Matt Fraction is doing a great job writing "Fear Itself," but unfortunately the lines are blurring a bit on where to read which subplot. It seems to me like just last week I read Tony Stark's deal with Odin that would enable Tony to use an Asgardian forge to craft weaponry fit to combat the Serpent and his Worthy. This week, there appears to have been a beat skipped as Tony prepares to voyage into said forge, but then he doesn't.
The story, you see, isn't simply disjointed from "Fear Itself" to here, but within this very issue. We see Tony steeling his nerves for a hop into the inferno, but the next time we see Tony he's mumbling about the work he's completed. I'm thinking there might be a director's cut missing somewhere on this issue, because it's not making a great deal of sense to me right now.
I'm not saying the story itself isn't making sense - I get the fact that Stark is working alongside a bunch of swearing dwarves to forge weapons for an attack against the Serpent - but the execution is jerky and almost haphazard. Add in Pepper Potts' struggles in Paris under the watch of the Grey Gargoyle and this book really goes nowhere in a hurry. From the start to the finish, each story feels only minutely advanced, but not worth the price of admission.
Salvador Larroca's art is fine in this issue, but a great deal of his characters - especially the talking heads -are stiff and frozen, an experiment in phototracing that just doesn't completely succeed. Larroca does a good job of keeping the story open, but his figures need to loosen up a bit. You can almost hear Pepper, in a voice not unlike the Tin Man from "The Wizard of Oz," asking for an oil can so she can gain a little more range of motion.
Frank D'Armata's colors trend towards the muted and earthy, which almost works, but Stark isn't in his armor enough to really pop off the page. The end result, combined with Larroca's stiff figures, is a visual collection of images that want to be more electrifying than they really are.
I realize that "Fear Itself" is supposed to be hitting these heroes in a bad way, making them reach deep within themselves to confront issues and fears they had buried, but to have Tony Stark chuck the one redeeming quality - his sobriety - in favor of making him a little more punchy just isn't coming across as sincere. It feels cheap and gimmicky, and I really don't see it doing much to increase (or sustain) interest in the character.
I'm not sure what Fraction is going for here, and I'm honestly not concerned enough to want to find out. Surely there must have been other ways for this character to be depicted as struggling or conflicted. As far as what is to be gained from the "Fear Itself" tie-in here, again, I'm not sure. Stark is not hefting any mighty weapon over his head, declaring success, so I'm sure we'll learn what we were supposed to learn in this issue back in the main series.
For now, I think it might be wise to wait until this title figures itself out and provides a reason to be "worthy" of my four bucks once more.