Civil War: Front Line; Secret Invasion: Front Line; Siege: Embedded - Marvel's gotten into the habit of publishing side series to show us how the big events affect the man - or minor hero - in the street.
Or perhaps they're intended as an illustration of the law of diminishing returns, as each has proven less enjoyable, less fresh, than the one before. I suppose the problem is that by now, we get it. The ordinary, non-powered human feels helpless, the less impressive heroes feel useless. And the reader feels dragged down with them.
Now here's Fear Itself: The Home Front, whose peculiar problem is that it can't really address the crossover's main conflict as it's not yet started.
The first story acknowledges this problem blatantly by addressing the events and aftermath of a different event altogether, Civil War. The New Warriors were blamed for the deaths of over 600 civilians in Stamford who died when the villain Nitro let off an explosive blast. And the teen heroes, including Speedball, were indeed partly to blame, having travelled to the area to film their reality show. They did pay the price, though, with everyone but Speedball dying. Since then we've seen him deal with his guilt in Thunderbolts and Avengers Academy. Ad Infinitum. But here's another story focusing on Speedball and Stamford and, while decently told by writer Christos Gage and illustrated in best Marvels style by Mike Mayhew and Rain Beredo, it's the same old, same old.
The narrative loses points for using those modern cliches of comics storytelling, TV debates and online chat, plodding devices that slow the story down. They're great for exposition, but annoying on the page. And while it's true that the Stamford tragedy would define Speedball to an extent, long enough has passed that he should be standing up for himself a little, rather than accepting every sling and arrow thrown his way. There are six more episodes of this to go ...
There's another downer hero in an Agents of Atlas tale, part one of four. Boss man Jimmy Woo has been wooing Namora, but because she's his teammate, the former SHIELD agent doesn't want anyone else to know; the Fifties throwback thinks it's improper. He must never have gotten the SHIELD memo letting everyone know that sleeping with colleagues is compulsory for secret squirrels - Nick Fury, Sharon Carter, the Contessa and the Black Widow certainly got it.
Jimmy is so out of sorts that he forgets that colleague The Uranian is telepathic, while Venus is the literal goddess of love - it would be very surprising if these two, at least, don't know. The story's first instalment doesn't address this point, concentrating on Jimmy's obsession with catching a bunch of Neo-Nazis. They turn out to have links with the Red Skull, which may be the connection to the main Fear Itself series, where the Skull's daughter Sin is a key player. This is a well-scripted strip by writer Peter Milligan, with attractive linework from Elia Bonetti, but the neo-Nazi bit is tired.
The third story - term used loosely - is the feature most clearly linked to the crossover. J Jonah Jameson suggests that superheroes are to blame for the riot in Fear Itself #1. What a tremendous insight into his character. It's a nicely drawn piece by Howard Chaykin, who also writes, but seems pointless. Maybe Chaykin meant to draw a Hostess Twinkie in this single pager?
And finally, the people of Broxton, Oklahoma, moan about the economy, before the gods leave town, another incident from Fear Itself #1. Writer Jim McCann gets credit for a proper tie-in, and making the townspeople engaging - bar one excruciating speech delivered by an elderly waiter - but the story, ably drawn by Pepe Larraz, left me needing a hug. Does Marvel Earth really have to reflect reality to this extent? I don't want to read about the economic downturn - the Marvel Universe is very different from our own, I can't believe there would be a slump of the kind we're seeing.
There's nothing awful in this comic, but nothing I really want to see, either. Even Marko Djurdjevic's cover reeks of misery. Depressed heroes, paranoid secret agents, angry mayors, hard-pressed citizens ... pass.