" "Were you possessed"? "Were you out of control?" "Were you aware the entire time, who had control over what and when?"
As early as the first issue, we saw that Sin is still conscious. Sin is still aware of what's happening. She's been seduced by Skadi, rather than replaced. They're no longer the only guy driving the ship.
Nrama: Well, now's the time when I usually ask for any type of teaser you might want to give for next issue, the penultimate chapter in the series. So: what's coming up?
Fraction: We are locked and loaded, and crashing into the third act. We deal with the fallout of everything. Thor goes home one last time, Cap chooses where and how he will make his final stand, Tony takes care of business amongst the men of Svartalfheim, and we brace ourselves for the showdown to end all showdowns. It's a really dark issue. Brevoort: #5 was the bouncy, fun one. Nrama: Anything else either of you would like to add before we wrap for this installment?
Fraction: Really, I just put the "ass" line in there because I didn't want to have to argue with battle board dudes. It was the linguistic equivalent of a smoke bomb. I figured if I had Thor say "ass," then I wouldn't have to argue about, "Could Hulk really beat up Thor?"Past installments of Newsarama's Facing Fear column:
- FACING FEAR: Q&A with Fraction & Brevoort on FEAR ITSELF #4
- FACING FEAR: Fraction, Brubaker & Brevoort on FEAR ITSELF #3
- FACING FEAR: Q&A with Fraction & Brevoort on FEAR ITSELF #2
- FACING FEAR: Q&A with Fraction & Brevoort on FEAR ITSELF #1