SPOILER WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR “FEAR ITSELF” #1, IN STORES NOW
We live in scary times; jobs are scarce, but prices are on the rise, violent conflicts rage across the world and our environment is being poisoned. What’s even more scary is that we seem powerless to stop any of these things. The Marvel Universe is meant to mirror our own, so it’s citizens are dealing with the same problems we are. Their sense of powerlessness is even greater, however, because they have the added fear that some super powered villain could go on a destructive rampage at any moment.
In “Fear Itself” #1, by writer Matt Fraction and artist Stuart Immonen, that fear was realized. Only it’s not just a villain going on a rampage, but a god! In the issue, the malevolent fear god known as the Serpent was released from his mystical prison, and if his claims are true, he’s at least as powerful, if not more so, than the king of the Asgardian Gods, Odin the All-Father. Now free to roam the Earth once more, the Serpent has big and destructive plans for the Marvel U, and when those plans are put into action, many of the MU’s residents will feel like the end times are at hand. CBR News spoke with Immonen about “Fear Itself” #1, which kicks off the apocalyptic event saga.
CBR News: Stuart, you’ve worked on an event storyline in the past with DC Comics’ “Final Night,” But this is your first Marvel event. How does it feel to have the first issue of “Fear Itself” complete and in stores?
Stuart Immonen: “Final Night” seems like a lifetime ago — now that I think about it, it might very well have come out before some readers of “Fear Itself” were even alive. The mind reels.
It’s exciting, naturally, to be on the cusp of the release of anything new, and especially something like this series. We’ve all been working on it for so long (some longer than others) that there’s bound to be a great deal of anticipation to the audience reaction. That being said, I’ve put my contribution of the issue to bed months ago now, so my focus is on keeping the pace and enthusiasm high for the remainder of the series.
What was it about the “Fear Itself” concept that made you want to be part of the project?
Simply, Matt Fraction tells a compelling yarn and has a knack for the epic; since we’d met a few years ago, we’d talked on and off about the possibility of working together. It’s easier when the editor on one’s current project is also the editor on a potentially new project; Tom Brevoort gave himself the authority to move me from my fairly recent debut on “New Avengers” to “Fear Itself,” and, while I was taken aback at the seemingly out-of-the-blue offer, it wasn’t something I was about to let slip away, either.
This is your first collaboration with Matt. What’s it like working with him? Which elements of his scripts and his writing style do you find most appealing as an artist?
Like all good scripters, Matt writes with an ear to giving the artist more to work with than dialogue and some perfunctory description. He goes the extra mile to sell the emotional and visceral aspects of each scene, something not at all necessary — after all, no one but the penciller is going to read it — but appreciated. It makes for a better book.
I also respect his versatility. Like me, Matt came from a small press background and is adept at more than one genre or style. When the dust settles, it’d be interesting to team up again on something completely different.
So far, how work intensive has “Fear Itself” been for you compared to other assignments where you regularly drew a number of different characters, like, say, “New Avengers?”
It’s nothing like any other team book. I started out on “Legion of Superheroes” in the early 90s and I thought there were a lot of characters in that title. I’ve drawn the FF, the X-Men, the Avengers, Ultimate X-Men, New Avengers — and all that experience amounts to a drop in the comic publishing bucket compared to the scope of a book like “Fear Itself.” And it’s not just the hero roster; the level of work required just scene-setting can be wearing, but Wade Von Grawbadger and Laura Martin are detail-crazy — they eat it up, and it encourages me to work harder.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that regardless of the creative team involved, Marvel’s big event stories have made use of a page layout that you don’t regularly see in their monthly comics — the two-page spread, usually utilizing a big panel on top that spans both pages and then a second or third row of panels below it. You use that layout a couple of times in “Fear Itself” #1. As an artist what’s it like doing sequences like these and why do you think we typically only see this type of layout in event stories?
Maybe that’s a Bendis thing — he’s written that layout for me on “Ultimate Spider-Man” and “New Avengers” frequently. It just works — it gives the impression of a full DPS, but moves the story forward in the succeeding panels. You could tell the same story with a splash followed by a paneled page, but some scenes need a wide-screen landscape establishing shot to really pay off.
In the debut issue, you got to have some fun with several different action sequences on various scales. We’ve got the opening riot, Sin versus the dragons guarding the Serpent’s prison and the Thor-Odin smackdown. Which of these sequences was the most enjoyable and which was the most difficult?
Obviously, drawing hundreds — or at least the impression of hundreds — of people in a detailed city environment is more labor-intensive than drawing made-up monsters on a vague, featureless sea bottom, but there are many resources available for the city scene in terms of photographic reference, 3D models or general familiarity with human body language as opposed to invented physiology. Ultimately, there are challenges in each case.
I might go so far as to say that, for me, action scenes and quiet moments require the same amount of forethought and effort to execute effectively; one isn’t more fun or appealing than the other. My primary goal is to tell the story through the arc of the action and not to splash out with a lot of showy clutter, but a smackdown should look like a smackdown.
Odin was a really, big presence in issue #1. It also seems, based on his dialogue, facial expressions and actions, he’s both angry and terrified at the circumstances unfolding in the issue.
Yeah, that’s more or less an accurate assessment. All will be revealed in time.
One of the most interesting Odin scenes came when the Watcher appeared next to him. For years, a Watcher appearance has signified something big is happening or about to happen. It seems like one of the ways you emphasized that with the Watcher’s appearance in issue #1 was by emphasizing the sheer size of the Watcher himself.
Well, Uatu is a big character. There’s not much I can change about that. I did like how Matt portrayed him in the script, as if his silent presence alone could be read as a foreboding. Not easy to get across with a blank-eyed, baby-faced giant in a dress, but I tried.
We know from the series’ tagline — “Iron Breaks. Soldiers Fall. Gods Die.” — Thor and Steve Rogers are going to be playing big roles in this series. Who are these characters to you as an artist and which of their qualities do you really want to capture and bring forth in your depictions of them?
They’re two pillars of Marvel history. Representing them with respect is a huge responsibility. I have some previous history with Thor, having worked on the regular series with Dan Jurgens a number of years ago, but apart from a scene in “Nextwave,” I don’t recall having drawn Steve Rogers — no, not even when I filled in on “Avengers” for George Perez. I’m sure someone with a better memory than me can remember if I’m wrong.
The funny thing is, I find Steve Rogers to be a more natural fit for me. Thor’s a great character, but as far as drawing him in action, there seem to be only so many ways to approach a guy with a big hammer — carefully. It’s kind of like the Flash; all that running would probably be a chore after a while. Luckily, there’s a lot more to him than hitting things in a flash of lightning.
You drew a lot of established characters in this issue, but two new character designs also made their debut: the transformed daughter of the Red Skull, Sin, and the Serpent himself. What was it like designing these characters?
It’s part of the job description to come up with character designs or redesigns. It really happens all the time. The challenge for me is to come up with something that hopefully says something about the character — her personality, her history, her power — and not be a burden to draw over and over. It should be pleasing (or ugly as the case may be) from all angles, emphasize movement and look badass
In this case, I was working in tandem with Marko Djurdjevic, who designed the Worthy hammer-wielders. His designs and mine had to share elements in order to tie together thematically.
The issue #2 teaser page had the caption “Blitzkrieg USA.” Can you give us some hints about what we’ll see in “Fear Itself” #2? Are there any particular sequences or action set pieces that you’re especially excited about in the issue?
Matt had a great idea early on to provide a teaser page in every book of scenes from the next issue, so readers of #1 know that there’s a mystery hammer in a crater, Thor is in chains and the US Capitol Dome has been destroyed. Hmmm — what could it all mean?
Any final thoughts you would like to share about your work on “Fear Itself” #1 or the series in general?
It was an honor and a privilege to have been asked to come on board the series. I’m fortunate to be in such talented company — Matt’s widely recognized as a powerhouse creator and the literally award-winning art team of Wade Von Grawbadger, Laura Martin and Chris Eliopoulos are all so talented and at the top of their game on this book. Everyone’s making me look a lot better than I really am.