From the splendor of "Fear Itself" comes a supplementary read to the main action. Sort of. This issue parallels the story that opens up over in "Fear Itself," which also hit stands this week, but with less flair. Like "Civil War; Front Line" and "Siege: Embedded," before now, this series is clearly intended to enhance the overall "Fear Itself" story experience for the reader who just cannot get enough.
Unfortunately, this issue flags somewhere between forced and irrelevant.
The opening story, starring Speedball, is intense and bridges a gap between "Civil War" and "Fear Itself" while also blending in "Avengers Academy." Christos N. Gage fills that story with details, links, dialog, and backdrop, threatening to stall the story out under its own weight on more than one occasion. Marcy Pearson, Trish Tilby, and Miriam Sharpe all factor in with this Mike Mayhew-drawn fumetti-esque story that takes photo-referencing to a new level. While the style helps ground the adventure, it also makes Speedball look a great deal like Peter Billingsley. The story is the first of seven parts, and leaves this issue with a cliffhanger, but not a nail-biter.
With great power comes great responsibility, and that responsibility is shouldered by the Agents of Atlas in a Peter Milligan written story that doesn't know what it wants to do. What it does do, spectacularly, is display that the Agents really are a pet project of Jeff Parker's. Milligan's Agents just don't have the same pizzazz, and here they don't even seem like the characters I enjoyed in "Atlas" just a few months ago. Elia Bonetti's art is serviceable for the story, and when positioned between Mike Mayhew and Howard Chaykin, Bonetti's style is a nice transition. I do hope that in the next three installments (the duration of this feature) this story finds a way to be more similar to the Atlas adventures than it was in this issue.
The Jameson bit from Chaykin is little more than a one-page filler, but it does serve the purpose of reminding the reader that J. Jonah Jameson is always out there, waiting to spew forth his opinion and hurl barbs at those he deems worthy of a public undressing.
The issue wraps with a story from Jim McCann and Pepe Larraz that peeks into the everyday goings-on Broxton. McCann wraps up this story - and this first issue - with a parallel to the events that transpire in "Fear Itself." Larraz's art is energetic and clean, filled with believable characters. I'd like to see more of Larraz's stuff, especially if some heroes come along with the story next time.
This first issue is hardly "must-read" material. I'd even go so far as to say it's barely even "nice-to-read" stuff. It doesn't do much to add to the tapestry of "Fear Itself" that isn't already masterfully accomplished in the main title. As a standalone, it is a little less inspiring, unless you happen to be a diehard Speedball fan. I'm not certain what future issues hold, but there will be, at the very least, stories of Speedball and Agents of Atlas. That's really not going to be enough to guarantee my dollars and time, but I'll at least peek in the issue to see if it is an upgrade from this one.