Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Silver Age and Fellatio : The Paradox of Alex Ross

I was listening to old SplashPage episodes recently, as one does, and during a discussion of Kirby Genesis Chad Nevett utters the eternal question, "Does Alex Ross suck Silver Age Cock?" so here we are, does Alex Ross drop to his knees and turn his mouth into a vacuum cleaner? Does he slurp it down like a toothless meth head trying to afford a midnight fix? No, i don't think so, maybe a little, but he defiantly lick that shits prostate clean.

See the Silver Age is known as a simpler time, a funner time, a time when Batman could turn into a baby one week and be abducted by aliens the next. The Silver Age was a time when comics were for kids, and no one cared what was in them.

Well actually someone did care about what was in them, actually a lot of people cared. See all that fun and wackyness of the silver age didn't come from a vacuum, it was the byproduct of censorship. EC Comics the largest publisher before the Silver Age and the Comics Code, producing socially relevant and conscious material making them the industries vanguard. Actually i might be giving to much credit to EC, they primarily wrote 8 page horror and sci-fi strips, which every once in a while would hit on something relevant (primarily when drawn by Wally Wood) but 1 strip in every 100 is still better than the schlock everyone else was publishing. The problem though is that adults don't like their kids seeing violence with repercussions, that's why you can shoot up a school in a PG-13 movie as long as theirs no blood, so enter Fredric Wertham and the Comics Code with their metaphorical baseball bat to kneecap EC and anyone else who dared push the comic medium forward, and thus the Silver Age was born.

The Silver Age was the disneyfication of comics.

So what was a journeyman to do? He had 20 pages due next week and didn't get paid unless it passed the Comics Code, well he made it as wholesome, clean, and non-offensive as possible.

And this is how it went for 30 years, sure Neal Adams would slip something in every once in a while, but your allowed one "Fuck" in a PG-13 movie (so the kids will think its hip) so it wasn't to subversive. Then came Alan Moore and Watchmen, the highest selling and critically acclaimed book DC ever had the pleasure of not fucking up*. Watchmen was a EC comic at its core, socially conscious and overtly political, it even had a dramatic twist ending. And once everyone saw the sales figures the floodgates opened. Journeymen where directed to make their stories "more like Watchmen"; the only problem was that Watchmen was a intricately plotted 300 page serialized novel and not a monthly comic churned out under a deadline. So a cliff notes version was created, just like with EC, the industry latched onto the cynicism and "grittiness" of Watchmen and Frank Millers Dark Knight Returns.

The Silver Age is dead, Long live the Modern Age.

Enter Alex Ross, at the height of the Image boom. See Ross was a child of the Silver Age, and if theirs one thing everyone knows its that everything was better when they were a kid. So Ross began trying to figure out ways to revert comics to his idealized childhood from. The Comics Codes was all but irrelevant, and the government was to busy clamping down on "Rap Music" and "Rock and Roll" to care much about funny books. Ross therefore had to wage his ideological war alone.

You know when you're a kid and you read about the first Thanksgiving and everyone seems so happy? Then you find out how they skipped over the part where the Puritans were religious zealots who burnt people alive for witchcraft, or how they left out the part where the Indians have all their land stolen and are the victims of mass genocide? That's what Marvels is, a Silver Age whitewashing.*

Marvels is the story of the Marvel Universe, told from the perspective of Phil Sheldon a young photographer who "luckily" was present for all of Marvels Greatest Hits. Ultimately that's all Marvels really is though, a greatest hits album.

Hey remember that time Reed Richards slaps Sue Storm and tells her to shut up? No, ohh. How about when Sue Storm was basically turned into a helpless housewife every issue? No, ohh. Oh how about that time Hank Pym slaps The Wasp? No, ohh*. See if you only read Marvels you'd miss all this stuff, all the woman are glamorous models and the men are all brilliant heroes. Marvels make it sound like Stan Lee was being ghost written by Malcolm X on every X-Men issue. In reality the silver age was filled with sexism, racism, and the subtlety of a Michael Bay movie. It wasn't the worst of times, but it certainty was not the best of times.

When artists releases their greatest hits they are not trying to rewrite their legacy they're simply trying to cash in. Which isn't a good thing, but at least its not dishonest. What Alex Ross does though is rewrite the history of a entire universe so that others will agree with him. Its intellectual dishonest, and my Papa didn't fight those damn Ruskie's in North Korea for someone to go and Stalanize up my comics. 

"Britania was at war with Eurasia.Britannia had always been at war with Eurasia"

Following his rewriting of history Ross published his call to arms. Kingdom Come centered around a world in which the old hero's (Silver Age heroes) have retired and allowed their legacies to take over. These new heroes though used violence and murder to wipe out the villains to the cheers of the general public*.These new heroes though soon begin to run rampant, ultimately turning into the villains they eradicated (It seems like someones read some Nietzsche "Whoever fights with monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster in the process. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you"). Eventually the "real" heroes come in and kick these young wippersnappers into shape, as in 90% of them die in a nuclear holocaust by the hands of the UN. The series ends with Superman promising to earn the trust of humanity again, well that is following his violent rampage which ends when he notices Batman and Wonder Woman didn't get holocausted.

The ultimate failure of Kingdom Come is that it never fulfills its promises. Ross begins the revolution but never follows through, he never makes comics "fun" again. Instead he gives lectures on why the Silver Age is better, and if theirs one thing kids love, besides "fun" its lectures. 

Ross has two other works of note, first was Justice a  rehash of Silver Age JLA stories which accomplishes little besides boring one to tears, and Kirby Genesis an attempt to utilize lesser known Kirby creations in a shared universe. Kirby Genesis though, highlights something unintended by Ross, his complete lack of any "supposed" Silver Age tendencies. Kirby is the most prolific Silver Age creators in comics, throwing away idea's lesser creators would spend issues on in panels (seriously people are still digging through his books for ideas), but the main tenant of Kirby was innovation, his art and mind were in constant motion. Something no one would say about Alex Ross who's panels more so resemble failed failed covers than actual pages. A tribute to Kirby is not to take his creations and tell stale stories with stale art, its creating a completely new universe full of new characters. Ross doesn't seem to understand that much. Even Astro City which Ross creates characters for is filled with derivatives. Rob Liefeld, a creator synonymous with the Image Boom, so much reviled by Ross has greater ties with Kirby than Ross does. Yeah, think about that.

Ross tried to convince comics to return to the Silver Age, but never shows us why they should. Comics are always progressing, even when their not, but what Ross wants is to kneecap the industry like Wetham and drag it back 40 years. The problem is 40 years ago wasn't so great, even if you try and whitewash it.

* Well until Watchmen 2! Coming to a comic shop near you!
* Im not suggesting the two events are equal, far from it, the former is just a example of white washing.
* Theirs a lot of domestic abuse in the Marvel super hero community
* Various pertencious quotes by Orwell and Nietzsche.
* Get it he's talking about everyone buying X-Force
* I started this off with dick jokes so i get to be liteary at some point.

Friday, January 27, 2012

No time to sleep.......

Caught my Eye

I read a lot of books this week, an excessive amount really.So i figured id share a couple things that caught my eye.

I reread Elektra: Lives Again and what jumped out at me from previous readings was Millers use of layout. Miller was doing things with the art on Daredevil that took 20 years and the talents of Marcos Martin for comics to catch up with. Be it Millers use of Colors (DKR/DKSA) or his use of Manga / European sensibilities (Ronin), Miller has always been ahead of the curve. Maybe in 2032 Marvel will release Holy Devil to overwhelming praise.

I love Kyle Baker, and coloring Deadpool's childhood in homage to Bill Sienkiewicz's Elektra Assassin is genius. Alone its a dynamic use of color, but by tying itself to Elektra Assassin Baker ties himself with the Elektra Assasian legacy, breaking with Marvels and comics as a wholes conceptions of art each book pushes the limits of comics as an art. Nothing has ever looked like Elektra Assassin and nothing looks like Deadpool MAX,which is a shame.

Brandon Graham "tweeted" that the key feature in making pornographic art is  understanding  facial expressions. This panel is from Guido Crepax's The Story of O; in this 200 page tome Crepax proves himself as one of the greatest artists to ever draw comics, porn or not. I stared at this panel in awe of Crepax's mastery of emotion and panel composition, the pain and suffering displayed here is something few artists in any medium could ever hope to convey.

If anyone in comics could replicate this level of artistry I would gladly read a 200 page S&M comic by them, but all we seem to get are overly rendered TNA comics were Batman and Catwoman fuck. 

This is from the Fantagraphics reprint of Blazing Combat, while the 4 issue series is blessed with a stable of legendary artists (Wood/Toth) the highlight is a 7 page short story drawn by John Severin. Telling the story of a "green" soldier sent to the front lines who goes insane after his first scrape with the enemy, this 3 panel sequence though makes the rest of the story seem like filler.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Prophet #21

Every couple years the Big Two go "slumming" in the indie scene, picking a few choice talents to do short stories for their various anthologies (Strange Tales). Most of these stories skew towards humor, avoiding serious takes on the charterers. Every once in a while though someone delivers something special, a work that transcends the genre, Raphael Grampa's Wolverine story leaps to mind and now Prophet. Rob Liefeld took a who's who of indie creators and instead of limiting them to 8 page non-continuity stories had them relaunch his entire line. This is a bold move especially in a industry were the 2nd largest publisher relaunched their entire line while retaining 90% of their creative staff and called it a unprecedented step in comic publishing. Launching a defunct indie line from the 90's with indie creators is something few publishers would even dream of, but if this issue is anything to go by its was a brilliant move.

Ok now onto the comic itself.

The greatest strength of artists turned writers is their ability to parse out needless dialogue and exposition, allowing the artist to convey all the necessary information on the page. Graham instead focuses on setting the tone of the book. Creating a landscape with futuristic life forms that feel completely organic; A caste society of termites living in a Jelly City? Wolf packs made even more vicious by bonded with a parasite? Sea creatures that scream like kittens? In a lesser book these ideas would fall flat, but under Graham and Roy they become facts of life. More importantly though, these ideas while not delved into deeply look to set up future plot points (the absence of humans outside of various foodstuffs for example). Id be surprised if the guided tour Graham took us on  this issue doesn't inform the rest of the series. 

Graham in addition to world building provides subtle characterization, while Prophet isn't fully fleshed out* we get a sense of his past and present, something much more important than a exposition laden back story. Graham's use of narrative captions to show Prophet as a calculated and dangerous man, but still not completely comfortable with his surroundings, was masterful. 

A major factor in this issue working is the work of Simon Roy who's European style and attention to detail creates a dense and fully realized world. What many artists fail to grasp in futuristic settings is how truly slow time on a worldwide scale moves, while in 2000 years man may be extinct the landscape and wildlife of the Earth will remain (short of a Extinction event) almost identical. Roy takes this into account, creating wildlife that can easily be delineated to their modern ancestors, and  landscapes identical to ours only littered with abandoned man-made technology. The most fantastical element, the Jelly City is given a distinctly alien look to remove any confusion of its origin. These grounding elements allow the plot to move briskly and introduce some bizarre moments without causing a disconnect with the reader.

Prophet #21 is one of the few "relaunch" titles that effectively stand alone, introduce future plot points, and still harken to the past. The DC relaunch could have learned a thing or two from Extreme Studios and Prophet.

* Its the first issue
I loved the lettering, although I'm a sucker for faux handwriting, along with the coloring.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Just Words on top of Pictures #1

Lettering has become a lost art. The goal of the letterer is never to be noticed, and unless something is seriously wrong they never are. This outlook fails to recognize the importance their craft has on the page, the moment a word balloon is placed the page is irrevocably changed " a page of comics without text has its own personality. But when you add the balloons, it suddenly takes up a whole, new different look" (Moebius). Pages are conceived and crafted without recognizing these new elements "when you’re looking at the composition of a lot of comic pages, it’s like you can appreciate it only if you imagine the page without the word balloons"(Dash Shaw) making even the most well crafted page incomplete. The advent of digital lettering has caused this artistic disconnect to become even more rampant, what was once crafted onto the page by hand (providing some fluidity between the two elements) is now accomplished with a simple copy / paste in Photoshop, removing any connection the letterer may have felt to the work.

Art by Photoshop has become the industry standard, while many pencilers still work on paper, the artwork they produce will never leave their studios; these pages are scanned and emailed off to their editors, colorists, letterers, and inkers. Now i want to focus on lettering here, but every element of the page effects one another, the negative space of word balloon effects the overall color, the font is another line that must be accounted for by the inker. The word balloon brings together every aspect of the page, but few letterers grasp its importance. 

Font is only used to differentiate the crazy character (who's word balloons are scratchy) from the artsy one (calligraphy), word balloons are colored not to match the color scheme, but to allow the reader to understand which of the 23 characters is speaking in a voice over.

Coloring the Bubble

The godfather of comic lettering is without a doubt Todd Klein, winner of 16 out of 19 Eisner Awards for lettering losing only to Chris Ware, David Mazzucchelli, and Stan Sakai, pretty solid company. So why's Klein such hot shit? Well lets look at his magnum opus (if a letterer can be said to have a magnum opus) Sandman.

Klein provides each member of The Endless with a unique word balloon design; utilizing different colors, fonts, and balloon structure to complement each characters personality / aesthetic. This allows for easy character recognition, a common problem in books with large casts . More importantly though, these balloons create a cohesion with the color few books have ever achieved. Each member of The Endless has a unique color makeup (Dream is draped in black, Despair is a blob of white, Delirium drips of color)  if Klein's word balloons were not present, to create balance on the page, each cast members appearance would wreak havoc on the pages.

Delirium's word balloons allow her "fantastical" color scheme to blend with the surrounding environment, creating an overall cohesion. Without this color scheme, Deliriums neon hair would be impossible to balance out on the page. The above image is a prime example, dramatic color shits occur between each panel, the pink of Delirium's dress, the yellow sun, Destruction's red hair, green mountain ranges,these changes in color though are all incorporated and balanced out by Klein's balloons.The drab brown wall found in the first panel i even taken into account. 

Few letterers are able or competent enough to do this, the best example I could find is in the coloring Tour De Force Butcher Baker the Righteous Maker. The first clue that thought is going into the word balloons is their placement, The Absolutly's balloon is a full quarter page away from "him", this makes sense when you look at the coloring though. The Absolutly's (figure on the left) word balloon balances out the dark wreckage scattered on the ground (hence its extreme distance), by providing a equally dark aerial object (this is done on the opposite side of the page by a darkened smoke cloud) the pages color symmetry is kept intact. Jihad Jone's (figure on the right) word balloon is used as a transition between the sky and the glow of the  fire, his blue font and red word balloon, placed right where the two colors meet provide a bridge.

So who else out their is providing fantastic lettering? No one i can find* but i thought it prudent to point out an artist who's been able to get around this fact. Daniel Acuna (both the penciler and colorist) devises a interesting way to remove the effects of word balloons on his panels. In dialogue heavy panels Acuna leaves the background white, this allows word balloons to be placed anywhere (and not blocking his wonderful backgrounds) while not affecting on his overall color scheme. Acuna, unlike many artists is able to compose the page with the word balloons in mind.

Sadly, even the most competent artist/colorist will eventually have to face facts, in the "age of Photoshop" no matter how you lay a page out and how subtlety you color it, once in the hands of a incompetent letterer its over. Francesco Francavilla given a "talking heads" scene draws the hell out of it, but word balloon after word balloon are thrown on until the page is ruined. These white holes burn through the page, removing all the craft and thought of the pencil/color. 

Citations/Footnotes/What Not

1- Color in word balloons may have appeared before Klein (i don't know 100% and im to lazy to look) but his use of it to complement the coloring on the page was a breakthrough.
2- Eddie Campbells article on Exit Wounds discusses letter far better than anything i could ever come up with http://eddiecampbell.blogspot.com/2009/10/i-n-exit-wounds-rutu-modan-gives-me.html
3-Theirs some Indie artist doing hand lettering thats supurb but my main point is that the mainstream has no-one. 

Images From: 
Butcher Baker the Righteous Maker 2
Avengers 18
Captain America and Bucky 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Color Saves the Day

Uncanny X-Force released 14 issues this year, rotating between six artists to keep up a semi-bi-monthly schedule. For any book not written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Mark Bagley that's some massive  output – and unlike most Bendis books, Uncanny X-Force never dabbled in decompression, it knocked out its first arc in 4 issues, following that up with a 3 issue arc, 3 one shots, and culminated in a 9 issue mega arc. Uncanny X-Force was a freight train no one was going to stop.

How does a book producing at this rate continue to be one of the best on the shelves? Remender's hands are all over it, and Jerome Opena provides some of the best pencils in the industry, but the real hero of Uncanny X-Force? That's Dean White.

While most books are able to retain a certain level of consistency by employing strong inker's able to mold fill-in artists into something resembling the main artists style. Uncanny X-Force though goes a different route, colorist Dean White provides a painterly quality to the art making even the most sub-par pencils resemble Jerome Opena's. This allows every issue of Uncanny X-Force to retain its consistency.

I don't think anyone will contend Max Brooks is on the same level as Opena, but when colored by Dean White? The absence of Opena becomes almost bearable.

White can even turn Billy Tan into a well functioning member of Team X-Force. 

Not bad, right? Certainty not Opena or Brooks, but a solid contribution to the series. Now one might think this is Billy Tan stepping up his game, putting in the time to play with the big boys, but its all White.

See Billy Tan was the one artist on the series colored by both White and a fill-in colorist (I didn't know those existed or mattered until this book).

Paul Mounts abandons Whites color palette in this issue, instead choosing a overly-rendered style that is all to rampant in the industry. This complete shift in coloring scheme turns Uncanny X Force 10 into a odd step child, while it continues  to push the overall narrative forward, it loses the artistic continuity which had held the previous 11 issues together through their fill in artists. Issue 10 is the first and only issue to drop White's colors (issues 5-7 had a different colorist but maintained the same palette) causing it to feel, if not read, as the series first true "fill in" .

Remender can pump out brilliant scripts all day, producing a cohesive narrative from start to finish, but sub-par fill in artists will always cause a disconnect in the overall narrative. Few inkers, and ever fewer colorists are capable of stopping this from occurring, but you know who is ? Dean White.

-All artwork is from Uncanny X-Force, by Jerome Opena, Mark Brooks, and Billy Tan
- Dean Whites Deviant Art Page http://deanwhite.deviantart.com/gallery/ (where one image is from)
-I wonder if DC put a competent colorist on Philip Tans arc of Batman and Robin if it could have been saved

EDIT-  I should mention Matt Wilson's work on issues 5-7, while not on par with White - Wilson successfully apes White's color palette creating a cohesion between his work and Whites (although he loses a lot of the subtle painterly qualities found in White work). Like Brooks he's a competent fill in, while we all wait for the stars to return.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fuck Team Comics #1

This is going to be a semi-reoccurring column, primarily done when I'm drunk and/or angry about something. It will probably dissolve into ramblings for the majority of its existence, but hey I might make some valid points? Who knows, a drunk can sometimes land a punch.

What's "Team Comics"?

Team comics has become a widely adopted philosophy (mindset? cult?) amongst creators, critics, and readers over the past decade, it ultimately boils down to the idea that "if you point out how bad companies, creators, and comics are then the entire industry will die – and it will all be YOUR FAULT!!!" This idea off the bat is fucking retarded, if comics are so fragile that one blog post, message board troll, or creator (GASP!) can bring the industry to its knees, with one comment, then the industry is doomed no matter how positive everyone else is.


Team comics says this guys isn't good enough for Teen Titans:

but this guy, this guys A-OK:

(where the fuck does – which ever Robin that is – hand go in the third panel? Did the artist forget to draw it? Did the colorist commit jihad on it? Does coffee make your hand fall off ? SOMEONE TELL ME!!!)

After the artist not-good-enough for Teen Titan's dropped the artistic-bombshell that is Joe the Barbarian (what else can a book be called when the artist makes Grant "abducted by aliens" Morrison look like a hack pumping out a failed movie pitch?) Team Comics, were all over his dick, and you know what? He told them to take a hike*, he had better things to do with his time. Who could blame him? If someone told me I wasn't good enough for not-relevant -since-George-Perez-Teen-Titans I would hold a grudge, and I'd make sure to shove whatever I did next down their throats. 

Riddle me this Batman, how does this:

outsell this:

At a rate of almost 2:1? I don't even want to get started on why Kyle Baker is forced to draw a Deadpool book, but he is, and at what point in the collective conscious does everyone think any book about Deadpool not drawn by Baker is even slightly relevant? How does the most critically acclaimed Deadpool book to ever hit the stands get cancelled after 18 issues to a collective whisper  of "wow I'm surprised it made it that far".

Team comics says I can't be negative, positivity will win the day! You know what fuck Team Comics, if all the critical praise for  Deadpool MAX only got Marvel to give it 18 issues, maybe calling Deadpool a piece of shit will get it cancelled before the pitch phase?

1- He's turned down (according to his blog) work on Batman, A undisclosed Morrison project, a Todd Mcfalane project, etc
2- Deadpool #46 sold 26,000 issues – Deadpool MAX sold 14,000 issues 

Artwork is from Joe the Barbarian #1, Teen Titans #4, Deadpool #46, Deadpool MAX #1

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Ultimate Death of Fear Crisis Itself!

Fear Itself is the quintessential event comic, an untold prophecy which dooms Earth brings together Marvels mightiest heroes (specifically Thor and Captain America. Just in time for their movies!), Odin gets to be a dick and all the Nazi robots the “Age of Awesome” demands can appear! The failure of Fear Itself though is one which plagues the “Age of Awesome” its all concept and no execution. Fear Itself is a event by checklist, hollow and ultimately meaningless; it lacks any clear villain, stakes, and ultimately hero's – except maybe Thor (kinda).

Whats the point? 
Marvel needed a summer event!
Thor had a movie coming out!
Stuart Immonen needed to show everyone how you draw an event comic, son!
It was Fractions turn!
Lack of Hammer centered villains?
That's all i got.

Who's the Villain?

Final Crisis began with the realization of Kirby's New Gods prophecy, Darkseid
won – Evil incarnate stood unopposed and fixed his gaze on Earth. Fraction, seeing a lack of cosmic menaces in Thor's rogue gallery, takes a trick out of the ol' “Age of Awesome” playbook*, creating Evil Odin! This cliff notes version allows immediate reader recognition (who is that guy? Oh he's Evil Odin) but lacks the history. Its character development by approximation.

These are the introductions of Darkseid and The Serpent, in one some guy is slumped over going on about being the All-Father (which in 7 issues isn't expanded on past that page). In the other Darkseid dooms Earth with one hand motion. Decades were devoted to make the reader aware of Darkseid's threat, 3 pages of exposition were used to introduce The Serpent. Theirs a difference, but few writers seem to notice in the "Age of Awesome".

The ultimate failure of Fear Itself is in defining a threat. The Serpent, who we are lead to believe is the primary antagonist, is weak at best. His primary action involves possessing various heroes and villains and commanding them to go on global temper tantrums (with Hammers! just like Thor!). Sin and the Worthy while capable of causing a mild ruckus and defeating unorganized response teams* became easily dispatched by issue 5 (Thor defeated both The Thing and Hulk by himself) and  useless by Issue 7 where Cap held The Serpent, Sin, 3 members of the Worthy, and a squad of Nazi robots off till the avengers got their shit together. The plot no longer called for their competence i guess.The Serpents ultimate act of evil, the destruction of Paris, doesn't even make it out of the main series before being retconned. 

So who is the threat? I don't know, my guess is Odin. Odin refers to The Serpent not as his opposite, but his absence. In  the pages of Fear Itself we are shown that the absence of Odin is probably a good thing though. Odin, not The Serpent, is the main threat towards Earth, standing on the rainbow bridge with a horde ready to raze the planet if the Avengers fail. In one issue alone Odin abandons Earth, beats Thor to a pulp. takes Thor prisoner, and builds a army to destroy Earth. Odin is also a serious dick. 

The conclusion of Fear Itself  further complicates this. Following the death of Thor (for one issue) Odin takes his brothers corpse and returns to Asgard alone. If The Serpent is Odin's absence, doesn't Odin's self imposed exile mean The Serpent won?
Threat of Prophecy

Odin's prophecy deflates the stakes of Fear Itself even further, in Issue #4 we learn that when the Serpent and Thor fight, both will die. Odin knows this, Thor knows this, The Serpent knows this, we the reader know this. Fraction admits in a post-event interview “Rather than insult everyone's intelligence who, like us, have been reading superhero comics since recorded time, why not spare us all the theatrics of pretending that Thor and Captain America — the stars of The Avengers, opening May 4, 2012, in a theater near you — are dead in any way differently that they have been dead before “. So Thor is going to die, but not for reals - i mean come on what are your a dummy? huh reader?  We all knew  that Thor, a Intellectual Property with a movie deal, was not going to die (according to Fraction at least). If Thor's not going to die, then what are the stakes? Thor just needs to beat some guy up called The Serpent and take a nap for a couple days.

The problem with prophecies in event comics is they tell  the reader the conclusion.  Blackest Night ran into this problem to, but John's was smart enough to work around it (i mean who would ever think of destroying the DCU?) to provide some surprises (not magicking up every dead DCU heroes, just some). Fraction just rides the event train to its logical and prophesied conclusion.

Gods and Men

A prominent theme of Fear Itself is the relationship between gods and men. Fraction unlike Morrison doesn't want to elevate man into godhood, he wants to take the gods down a peg, reveal them for the monsters they are. Twice Thor is asked if he is  sides with Man or God, and twice he chooses mankind. The problem with this choice though, is that for all the faults Fraction shows in the gods, his version of mankind just as bad. Issue one kicks off with mankind gripped in xenophobia, racism, violence, etc and it only gets worse from their.*

Tony Stark berates Odin, then complains about  it not being fair. Iron Man is supposed to be arrogant, but if Fraction wants to tear down the gods, having mankind act like petulant children isn't the way.

Even spider man, a character made famous for his “just like us” mentality abandons the Avengers under Fractions guise.

With the gods and heroes torn down why does Thor chose mankind? I'm still not sure. The plot called for it I guess (that seems to be a running theme). Even the “uplifting” ending where the citizens of Broxton come to the Avengers aide comes after the locals kick Thor out and abandon Cap. 

Just to drive the point home, Cap in issues 5-6 gives a rousing speech involving the immortal phrase “we're going to loose”

While these are the low points the second act calls for, theirs a difference between having your characters struggle and them giving up. At no point does Cap give a rousing speech  in the face of impossible odds, he just mutters "AVENGERS ASSEMBLE" once a issue to diminishing returns.

Thor's ultimate sacrifice is a battle between gods, but the outcome is known by both combatants. What kind of sacrifice is that compared to a man standing in front of ultimate evil and choosing not to blink.

Final Crisis is a far bleaker book than Fear Itself could ever be, the entire population is enslaved, the heroes are lost, and the entire Multiverse is at stake, but even with all of this going on everyone remains a hero. The same cannot be said for Fear Itself, where no one is a hero.

I'm Out

"Maybe it worked, maybe it didn't work, maybe crossovers need to be punches and explosions and the black guy dies and a woman loses her powers and we all persevere into the next bold morning. I don't know. I think event comics can be more than that formula." - Matt Fraction (2011)

Don't we all....

Citations / Footnotes / Whatnot

1-This idea is stolen from Sean Switzke, I cant find the specific article but its totally stolen from him. If you find the article though you should read it, its quite good. Examples can be found in Immortal Iron Fist, Jason Aarons Ghost Rider, Green Lantern etc
2- Images are from Final Crisis and Fear Itself. you can figure out which is which.
3- As the Wait! What? Crew pointed out Caps first encounter with Sin was predicated by him jumping out of a plane after telling his subordinates to figure it out.
4- Immonen was a fantastic art choice, making this book far better than it deserved.
5- The "Age of Awesome" is Chad Nevett's name for our current "age" im stealing that too.
6- I'm still  uncertain if The Serpent caused a increase in human sensitivity or if it was all  man - i think the latter is likely since Fraction uses a double page spread to rule out a 3rd party (FI#1). Fraction also has "ripped" from the headlines news bulletins throughout the book. meant  to show a increase in fear, something i doubt a Norse God is causing in our world. 

-All interview segments are from Newsarama , which can be read here: http://www.newsarama.com/comics/facing-fear-fear-itself-aftermath-111208.html
although I would advice against it, its kind of a depressing look at Fractions current mindset