"Fear Itself" officially kicked off this week with a prologue book that makes up what was meant to be part of Ed Brubaker's half of the proposed Captain America/Thor crossover that "Fear Itself" grew out of. It's not too difficult to see how that's possible since "Book of the Skull" #1 reads like an issue of "Captain America," particularly under Brubaker where much of what happens in the present is dictated by what occurred in the past, often in World War 2. Except this comic is a little more drawn out and not just another issue of "Captain America," it's the beginning of Marvel's new event, and it's a good comic, not great.
Framed by Sin and Baron Zemo raiding an old base of the Red Skull, the issue details an attempt by the Skull during World War 2 to obtain a weapon from the gods that goes somewhat awry, partly because of Captain America, Bucky, and Namor, and partly because it's not an exact science. Taken alone, it's an entertaining superhero action comic with the Red Skull obviously over his head, unable to grasp that some things cannot be bent to his will, and angering Namor in the process by sacrificing some of his people to the gods. It's your pretty standard 'Red Skull crazy World War 2 scheme' plot with few surprises.
And that's what holds this issue back: competent execution with few surprises and one or two small pieces of information that tie in with "Fear Itself." It's not the 'light your world on fire' kick off that one expects or desires. Instead of ramping up excitement for the big event that starts in three weeks, it seems a solid beginning to the new "Captain America" storyarc. Nothing about this comic seems essential or like it couldn't be accomplished with one sentence of a recap.
Scot Eaton's art has similar problems. He does a competent job with the story, never unclear or confusing. He draws the action scenes well, staging the characters and their movement in an energetic fashion. Stylistically, though, his line work is cluttered at times, and his faces are bulging and scrunched at the same time. It's generic superhero art that, again, doesn't scream big event.
If you were excited for "Fear Itself," "Book of the Skull" won't dampen that excitement, but it certainly won't increase it. It's an entertaining superhero story that follows a plot that has been done many times before, both in Ed Brubaker's "Captain America" and elsewhere. Both the art and writing feel inessential to "Fear Itself," nothing that can't be covered in a line of explanation.