Note: This article contains a major spoiler for "Fear Itself" #3, which was released this past Wednesday, June 1.
This weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina, there was nothing to fear but fear itself...and the "Fear Itself" panel. Event writer Matt Fraction took the stage to a crowded panel room at HeroesCon 2011 Saturday morning ready to talk hammers, fear and the future of Marvel's blockbuster summer event.
Moderated by con organizer Heroes Aren't Hard to Find's Doug Merkle, the panel led off with Fraction joking, after Merkle introduced his as the Architect of the summer event, that "I am literally an architect, I've actually designed the Marvel headquarters."
Fraction preemptively answered a question that gets asked quite a bit and detailed the process that Senior VP - Executive EditorTom Brevoort took to start a Cap/Thor event in between the two summer movies on Marvel's plate. His goal was to lead off with the event keeping in mind people who may have just seen "Thor" and then transitioning into a more Cap-centric story by putting him on the front lines of a World War, reflecting somewhat the situation in the upcoming "Captain America: The First Avenger."
The floor opened for questions fairly quickly, leading off with a fan who asked about the fate of Bucky at the end of "Fear Itself" #3, the destruction of Yancy Street and the controversy of those moments. "By the time this is done, I promise you, you will be amazed what I had available," Fraction said, adding that there was only one scene he was asked to change significantly. "I had one firm 'No' because it ultimately complicates too many other people's lives. There's a hero who's eventually going to leave the battlefield and there's a scene where he's talking to somebody and says, 'We're all going to die. I'm going to go be with my mom.' It's great, but this isn't the superhero talking, this is the guy and as he's talking, he was going to take his mask off." The unmasking was left on the cutting room floor, but Fraction said that the story beat was otherwise intact.
Fraction went on to explain his reasoning behind Bucky's fate, and his continuing belief that the Red Skull should be the one to ultimately kill Bucky again, and that "Captain America" writer Ed Brubaker, who was responsible for bringing Bucky back from the dead, agreed with this thinking when they spoke about the event at an editorial retreat. "When all of this ends, you have to have the Red Skull kill Bucky. That's how it has to end, and people would look at me like I was dumb." At the next Marvel retreat, while Fraction laid out his story for "Fear Itself's" "Blitzkrieg USA" issue, Brubaker asked if this was where the Red Skull killed Bucky. "I went yes! No take-backs! You could see he regretted it as soon as he said it, but sometimes you know when the story is right. He gave me the end to his Bucky piece to do in 'Fear Itself.'"
Speaking to another of the fan's questions, Fraction said, "Yancy Street just spoke to everything that Ben Grimm had been going through very recently with Jonathan Hickman's 'Fantastic Four' and 'FF' stuff and kind of magnified what the series was about for me."
Another fan brought up the question of how the Worldbreakers were chosen, and Fraction took the audience through the process, starting with what he called a "Jeph Loeb/Mark Millar List" that included every cool character he could think of. ("Yes! Galactus will have a big hammer!") He also mentioned how he and the Marvel editors and writers went through a phase where the Worthy would be classic monsters like Dracula and Werewolf-by-Night. But the concept of the Worldbreakers was what seemed most organic to Fraction at the end of the process. "What if you had to wage a world war with nine people. What nine dudes would you want destroying the planet?. That became the Worldbreakers."
Expanding on the idea of the Worldbreakers' signature hammers, Fraction dodged the question of why the sacred objects were hammers with a cryptic answer, saying, "I can't give you the truth of it without giving up later beats." He continued, "[There's] the idea that Odin has this thing that he's wiped from human memory and what if he got Mjolnir from somewhere else? ... We're gonna see that Odin knows everything that's happening."
Moving on to another one of Fraction's brainchildren, an armored Pepper Potts as Rescue, the writer confirmed that Pepper will be suiting up again in "Fear Itself." "Pepper suits up and goes to Paris to help Tony out."
"With 'Fear Itself,' I wanted to give as much red meat as possible." Fraction said that he was very careful to construct each tie-in series so that it gave each enough weight to stand as an interesting and meaty part of the series. "It gives the tie-ins moments of weight and moments of meaning as possible."
The writer also answered a question about Odin's general crankiness and how J. Michael Straczynski changed the status quo. "Yes, it contradicts those two JMS issues and there's a specific reason that's coming," Fraction said. "There's a reason why Odin has been so incredibly disappointed to be alive again."
One fan was concerned about the concept of heroes killing people in "Fear Itself" when they become Worldbreakers and asked straight up if heroes would be shown killing people. "Maybe," Fraction said. "We're in the aftermath and if [The Thing] survives this, which of the worthy survives this, we're going to see who was in charge: was that you, was that someone else, was it guilt by case of insanity, were you possessed, were you a vessel, were you conscious, were you cooperating?" Although Fraction was quick to say that he did not intend to make the Thing out to be a mass murderer. "As a writer and a reader, I don't want Thing to be a murderer," he said. "It's more important to me that you be freaked out that Thing did that. That's how monstrous the Worthy are."
One of the more interesting discussion topics was the father/son relationship between Thor and Odin and how the Allfather was originally more of a gruff persona. "I missed that from the book," Fraction said. "I felt that the central emotional relationship from the book was gone. Historically, it's been this Marvel-Shakespearean Father/Son story."
Fraction continued this particular train of thought when a fan asked what was going through Odin's head when Thor demanded to go back to Earth and help his fellow Avengers - why would Odin allow Thor to go back to Midgard after imprisoning him for first suggesting it? "Do you have kids?" Fraction asked the fan. "No," he said. "Sometimes you've gotta let them touch the hot stove." This met with uproarious applause from the audience, prompting Fraction to respond, "That's the weirdest applause line - child abuse! Hooray!" This led to the revelation that much of Fraction's writing of the father/son dynamic between Odin and Thor is based on some of his own experience being a parent. "It's interesting to me how much my dad stuff-not my dad stuff, but my parenting stuff-is coming into the Thor/Odin [dynamic]," he said. "You can see Odin trying different parent tactics." Ultimately, this may not work out brilliantly for the God of Thunder and only time will tell if he'll learn his lesson. "Thor's gonna touch the hot stove and it's not going to go well."
When one fan asked about Fraction's dream team of Avengers, he paused for a bit, finally saying, "You'll get the answer to that eventually. It's not how you think you get it, and I'm not saying I'm taking on an Avengers book, but keep reading. It will become clear."
Moving forward in "Fear Itself," Fraction said that Steve Rogers will have to deal with the fact that as the top brass, he was unable to be on the battlefield when Bucky was killed by the Red Skull and that the Red Skull has killed Captain America. Bucky's funeral will be the first time we'll have seen Cap, Thor and Iron Man together in one pace in the uniforms in a long time, but that moment will be tempered by the solemn and tragic reason for their gathering.
Wrapping up, Fraction did mention during the panel that he has finished scripting "Fear Itself." The rest of us will just have to wait for the next four issues.