Fear Itself's seven-issue run was followed by three November-released one-shots — numbered Fear Itself #7.1, Fear Itself #7.2 and Fear Itself #7.3 — that represented a thematic end to the story for Captain America, Thor and Iron Man.
Of course, they were a lot more than that, too. As is well-known now, Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice's Fear Itself #7.1 revealed that Bucky actually survived his seemingly fatal attack at the hands of Sin in June's Fear Itself #3. Fear Itself #7.2, by Fraction and Adam Kubert, depicted Thor's funeral and the introduction of The Mighty Tanarus — plus contained a very strong last-page hint that (shockingly!) the Thunder God's final rest might be pretty temporary. Fear Itself #7.3, from the usual Invincible Iron Man team of Fraction and Salvador Larroca, depicted a one-sided conversation between Tony Stark and the imprisoned Grey Gargoyle, plus a fateful talk between Stark and Odin — that resulted in Paris, destroyed as a result of the conflict, magically restored.
Clearly, they're significant comic books, and Fraction and Marvel senior vice president of publishing (and Fear Itself editor) Tom Brevoort gathered with us for one last Facing Fear Q&A to discuss the issues, the weight given to fictional catastrophes, answer the "but none of the changes stuck!" criticism, and muse a bit on the nature of superhero event books themselves.
Newsarama: Matt, you mentioned in our last interview that these aftermath issues, which are clearly character focused, contained the kind of moments that attracted you to the story in the place. So did writing #7.2 and #7.3 come a little bit more naturally to you than Fear Itself, er, itself? Matt Fraction: Not really. It was still dealing with really massive themes. If Fear Itself can be said to have a point, if that particular hurricane has an eye, it somehow is those three issues. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it's sort of about legends, and myths, and the perseverance of legend and myth; and define the entirety of quote-"death"-unquote in comics to be absurd, and always have. To kind of do a story that ultimately, of all the different themes, dealt with, "what does death mean to these un-killable, un-destroyable legends?"
These aren't stories about death; it's about resurrection. These are stories about escape. And not just our escape — not just our kind of psychic vacations that we might take in the 5, to 15, to 20 minutes time that it might take to read these books — but the escape these characters make. Killing the character is never the point. It's, "How do they come back? How does that experience form them into an even greater, even stronger kind of hero?"
To get a chance to do a switcheroo story, a chance to do a funeral story that's still had its own twist going forward, and then a kind of fairy tale miracle story that kind of buttresses the opening of everything kind of spoke to the three aspects of that to me. They're all very big, very challenging kinds of things to deal with, because it was so thematically on the nose. But really, the whole of the story was about survival, perseverance and escape, and this is what that means to these characters who will never, ever die as long as we believe in them and reflect the best parts of them in how we all behave.
Nrama: That's an interesting thing to hear, because it sounds like you're putting Fear Itself in more of a "meta" context than I would have necessarily anticipated.
Fraction: Sure. Without wanting to be too clever about it, the only character in Marvel Comics that I will say is definitively dead forever and ever — and I'm sure he's come back in some terrible story I've forgotten about — is Uncle Ben, because without Uncle Ben, there's no need for a Spider-Man. But other than that, everyone is fair game, if the story is right. If Ed and Tom can bring Bucky back — and not just make it good, not to tell a cute story about that — but to build not just Cap's character, but Bucky's character? Death in superhero comics is meaningless. It's the escape. It's the resurrection. That's the story. These issues were kind of the chance to focus on that under the microscope, once all the pyrotechnics were done.
Nrama: That said, though, you're still dealing with a funeral for Thor, and though it certainly appears that he's on his way back…
Fraction: He comes back in the end of that issue! [Laughs.] Without getting into absolutely "Duck Amuck" territory, I don't know how finer a point I could have put on it.
Going forward in Thor, Thor's memory is kept alive by Loki. The kid can't even remember his name, but he knows his brother is out there. Loki ends up being Thor's tether. It's fun to do a story like that.
Nrama: Right, but for the characters involved, no matter how temporary, it's still real to them. So given that, how did you approach writing a funeral scene for a character as significant to Marvel history as Thor? No matter how frequent deaths may be in comic books, that's still not something you see very month.
Fraction: The heaviest stuff was Odin preparing his son's body. Otherwise, I wanted there to be enough pageantry. How big of a funeral pyre does Thor need? Sif in her widow's veil. It needs to be big. It needs to have everybody. The procession of mourners. Even knowing where it was going, wanting to have weight and gravity — like you said, wanting it to be real to the characters. Wanting it to be appropriate, and a fitting tribute to the guy who had done everything he had done, not just in Fear Itself, but throughout his career.
Nrama: Then in Fear Itself #7.3, we have Odin essentially acting as a magical reset to undo the rampant destruction caused by the Worthy-fied Grey Gargoyle in Paris. We've talked in past chats about how there are certain cards you just can't play very often — Captain America's shield getting destroyed, or someone else lifting Thor's hammer. Is this a similar case, using magical means to erase wanton mayhem?
Fraction: The balance of the magical reset was the magical "game over" that got it there in the first place. The point was that it's just as much of a miracle to turn a city into stone as it was for Odin to un-turn it into stone. I know it's weird to put subjective things like this into some kind of metric, but I would argue that is the same scale. If you can buy, "a bad guy can turn a city and everyone into it into stone," then you can buy, "someone else can undo it."
It was a big deal. It was a huge thing. And it was a lot of lives, and a lot of people, and it would stagger anyone's imagination were it to happen — look at Katrina, for god's sake, and imagine that a 100 times bigger. That kind of scale of thing wasn't anything I ever played lightly with. It plays into part of that Lego-verse stuff that we talked about in months past — wanting there to be a price to be paid. Anyway, showing both sides of the miracle coin was always the gag there.
Tom Brevoort: One of the things that's interesting to me is the fact that I saw, in the aftermath of those books, some readers who were maybe not happy. "You got to the end of this story — and you undid all the stuff that you did. Cap was alive again, and Thor was alive again." And not a single one of them talked about Paris. I think that's because though we turned an entire city to stone, and ground poor people's bodies into rubble, they didn't track to most readers as people.
Fraction: The Lego bricks are Lego bricks.
Brevoort: They're just like props. So, in the miracle of #7.3, part of that really, in restoring them, was in essence to give them a human face and a human identity, sort of through Tony Stark's eyes. Hopefully, even though in the course of those 20-odd pages that event gets undone in a miraculous way, you kind of begin to feel the scope of what's actually happened there, beyond just, "It's panel 2 and the city has been turned to stone, and then panel 3, this happens."
In some ways — and this is sort of a strange thing to say — in undoing it, in having god in the person of Odin fix the problem and restore the people, and the effect that that has on Tony, I feel like it underlines the gravitas of what has happened here that allowed some readers to be able to come to it, and reflect on it, as more than simply knocking over Lego blocks.
Fraction: There's a bit where Tony just says "why me?" and Odin says "who would believe you?" That kind of says it all to me. We always undo what we did. It's what we do. We do it every 20 pages. We do it every 30 days. Everything resets. But the point of the story was rather than "nine months later, Norman Osborn's back in prison" was to undo it all as part of a complete thought of the story itself. Maybe it worked, maybe it didn't work, maybe crossovers need to be punches and explosions and the black guy dies and a woman loses her powers and we all persevere into the next bold morning. I don't know. I think event comics can be more than that formula.
And ultimately, it's a story about stories. Where there was a myth that no one knew, and a legend no one knew, it seemed sort of appropriate to kind of adapt this shape, because it had it the whole time, to me. How do we shape our stories, how do our stories shape us.
My favorite complaint that I heard was, "Aw, come on, Thor just came back." Come on, he just died. The innate illogic of that — if you knew anyone that was dead for two years, and then came back, there would be a religion. It's so common; it's such a debased coin in the realm of comics that we think about it in that kind of logical fallacy kind of way, where we say things like that and the absurdity doesn't register.
Nrama: Yet there was a definitely a thought among some readers out there — even in a blog post that appeared on this site — that since, Bucky is back, Thor is back and Paris has been restored, there aren't any real, lasting ramifications coming out of Fear Itself; that all of the major events have already been overturned. What would you both say to that contingent?
Fraction: Well, if you feel that way, you feel that way. I'd humbly suggest though that maybe we've not seen the ramifications yet, aside from: Odin is gone. Asgardspace is locked out. Asgard is now a city on Earth that is run by Thor's mothers — who have never been real characters in these books. The world has been hammered to sh*t. Everyone saw the Avengers f*cking eat it, and eat it, and keeping eating it, and win only by being joined by regular folks and having to sacrifice some of their biggest guys. You've got Don Blake on Earth, you've got Thor in Limbo, you've got Tanarus replacing Thor literally and in memory, and you've got Tony Stark, who has seen through the eyes of god — the guy who thinks he's god now knows what god sees. What is that going to do to him? And also, Tony fell off the f*cking wagon, and the bad guys know he did it, and there will be hell to pay. You've got the world thinking Bucky, a war criminal, has died when, in fact, he's living a secret life on the run.
I am sorry, we did not kill a black guy, and a woman didn't lose her powers. That did not happen. Guilty as charged. That said, I think there's lots of ramifications outside of the samo-samo.
Brevoort: Events become codified in their structure, even in the tally. Pick your favorite story from years gone by: What were the ramifications of the Kree/Skrull War? Next month they fought Ares and a bunch of guys. What were the ramifications of the Avengers/Defenders War? Well, the Black Knight was still a statue and now he was in the 12th century.
Fraction: It nicely cued up that cool chapter of JLA/Avengers 30 years later.
Brevoort: I think that there's a tremendous amount of fallout, beyond all the stuff that Matt just listed. Really all the little sub-epilogues that we had at the end of Fear Itself #7 show a lot of that stuff. The actual change that the Hulk has gone through and that Jason [Aaron] is writing about now is predicated on and motivated by the events he experienced as part of Fear Itself. The hammer quest that Valkyrie and Sin and Crossbones are engaging in is a very tangible outgrowth of that. The Defenders series comes completely out of the fact that one of those creatures, Nul, is out there rampaging around. Avengers Tower is down again and gone, and now all of the Avengers are crowded into the mansion, and their lineups are shifting around, and they're responding to the changes in the world.
Fraction: No one's dead and no one lost their powers. It's not the common stuff we've always seen, I guess.
Brevoort: When the average, random fan is weighing these things, it seems like that's the only thing that will show up on their radar, and that has been completely devalued. I know that for myself, there have been a number of times on big event books where somebody has been killed, and typically it's like, "Which of these characters will die? These four headliners, or third guy from the right?" It's going to be the unimportant character who you haven't heard anything from in a while, but suddenly had three pages of stuff going on, so you hopefully care when we take his head off.
Fraction: And he's just got to make 800 on his SATs to get the full scholarship, and he just kissed a girl for the first time — things are finally turning around for D-Man!
Brevoort: To me, at least, these things are about more than just the checklist at the end. The best sort of example of that is Secret Wars. Secret Wars did all the changes kind of up front, and by the time it ended, all of those changes were gone. Spidey had found out that the costume was a bad thing, the Hulk's leg was healed, and Iron Man was back to his usual armor. A lot of these things are inevitably transitory. To me, it's, "What is the experience of the story? Did you get a rousing, good adventure? Did you find out stuff about these characters? Were they put in situations that you hadn't seen them in before?"
I think that there's a ton of ramifications, and not everything was turned around. The most obvious things that, literally the moment they happened in the book, everybody said, "Oh, those aren't gonna stick" — didn't stick. The only thing that we did is kind of cut to the chase, and went, "OK, we're not going to play the game of, for three years, Bucky's going to seem to be dead, and then suddenly we're going to pull him out." That's actually the point. The same kind of thing with Thor. Thor is going to go down, and then we immediately go to, "Here's where he is, here's what's happened, here's this transtemporal switch where somebody else is now inserted into his life," and these stories go on —because, frankly, for the most part, the audience doesn't buy into it, anyway.
Fraction: It was a scant five months ago we were having the, "Oh come on, [Bucky's] not really going to stay dead" interview. "Didn't you just kill him?" Of course. The point is never the death; it's the escape. I've said this before, but people didn't go see Houdini because they wanted to see Houdini die, they wanted to see Houdini almost die. It's the escape. It's not "Oh, I want to see that guy drown in a box." I want to see him get out of it!
Rather than insult everyone's intelligence who, like us, have been reading superhero comics since recorded time, why not spare us all the theatrics of pretending that Thor and Captain America — the stars of The Avengers, opening May 4, 2012, in a theater near you — are dead in any way differently that they have been dead before, and rather get to the meat of telling you a story about these heroes who can even beat death. Not just the Red Skull, not just Loki, but death itself. Why not tell stories about that, instead of pretending that we still live in 1985, and there's no Internet, and no pervasive cynicism?
Nrama: As you said in that interview five months ago, "Everybody knows in comics, Bucky stays dead." Moving to a much more tangible issue, people have been interested to know what the plan is for collection these three issues, since they're not in the Fear Itself hardcover —what's in the works?
Brevoort: I'm pretty certain that they'll go with the individual books. I suspect that #7.1 will probably end up in the first Winter Soldier collection, because that'll make sense; it's the same creative team, and so forth. The Iron Man one will certainly be in an Iron Man collection; I kind of suspect it'll be in the Fear Itself Iron Man collection. The Thor one may actually be the kick-off of the next Thor collection. Basically, we're going to put them where they best fit the larger stories.
Fraction: I would love to one day do a kind of "Ultimate Fear Itself" collection, where we get to put it with Book of the Skull opening and kind of shuffle the order — kind of put everything in one, big oversized collection.
I still maintain that the stuff that Brian [Michael Bendis] did on Secret Invasion, when you read Secret Invasion and the two Avengers books in the order of publication, is a completely different experience; and is completely enviable and admirable, and astonishingly good, that unless you sit down and deliberately make yourself read it in that error, you don't see it how complicated a watchwork that story really was.
Nrama: So to wrap up this long journey, do either of you have any final thoughts or reflections you'd like to share?
Fraction: It is nice to not have to lie about the Bucky stuff anymore. Ed's plans for this character have been in place as long as Ed has been writing this character, this juke included. While it took a little bit of a twist in the making, I know he and I were both relieved to no longer have to lie about what was going on, or why. And the first issue [of Winter Soldier] is phenomenal.
Nrama: Well, it's not like you guys were really "lying." Though that must be a weird part of the job, having to kind of skate around things in public and figure out the best way to give cutesy answers to things.
Brevoort: At the end of the day, I try like hell to never actually, literally lie in any of these things. But I will obfuscate like a mofo, because my real job is telling stories that entertain and surprise and shock and delight you. It's not answering questions. Of the two of those, one is more important than the other.
Nrama: It's December, so it's actually been nearly exactly a year since Fear Itself was announced — and the first time the three of us talked about it.
Fraction: Wow, that's right. I was in Singapore, and it was like a week away, and they were like, "So what do you have to tell us?" And I was like, "Boy, is next week exciting for me!"
Brevoort: This is just the nature of how we work, but Fear Itself feels like an eternity ago to me. The last books didn't come out that long ago, but we're always so focused, ahead and forward. My head is squarely in 2012, and even a little bit in 2013 now. It's that weird sort of astronaut time compression thing, where time is not passing at the same rate for us as it is for everybody else.Past installments of Newsarama's Facing Fear column:
- FACING FEAR: Fraction and Brevoort Reflect on FEAR ITSELF
- FACING FEAR: Q&A with Fraction & Brevoort on FEAR ITSELF #7
- FACING FEAR: Q&A with Fraction & Brevoort on FEAR ITSELF #6
- 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