The Comic Book Club: Nonplayer and Fear Itself

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up discussing what we picked up. This week, Evan Narcisse, Douglas Wolk, Matt Peckham and Graeme McMillan talk about the debut issues of Nonplayer and Marvel’s crossover event Fear Itself.

GRAEME: So here’s how I described Fear Itself #1 to a friend this morning: “It’s like Civil War rewritten by Geoff Johns and Glenn Beck.” There’s the “ripped from the headlines” aspect of Civil War, only done really, really clumsily and awkwardly. Seriously, that two page scene about the family leaving Broxton because of everything that’s been happening? Ouch. I can’t believe THAT was the scene that Marvel released as a pre-release preview. But it’s mixed with the “mysterious objects beyond human ken” fetish from Johns’ Green Lantern/Blackest Night/Brightest Day run. Which, when I put it like that, sounds a lot more enjoyable than this actually felt.

DOUGLAS: I’m just waiting to see if the mysterious things that are seeking out the Worthy are all hammers like Thor’s and Sin’s. And, if so, if they’re color-coded. So toyetic! Gotta get ‘em all!

GRAEME: I’m not sure that anything about this was bad, exactly… Well, okay, maybe a lot of the dialogue was a little obvious and on the nose. (“It was chaos. People just SCREAMING– At each other’s THROATS– And I couldn’t STOP it.” “Steve–Buddy– Don’t take this the wrong way, but… Well, ‘Captain America’ doesn’t come with the same cachet it once did.” Why, thank you, Mr. Obvious.) And some of the pacing felt a little off, but as the first issue of a major event book, this didn’t make any massive mistakes. So why did it feel so underwhelming?

(More on TIME.com: The Comic Book Club: Xombi and Fear Itself: Book of the Skull)

Definitely not underwhelming was the art. I’ve long been a fan of Stuart Immonen, and his work here is just great (helped by Laura Martin’s colors, it should be pointed out). Clear and easy to read without being bland, and stylish without being loaded with codes and tics and showing off, Immonen is one of the strongest artists Marvel has. It’s nice to see him get a series of the prestige that he’s deserved for years.

I don’t know; I didn’t dislike this, but I found nothing here that wowed me, or made me particularly curious to read further or even care about the event in general. It felt clumsily-written but well-intentioned, and furthered my idea of Marvel as the comic company that really, really wants you to feel like it reads the news every now and again.

EVAN: Twitter spoiled some of this for me this morning, specifically the Odin characterization and the social commentary stuff. Now, I’m not spoiler-phobic. Generally, when I get spoiled, I want to see how the stuff gets executed anyway.

And when I got Fear Itself #1 and read it, I was put off by how safe it all felt–like there’s some sort of editorial algorithm at work that spits out a beat sheet. I’m going to give Fraction a lot of room here, because he’s generally a thoughtful writer who executes well. The fact remains, though, that this is a lot of vanilla set-up. I’m going to lay the blame on the whole latter-day event comics phenomenon. Still, because it’s Fraction, I wanted this to be different. And that’s the thing: if we have to keep on having event comics because that’s The Way Things Are Now, then, for the love of God, somebody take some risks. Give me something more personality-driven or something more idiosyncratic and feverish, please.

(More on TIME.com: The Comic Book Club: Jimmy Olsen and Butcher Baker)

DOUGLAS: Fraction’s story actually reminds me a bit of the first issue of Final Crisis in some ways–an event comic that actually was incredibly idiosyncratic (and paid the price for it in terms of some of the audience response)–especially the way it tries to build the sense that the prevailing tone of the world it’s set in is changing and getting chillier. But at the end of this first issue, I still don’t have a clear sense of what Fear Itself is about–in terms of either its plot or its themes–and that’s a big problem. (I also picked up Fear Itself: The Home Front #1, and that didn’t help much either.) It doesn’t help that Fraction’s story tries to avoid obviousness by simply not stating the obvious stuff. The opening scene is clearly inspired by the Muslim-community-center/”mosque at Ground Zero” fake controversy, but the fact that Fraction doesn’t actually tell us what the riot is about kneecaps its dramatic effectiveness. “The Serpent is back,” we learn later: yeah? What serpent? Everyone seems to know except us!

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