***You know the drill, folks! Major spoilers for last week's Fear Itself #6 follow!***You don't get to use the word "penultimate" every day, but last week the "penultimate" — second-to-last, if you prefer — issue of Fear Itself, #6, hit stores. In it, Thor and Odin had a surprisingly touching heart-to-heart, Iron Man took a fateful plunge in Svartalfheim, Spider-Man tracked down Aunt May amid widespread chaos and Captain America rallied the troops — in this instance, mostly civilians in Broxton, Oklahoma — for one last stand against The Serpent's forces.
For the latest edition of our Facing Fear Q&A column, we consulted with both series writer Matt Fraction and series editor (and Marvel senior vice president of publishing) Tom Brevoort to talk the major developments of the issue — such as the metaphorical power of an armed Captain America, the book's use of thematic symmetry and whether or not "son of a bitch" crosses a line.
Read on for all of that, and tune back in next month for our wrap up extravaganza of Fear Itself #7 — the finale of the series, to be followed-up by the Fear Itself #7.1, #7.2 and #7.3 aftermath one-shots in November.Newsarama: Matt, Tom, we're officially in the home stretch of Fear Itself, and based on the online reactions I've seen for issue #6, it seems that there was a noticeable amount of people who had been a little bit on the fence about the series and were won over by this issue.
Tom Brevoort: Well, that's nice to hear. I think we had sort of a logistics problem in the way we rolled out and promoted Fear Itself. Inevitably, at the outset, we ended up telling and showing so much about what was to come early on, that I think by the time people actually got around to reading issue #1 or issue #2, they didn't know every single beat, but they knew a lot. They were kind of like, "Oh, it's that thing that I read about online months ago."
Whereas now we're at the part of the story where they know less about exactly what's to come — although they still know stuff; we released the Mighty teaser, and that kind of gives a clue — but they can be a little more legitimately surprised and engaged by the twists and turns that the story takes. It's just one of those occasions where the need to promote it and talk about it maybe gave away more of our cards than was absolutely perfect for the reading experience.
Nrama: Yeah, that's something we've discussed before — finding that balance between enticing readers and giving too much away.
Brevoort: It's such a difficult tightrope to have to walk, because you want to tell everybody all the stuff that's going to make them want to show up to order your book and buy your book. But at the same time, you want to hold back all the stuff that's going to make the story experience just as affecting and mind-boggling and wonderful as it can be. So you're constantly in this tug-of-war between those two needs. More often that not, hopefully we strike a balance, and I think overall with Fear Itself we did. At the outset, people knew that guys with hammers were coming. So the first issue, ending with hammers falling from the sky, maybe wasn't as startling as it might have been if they hadn't known hammer guys were coming. But, they had to know, because we had to be able to tell them something about what the series was about, because we weren't ready to say, "It's Odin's long-lost brother, and he's come back from wherever, to do whatever." In protecting some of what was to come, we had to give away some other stuff, otherwise we'd just be saying, "It's seven issues! And things happen!" Which is not the best ad campaign in the world.
Matt Fraction:The Serpent wasn't a character anyone had seen before. Unlike with Secret Invasion, for example, you can't say, "The Skrulls have already been here! They've already won!"
Nrama: One major element of the issue that I wanted to ask about was Captain America taking up arms with the Broxton citizens at the end of the issue. Though he's obviously a soldier that's been around guns since World War II and was on screen operating firearms in The First Avenger — plus Bucky carried a gun as Captain America — there's still a lot of power and weight to an image like the one in the next issue teaser, with Cap opening fire and at least two more rifles on his person.
Do you consider it to be another illustration of how dire things have gotten — like Tony Stark taking a drink — or is it more of a matter of, "they're at war, he's a soldier, it makes sense for him to grab lots of guns"?
Fraction: It's not "lots of guns." He's not the Punisher. The most hotly contested image internally was the preview for the next issue where there were two shell casings and I just wanted there to be one. It's a single repeating rifle; like a hunting rifle or something. He doesn't have the heavy machine guns and trappings of a Columbian drug cartel or something like that.
I think we kind of split the difference between the two answers. It certainly isn't something that's comes lightly or easily, it's not something that's meant to be a throwaway. It doesn't happen often for good reason. But at the same time, it is the natural extension of the character. It is Cap's last stand. It's the world's last stand.
Brevoort: And in very practical terms, we broke his shield last issue. So the weapon that he's come to use and rely on for decades isn't there, both literally and even symbolically. This is very much a last stand moment. Cap said it last issue: They know they can't win.
It's a desperation moment as much as anything else. I don't know that it's a moment necessarily that Cap is uncomfortable with, because he's certainly been around firearms of one sort or another at least going back to World War II. But it's not something that he typically does, which is I think what gives those moments and those images such power. The Stuart [Immonen] cover to #6 — which doesn't really even have Cap with a gun, he just has the belts of ammo over him standing with the Broxton citizens on the line — I think is my favorite of the covers that Stuart has done for the series thus far. It's a powerful, arresting image just of those guys standing together. It communicates something, some ineffable feeling that just hits you on a really primal level.
Nrama: Plus, there's the contrast in the visual of Cap and the civilians taking up real, everyday rifles in a series that's heavily featured fantastic weaponry like enchanted hammers and the Ragnarok sword.
Brevoort: It's fundamentally important to the story that we don't lose sight of the ordinary people that are caught up in all of these events. Being able to take Cap and move him out and away from the rest of the Avengers and the rest of his superhero brethren, and put him down with Joe Oklahoma, I think lets us get back to that point of view in a way that we haven't been able to focus on quite so much in the last couple of issues.
Fraction: There was an alternate title that the book had for a while — I don't know if we can say quite yet without giving away. Maybe we can do it next month. But it sort of speaks to this moment of Cap, and what's left of the Avengers, and regular people standing that line together against the Serpent and against fear.
Nrama: In #6, Odin and Thor share a scene that's much more tender than the one between the two earlier in the series. Matt, is this an example of the book's symmetry that you mentioned a couple of months ago?
Fraction: I hope that worked. Odin has done everything he can at this point to try and talk Thor out of this. And I think he's just kind of coming to terms with the nature of this prophecy. And that it doesn't matter how much he yells and screams and bellows and orders and barks, everything he has done to this point has failed. In fact, everything he's done has led him to this point, in spite of his intentions. What good is another fight? At least he can arm Thor with real information and try to prepare him for what's about to come.
As we'll see in The Mighty Thor #7, it's something that Odin has lived through once before, and knows very well of what he speaks; what's coming next.
Brevoort: That whole sequence, and the Thor/Odin relationship within the whole of the story, it feels very genuine to me. Everybody's family is a little bit different, but when you talk about guys from — let's say the greatest generation — typically speaking, they certainly tend to be fairly close-mouthed about what they did and what they went through. They went out, and did some horrible sh*t in defense of their nation, and because it had to be done. And then they came home, and tried to put it behind them. There's a certain, almost stereotypical, gruffness and aloofness that is sort of a hallmark of that.
I look at the Odin/Thor relationship here as plugging very much into those sorts of dynamics. Odin has been through all of these sorts of things before. He's trying to do everything that he can in the course of this to safeguard his son, and the other people he loves, from having to go through it all. And yet, he's not very touchy-feely in terms of the way he opens up to the people around him. He's more likely to want to bait Thor, or to slap Thor down, then he is to want to really articulate where it is he's coming from. He really needs to get to a fairly raw, and almost hopeless, point, before he can even begin to open up. And even there, it's not like he spells every single thing out for Thor in this scene. But just the fact that he's moved so far away from where he was emotionally and spiritually in the first couple of issues of this thing, to me that speaks about his journey and the journey that Thor's on. I feel like I can click into that relationship in a real way, apart from the fact that they're crazy, enormous hat-wearing Norse gods.Fraction: The whole thing is to presuppose on the fact that Odin's known that this was coming all along, and has done everything to try and avoid it, and the closer it came, the angrier and more frantic he got. You can kind of walk through his Kübler-Ross scale leading to this final moment of acceptance. The thing he knew that he couldn't get away from is finally here, and I think there's nothing left to do but face it.
Nrama: Speaking of symmetry, there's a similarly tender, paternal scene just a few pages earlier between the book's two villains, The Serpent and Sin.
Fraction: Nobody's a villain in their own comic, y'know?
Nrama: And I think a lot of people who questioned Spider-Man's decision at the end of #5 were probably relieved by the scene between him and Aunt May this issue.
Brevoort: "Oh my god! We had a plan! Look at that! Holy smokes, it was actually going somewhere!"
Fraction: We decided against randomly writing the first things that came into our minds. This time, we really thought about it.
Brevoort: This is really no surprise to us, and yet, honestly, on some level, the fact that readers get as wound up about this stuff as they do, really, if nothing else, it shows just how invested they are in the characters and the choices they make and what they're doing.
Fraction: Tom, I remember you sort of taking me aside after the first issue and expressing that you were a little disappointed that nobody seemed angry yet. Like that's how you know you've really made it, when people are angry. We didn't seem to have too many people angry after the first issue and that sort of bummed you out on some level. Hopefully we're making up for it in the clutch.
Nrama: Here's a question from ever-vigilant Twitter-er TDSpidey616: "Curious if Odin razing Aesheim is connected to the Ano-Athox/World Eaters in your 1st Thor arc?"
Fraction: There's maybe a little psychic similarity, but no. Beyond the suggestion that the World Tree is bigger than the Nine Worlds, there's nothing explicitly connecting the two.
Nrama: I think that probably covers the major developments from issue #6…
Fraction: I thought I was going to get killed on "son of a bitch," too. Alright!
Nrama: I think people are probably more accepting of Cap saying "son of a bitch" than Thor saying "ass."
Brevoort: I think it depends on who you're talking about. I got at least one guy on Twitter who was extremely angry about that. "Certain characters, Captain America, the Thing and Spider-Man, particularly, should never cross a line like that." I thought to myself: "The Thing? Really?" Everybody kind of brings themselves to these characters, so if that's where that guy's line happens to be, I think that's completely valid for him.
Fraction: He's clearly never been to the Lower East Side.
Brevoort: Yeah, really. I'm not one to have Cap curse casually. But in this moment in this story at the point we're at, at the place he is, that seemed perfectly legitimate to me.
Fraction: It's his Rooster Cogburn moment.
Nrama: So Fear Itself #7 hits next month, and based on the full teaser reveal we know who "The Mighty" are, and Matt, I'm guessing that it's not a coincidence that it includes several members of your Defenders team?
Fraction: I suppose that's true.
Brevoort: You could maybe draw a line there a little bit.
Brevoort: It's like there's a plan or something! First that Spider-Man stuff and now this. It's a bad trend to start, because now they're going to be expecting this kind of forethought on everything that we do.
Also, very important — I want to underline this with three red lines and a couple of exclamation points — Fear Itself #7, not only is it going to be on time, because Stuart's done, we've got the first round of lettering as of today, everything's going smoothly — it is a massive issue.
The main story is a solid 38 pages long, and then there's another 16 pages of all-new stuff that are a number of epilogues that set things up for the books and projects that are to come. It is a solid 54 pages of comic book entertainment for $4.99. It is a monster.
Fraction: Does that make Fear Itself the first event that shipped entirely on time?
Brevoort: If #7 comes out when it's supposed to. We're right on target, everything's there; all the epilogue stuff is done. There's still act of god, but it'd be the first one at least in my tenure to have all come out on time. A real testament not only to Matt, but particularly Stuart, who worked like a demon on it, and Wade [Von Grawbadger] and Laura [Martin], and the assorted folks who every once in a while would come in and help us out with a page here or there. Excellent job by the whole crew.Past installments of Newsarama's Facing Fear column:
- FACING FEAR: Q&A with Fraction & Brevoort on FEAR ITSELF #5
- 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