A story as big as Fear Itself — Marvel’s latest “event,” starting in full in April with a prologue out in March — merits a big interview, and we’ve reached the third and final part of our talk with Matt Fraction, writer of the main seven-issue Fear Itself series, and Tom Brevoort, Marvel’s senior vice president of publishing.
In the first part, we covered the main characters of the story — Captain America and Thor — the origins of the story, and what goes into planning and executing an event like this, with multiple tie-ins and coordination from different creators and editors. In numero dos, we talked about the scope of the series, and past crossovers helping to inspire Fraction along the way.
So for part three, we discuss the work of Stuart Immonen, artist of the main Fear Itself series; plus the role of Steve Rogers in the story, the cause of "event burnout," and whether or not the “Do You Fear…” round of teasers should be taken literally.
Newsarama: Matt, Tom, to touch on characters a little bit more — one thing about these events is that they often involve characters you wouldn’t expect. Like in Civil War, the inciting incident involved Speedball, and the ramifications are still seen on the character today. If you can disclose at this point, are there any characters playing an important role in Fear Itself that readers maybe wouldn’t expect?
Tom Brevoort: Sin’s right there by page 8. Sin, who’s the new Red Skull that Ed [Brubaker]’s been building up in Captain America, has an enormous arc in Fear Itself, and is in some ways one of the prime movers of it.
Matt Fraction: And by the end is the Red Skull, there is no doubt. She’s the ultimate trust fund kid, and she has these profound daddy issues. By the end, there is no doubt she is a better Red Skull than her father was. She doesn’t have, obviously, the legacy, but in terms of just accomplishments — just putting numbers up on the board — by the end of this, she’s done things that her dad tried to do time and time again and failed. And that’s a big deal. That’s a heavy kind of moment. That’s exciting to write, to get a chance to elevate somebody like that; to give somebody some superstar moments is pretty terrific.
Brevoort: This is as a big, transformative story for that character. People will look at her differently when we’re done here. She’ll be operating on another level beyond than the one she happens to be at at the moment. There are a bunch of other characters — four, five, six, seven, maybe as many as eight — that will similarly go through some heavy sh*t in this, and come out the other side changed, and will carry the weight and the scars and the burden of this experience. And the positive sides of that, too, if you happen to be in a certain mindset.
Nrama: Should it be taken as significant that you referred to Steve Rogers as Captain America?
Fraction: I think it’s just more force of habit. Usually in the script, it’s Bucky-Cap or Steve-Cap. He’s still Steve, he’s very much Steve Rogers. To write Steve in the Super-Soldier uniform and not the Captain America uniform, as all this sh*t goes down, is awesome. Because it drives him crazy. You can feel it. Every time he speaks, it’s like he’s got an itch he scratch, because he wants to be back in the middle of it all. And it’s not his time, and it’s Bucky, and he’s got to fall back and deal with all this stuff. To say nothing of the stuff that Ed is up to when this opens up.
He’s afraid he’s a has-been. He speaks with such authority, and such resonant, American, mythopoetic power, to then kind of back that up with suspecting that his time has passed, and that he can’t just climb up on a car with a bullhorn and ask everybody to stay calm and we’ll get through it any more, is a startling wake-up call for him.
Brevoort: The way I look at it is, he’s the best soldier in the world who’s now been promoted to general. He’s sort of ill-at-ease being the general. It’s a completely different place. In World War II, Cap was on the front lines, punching Master Man or whatever Nazi horde there was, while somebody in back of the lines was planning strategy. Now, due to the fact that he’s in this position, it’s not appropriate for him to be at the forefronts. He has to be in back of the lines, directing.
Fraction: He’s on desk duty, and this is driving him crazy.
Brevoort: It does not sit well.
Fraction: Bucky-Cap plays a vital role, but he plays a vital and a key role in Ed’s book first.
Nrama: Moving to the role of Stuart Immonen as artist — Tom, what made him the right choice; and Matt, what’s it been like working with him thus far?
Fraction: It is a dream come true. I have long been a fan of Stuart’s, and have long wanted to work with him. That it’s finally happening is terrific for me. And he is a stone cold master. Everything he touches is great. I wrote him a letter yesterday — the scene I was most nervous about in the first issue is one of those “this is how it’s affecting the real world moments,” and I was just like, “It’s gonna fall completely flat on the page, it’s going to feel like an after-school special, you’re going to hear tires screeching in your mind. This is where I blow it.” The scene is what it is, I wrote it the best I could, and everybody signed off on it, and away we go, now it’s down to Stuart to stick the landing. And he did. And he did it so well.
I wrote him complimenting it, and clearly it wasn’t the compliment you want to hear when you spend a day writing a massive riot. When you spend half-a-day drawing a guy getting into a car, which is what this scene is, you don’t want to hear, “This is my favorite scene in the book.” But that was exactly the letter that I wrote Stuart. It’s one of those invisible, quiet moments that he just nailed, because he is such a professional. He’s so good, and so talented. That is what real storytelling is. That is straight-up storytelling. I’m so lucky that he’s a part of this ridiculous orgy of chaos.
Brevoort: I think Stuart is one of those guys who’s been overlooked a little bit over the last decade or what have you, simply because he’s perhaps not as bombastic or flashy or even has that sort of spotlight-seeking personality that other artists do.
Fraction: He is a polite Canadian.
Brevoort: In terms of his actual skill level, he’s a fantastic designer. That’s one of the aspects of the job that’s completely overlooked. Whether it’s page design and panel composition, whether it’s character design, the overall sensibility of the thing, he’s masterful at it. He can approach these things in a dozen different styles.
Fraction: Nobody ever talks about this; Stuart adapts a different style for every single project. Every single project he draws differently. He starts working, you don’t know what you’re going to get. Brian would say to me, “You don’t know what you’re going to get yet.” You go back and look at all of his work, and you see the Stuart of Nextwave is not the Stuart of Avengers. Even the Stuart of Ultimate Spider-Man isn’t the Stuart of Avengers.
Nrama: And Superman: Secret Identity was totally different from all of that.
Fraction: Exactly. He’s just a restlessly versatile artist who does so much homework, and so much just amazing stuff to get into a book.
So he’s a master stylist, a stunning storyteller and draftsman. He also is a professional. How do I phrase this without jinxing myself? I don’t know that, without, like, grotesque medical or personal catastrophe, that Stuart doesn’t know how to produce at least a page a day. You see these pages, and you think, “How long did it take you to do this?” “That was yesterday.” He just is a pro. He’s a machine, and is so delightful to work with on every single level.
We got a page yesterday, where I said in the script, “Yeah, Stuart, you should go for it!” G*ddamn if he didn’t go for it, and delivered a page that’s going to sell that first issue, I think. Right away, you buy in, and you get the scope and the scale of the thing.
In conclusion: Stuart, good.
Nrama: One more thing I wanted to ask about, the week of “Do you fear…” teasers that preceded the initial Fear Itself announcement. Should we look at those, I’m guessing, as more conceptual representations of the story than actual literal scenes that play out in the comic?
Brevoort: Definitely so. They all represent something, but there probably won’t be a scene in Fear Itself that’s literally Spider-Man looking at televisions in a window.
Fraction: Hang on. Delete delete delete delete delete delete.
Brevoort: They all represent events and ideas and themes and sequences that will be in the book, but they’re not necessarily meant to be taken absolutely literally.
Fraction: Thematically, my approach to Spider-Man in this is that he is really the presence of vox populi. He is the voice of the people, he is the guy on the streets. That there is an art image of him surrounded by the anxiety of the people is perfectly appropriate.
Nrama: Well, that’s a lot of talk on Fear Itself — any final words from either of you on the story?
Fraction: As somebody who both worked under less than ideal circumstances in an event, and as a reader who has been burned by more than my share of Millenniums, we are acutely aware of, “You know what causes event burnout? Sh*tty events.” I think everybody is aware of how easy it is to hate these things, to resent them for eating up story time. With that in mind, we’ve been moving forward on trying to create something that doesn’t just feel like the same ol’ same ol’, and delivers in big ways on big, huge levels, that will reward you, by hopefully being awesome.
Hopefully this will be as much fun to read as it has been to work on so far. I don’t know, Tom, maybe that’s where we go wrong — was Civil War miserable to work on the whole time?
Brevoort: No, Civil War was plenty fun to work on. It was a pain when we started to get late and everybody was rioting over it. The actual process wasn’t necessarily bad. It’s good to enjoy what we’re doing, because I think that bleeds out to the readers as well. They can sense artifice; they can sense when we’re just running the bases and not really having our head in the game.
We say this all the time, it starts to sound like empty platitudes but it’s really true: Every time we step up to the plate, on a big one and the smaller stories too, we go out to put our best foot forward, and to give it our best shot on making this worthwhile, and making your investment of the time in your life and the dollars in your wallet, to give the readers an experience that they think is worthwhile, and interesting, and engaging, and exciting, and so forth. Hopefully we hit more than we miss, and hopefully this will be a big hit, but that will be up to the audience at the end of the day.Looking forward to Stuart Immonen's work on FEAR ITSELF?