The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, and ironically enough for comic book fans, one of the biggest reasons to look forward to 2011 is also "Fear Itself."
Earlier today at New York's Midtown Comics in Time Square, Marvel Entertainment's Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada and VP - Executive Editors Tom Brevoort and Axel Alonso announced "Fear Itself," the publisher's latest event series from "Invincible Iron Man" and "Uncanny X-Men" writer Matt Fraction and an all-star art team including Stuart Immonen, Wayne Von Grawbadger and Laura Martin. The series debuts with a special prologue issue from Ed Brubaker and Scot Eaton in March and the full seven-issue series commencing in April with an oversized first issue. In "Fear Itself," the various heroes of the Marvel Universe will gather together to combat a new threat Fraction referred to as "the god of fear" in a pre-recorded video message. Eight of the most worthy Marvel champions will be selected to defend the cause and fight for what they believe in. The specific characters were not identified at the press conference, as their identities will be teased out in the comings weeks and months.
CBR News had the opportunity to talk exclusively with Brevoort and Alonso at the end of the press conference, and while the main players of "Fear Itself" weren't identified right away, both editors promised that the X-Men would play a significant role in the event.
"In 'Civil War,' the X-Men sort of opted out. In this, they don't have the luxury of opting out," Alonso told CBR. "As the X-Men group editor, I'm champing at the bit to get them more integrated in the Marvel Universe, and they will be in a major way here. They brokered a deal in 'Civil War,' so [their absence] was as simple as that. But they're going to be involved in a big way in 'Fear Itself.'"
As far as other characters involved in the event, the editors were tight-lipped. "One thing you will see in this line-wide event," said Alonso, "is that there are a number of relationships, alliances and character developments seen over the last few years that definitely come to fruition in 'Fear Itself.' There's going to be a lot of pay off."
During our chat, Brevoort recalled the origins of "Fear Itself" as stemming from an original idea that Fraction proposed at an editorial meeting. "We'd been talking about stuff to do in the coming year, and he had this thought, this nugget, that grew into 'Fear Itself,'" he said. "It changed a little bit as we talked about it and workshopped it back and forth, but really, the central idea was something that Matt had brought into the room."
Though the plot details are a bit murky at the moment, the central idea is not. At the outset of the press conference, Quesada kicked things off by painting a grim picture of the world we live in, ideas "Fear Itself" will undoubtedly explore.
"Times are tough," he explained. "Unemployment is at an all-time high. Families are losing their homes, worldwide economies are on the brink. All you need to do is turn on the TV, the computer, a radio and you should find a politician, pundit or prophet who's out there ready to tell you what you should be afraid of, who's responsible and why you should be afraid of them. It's a world divided. At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself who you should trust. Who do you trust? Twenty-four hour news cycles? Weather changes? WikiLeaks? Depression? Recession? Bailouts? Bankers? If you're anything like me, it's a great time to be fearful, and if you're anything like the people out there who deal in fear and seek to gain from fear, well, it's just a good time. Let's face it, friends: the world has gotten smaller, and today more than ever, fear above all else seems to be a great motivator. There's no shortage of charlatans, tyrants and despots ready to stoke the flames. All they need is a spark."
"Now, here's the good news," he grinned. "We're talking about the Marvel Universe."
Quesada and his editors estimate that "Fear Itself" has been in development for somewhere between 15 and 18 months, with Brevoort teasing that eagle-eyed readers will be able to look back and see the seeds that Fraction has been planting in many of his titles. "If people were to go back and read through Matt's run on 'Uncanny,'" he said, "particularly now that we've seen the stuff about 'Fear Itself' but certainly after the first or second issues come out, they'll probably see a few little breadcrumbs that were sprinkled amongst all of the stuff that he did to lead these characters and lead these storylines to this place. Beyond that, I don't want to get too detailed - it's too early."
"Too early" is a refrain that comic book fans still suffering from so-called event fatigue are doubtlessly hanging onto. With "Civil War," "Secret Invasion," "Dark Reign" and "Siege" fresh in many fans' minds, some readers are dubious about yet another event series cropping up less than a year after the launch of "The Heroic Age," an era where major events were downplayed in favor of considerably more hopeful, optimistic superhero adventures. Now, not only is another event coming to the Marvel Universe, it's an event that's billed as the biggest one yet. With multiple tie-in issues, new series launches, one-shots and more already in the works, is it perhaps a little soon for a story with the size and scope of "Fear Itself"?
"You don't set off saying, 'Let's tell a major event.' You start with a nugget of an idea and it starts gaining steam in the room and it gets workshopped," Alonso said of the decision to pursue "Fear Itself" as an event series. "Matt came in with an idea and we beat it up like we did with 'Civil War' and 'Secret Invasion,' until we thought we had something really sound ... [and] we realized that we were saying something that's relevant to today, and it had outreach beyond just the comic book community."
"These things are all just gut-level reactions to what's going on in the industry and where we happen to be," added Brevoort. "We're heading into the end of 'Dark Reign' and you're building up 'Siege,' and it seemed like the pot was getting to a point where it was time to give people a chance to catch their breaths, regroup and take a little bit of the stress off. But while you'll hear from fans who still say that there's too many events and too much stuff, on the other hand, there's a whole bunch of other fans wondering, 'When is something big and exciting going to happen?' It's never really beneficial for us to take our foot off the gas too much, so we always knew we would eventually came back around to it. It's really just a gut thing."
Brevoort added that developing "Fear Itself" as an event series made even more sense when other Marvel creators and editors started chiming in on the concept with their own unique ideas. "It's telling when other editors and other creators kind of get on board and get enthusiastic and excited about what's going on," he said. "We're all sitting there, talking about the story and what it means, what will happen with the characters and where it will all go. And as people get more excited and involved and start throwing ideas around, the story just naturally begins to expand as more and more people have their take or their position or their relationship to it."
Despite the input of other writers and editors, it's Fraction who's steering the good ship "Fear Itself" forward, and by all accounts, it seems like a story that caters to the Eisner-winning writer's strengths. "It's playing to stuff that Matt cares about, things that he's interested in and invested in," said Brevoort. "Hopefully it means that he'll be able to devote his best to it and take it to the next level. He's been dying to work with Stuart for the longest time, so getting that opportunity and having somebody as facile as well as dependable as Stuart on the project means that it'll look great and it should all come out when it's supposed to."
"Fear Itself" kicks off in March 2011 with a World War II era issue penned by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Scot Eaton. The proper series, written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Stuart Immonen, hits comic book stores one month later. Stay tuned to CBR News as we learn more about the project.