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Panel Bashing: Fear Itself Book One

Attempting the fusion of street-level concerns and straight-up superheroics that made Civil War such a resounding success, Marvel is aiming straight at the zeitgeist with this one. The economic crash is front and centre for the real-world inhabitants of the Marvel universe; jobs are scarce, homes are being repossessed and the streets reek of violence as the populace begin to panic about their prospects.

Using this simmering tension as a backdrop, Fear Itself careers off on a supernatural tangent as the Red Skull’s daughter Sin claims the Norse hammer her daddy summoned in the Prologue . Transformed into Skadi, the wielder of a “legendary weapon of unspeakable violence”, she heads to the bottom of the ocean to free the god of fear from his watery prison.

Meanwhile the Avengers, in an attempt to rejuvenate Broxton, attempt to instigate an Asgard re-building program at the behest of Tony Stark. Unfortunately, Odin’s not playing ball (mainly thanks to an infuriating encounter with The Watcher and an inkling that an old enemy is returning) leading to a showdown with Thor that leaves the God Of Thunder looking like a scolded schoolboy.

Dense with Norse mythology, sinister new villains and the promise of Earth-shattering times ahead, Fear Itself is off to a cracking start. While the real-world concerns of everyday folk could have jarred horribly alongside all the Nazi magic and Asgardian concepts, Matt Fraction does a great job of making it gel together as a coherent whole.

Before the first issue is even over, this event is living up to its pre-press hype. Fraction successfully infuses the entire first issue with an air of uncertainty and a sense of impending dread that is never made overt but is present all the same. Both Thor and Captain America stand on shaky ground, the normally sure-footed pair facing uncertain futures. The Marvel universe is already tilting on its axis, with Odin taking Mjolnir away from his eldest and leading the Asgardians back to the astral plane, and Skadi working to unleash an ancient evil on both Gods and men alike.

On the art side of things, Stuart Immonen’s pencils are confident and striking, and he takes everything from the streets of Broxton to the depths of the Pacific in his stride - the perfect compliment to Fraction’s carefully conceived opening gambit. While this issue is very much the calm before the storm, the pieces are in place and the Watcher is all eyes. Issue two can’t arrive quickly enough.