The Marvel Universe has much to fear this spring as the publisher prepares its latest grand sweeping mega-event. "Fear Itself" sees an ancient foe from the mythology of Thor challenge the very foundations of what superheroes think of themselves. To spread the word on the book, series writer Matt Fraction (who tackles the main series with artist Stuart Immonen) joined SVP of Publishing Tom Brevoort for a live press call, and CBR was on hand for all the news!
"What a weirdly fearsome night...how appropriate," Fraction said from Hawaii where he is on vacation and thankfully safe from any effects of the tsunami hitting the island state. "It's been two years for us since we've thought about doing an event like this," he added, noting that the core of the idea launched when Brevoort asked him and Ed Brubaker to dream up a Captain America/Thor story which grew and grew.
"It does what we do best...the story is a Cap and Thor story that happens to touch the rest of the Marvel Universe and every character in it," Fraction noted adding that the story starts rolling with the idea that Odin -Â Marvel's cornerstone of Thor's norse mythological world -Â may not actually be the All Father. When the new Red Skull discovers this and is transformed into a god herself, she becomes an avatar for fear across the Marvel U. Thor is forced to chose between the worlds of god and men while Captain America sees his fear of an all-powerful Red Skull exerting influence over the earth.
At the heart of the series are The Worthy - eight characters who have been empowered with cosmic hammers granted by the villain The Serpent who has a mysterious connection to Odin. "The Worthy are character who have within them the potential for great destruction and the potential to spread the Serpents fear across the world itself," said Brevoort. Fraction added that the Serpent's army will consist of the Red Skill (AKA Sin) and his eight generals.
"Just as readers and fans ourselves, we wanted this to be as accessible as possible," Fraction said. "You will not be penalized for not having read every Marvel comic published over the last 70 years...you can read whatever you like. You are getting the tale that we want to tell in the mini series itself."
It's a little bit like Civil War where each issue is going to have some kind of huge set piece to be hung on," he said. "I was working retail when 'Kingdom Come' came out, and it was agony waiting to see what happened in the next issue. When the press hits about what happens in issue #3, we want people who haven't come in scrambling to find what happened in #1 and 2...for me, it is that kind of big, bombastic, where the sheer scale of it you'll be amazed that one dude is getting away with this.
"There are so many massive set pieces that it's the kind of story that superheroes do best, " he added as Brevoort said "We compared it to 'Civil War' a lot, and the specific element that functions like 'Civil War' is that it functions on two levels and two scales." Like the previous huge event served as political metaphor and hero vs. hero battle, "Fear Itself" will speak to the state of the world today - "forces that we experience ourselves that are designed to create fear and turmoil in our world" - and the classic hero battle over who is in control of Asgard as Marvel heroes "punch and hit and throw themselves" at said force over seven issues.
"There are some bad guys and some good guys...not just guys we've seen teamed together before," said Fraction saying the characters will literally face their greatest fears. "Putting our characters through this emotional wringer anthropomorphized in big fisticuffs" as the writer explained it. Brevoort said they wanted to explore things not in an abstract.
"What does it mean to Captain America when he shouts 'Avengers Assemble!' and nobody follows him?" Fraction said.
Since it's been almost two years since a major, full-scale event has hit Marvel, Fraction explained that he's relishing the challenge of having earth-shattering events come from a clean starting point. "We don't have to make sure people are aware of these 17 other storylines," he said. "We can just build and go."
"This story has a large thematic content that underwrites all of the spectacle...and putting everybody down literally at square one is going to make it very inviting again," Brevoort added. "Everybody's on the same ground and is able to come in on the first floor of this new, epic ride."
The writer noted that the launch point for the story seemed natural as Hitler had an obsession with Norse mythology in World War II, making a clear connection between the Cap and Thor franchises.
Asked about the Serpent, Fraction said he's "Odin's dirty little secret...the dark heart of Norse cosmology" adding that the character's origin will be told across the series and that an Old Testament feel where he feeds on people fear him will be a major factor. "He makes Odin look like a teddy bear...the Serpent is everything vile you can imagine in a supreme deity."
"He's been wiped from the pantheon," said Brevoort. "We'll be opening the door to the closet and letting him out and laying these facts in front of the heroes of the Marvel Universe and the gods and the readers themselves."
For the Captain America side of the story equation, Fraction said that both Bucky and Steve Rogers will appear with the latter in a general's role and how uncomfortable he is in that position. Overall though, it engages the meaning of Cap's role within the heroes of the Marvel U as the voice of reason. "This event puts Steve and Bucky into very different situations that create conflict," Brevoort added, saying that as this is Bucky's first fully-fledged run as Cap in a major event, it'll be hard for that character to take the role amongst the heroes that Steve so readily accepted.
"It'll test him and pressure him in a crucible."The hammers of the Worthy came up, and Fraction noted that Odin had to get the idea for Mjolnir somewhere. "They're intended only for their wielder, and the wielders are drawn to these things whether they realize it or not. These heroes and villains become the avatars of something scary...that's a big part of our second issue."
"Each one represents a power analogues to or equivalent to Mjolnir," said Brevoort saying they would "redefine the scale of the battlefield in the Marvel Universe...it's a battle between gods, and 'man' - in the form of our superheroes - will be caught in the middle."
"We are fuel for that fire, and it's mostly between Odin and the Serpent," said Fraction. "Nothing we can do or say will change that."
The writer explained that he had to fight his impulses to throw every single character he loved in the Marvel Universe into the book. "There's a joke amongst the Marvel writers that you try in your first Marvel story to shoehorn Nick Fury in there, shoehorn Spider-Man in there and crash the Helicarrier," he laughed saying that Brevoort was helping him keep his focus from making this a crossover that only featured his favorite characters like Iron Fist, Ms. Marvel and Dr. Strange.
The editor added that even with a 44-page first issue, it was hard to fit in everything they wanted, but that overall they kept the essential character moments front and center for the marquee heroes. He joked that the Blue Marvel moment in issue #1 had to be held back for now.
"At one point, I think I essentially repitched half the line," Fraction said, comparing this epic to Queen playing Wembley Stadium -Â all power chords and hits. He added that of using those characters you love where you think "If I had the chance, I'd make them big" may have to wait for him until the aftermath of the book. And for certain, he and his fellow Marvel Architects were already discussing how this event would impact the Marvel U as a whole.
Fraction played coy when a reporter pointed out that the nine hammers of The Worthy may connect to the Nine Worlds of the World Tree he's been writing about in the "Thor" ongoing series. "Nine Worlds, Nine Steps, Nine Hammers...what?" laughed the writer.
As to Iron Man's role in the series, Fraction said his tie-in issue would take place in Paris as "The nature of his challenge during 'Fear Itself' is how the ultimate imperial man of science and reason face the impossible."
Finally, the writer revealed that all but one of The Worthy would be revealed in "Fear Itself" #2 and that the last reveal would be a major event within the story.