The young superheroes once conscripted into the US government's Initiative project are invited back in, on a purely voluntary basis. Their task? To make the public feel safe in a time of dread. And so it is that Firestar, Gravity, Thor Girl, Ultra Girl, Hardball and others sign up, scatter and bid to stem panic in the streets while the bigger names - your Avengers, FF and the like - handle the big stuff. Super-villains with blooming big hammers, mysterious meteors, that sort of thing.
The new Initiative's secondary assignment is, apparently, to ooze angst. They worry about their public image, their love lives, their purpose in life. Admittedly, we are talking teenage heroes, so of course their personal concerns loom larger than, say, certain death in the next alien invasion, but it makes for one gloomy comic book. Only nuttily named semi-Asgardian Thor Girl (why not the obvious Thora?) keeps things light, as she tries to get down with the Midgard colloquialisms. By the end of the issue, though, she's having as terrible a day as anybody (click to enlarge).
Yeah verily, this be rainy Tuesday stuff, dude. Worst of all, it's not convincing. The Marvel Powers That Be have laid down that the background to the Fear Itself event is a tide of anxiety around the world. So we have Steve Rogers saying such things as: 'I don't need to tell you that we were already on the precipice of chaos. Virtually everyone is worried over the state of the world and no one feels safe.'
So what's new? Seriously, this is Earth in the Marvel Universe, a world Galactus might have chosen to eat at any time in the last several decades. A place in which any number of evil men and women have the power to wipe out all life. A planet that netherworld demons are constantly trying to invade. So what's the big deal with a few non-specific meteors coming down? Fear Itself #2 last week saw crossover villain du jour the Serpent decree that fear will be spread around the world ... but why is it taking root? Without an explanation for the heightened panic, Commander Steve looks like a melodramatic old nellie, and the teens buying into his panic, a bunch of milksops.
The story's not helped by the apparent presumption of writer Sean McKeever that we've all been raised by the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. I'm a Marvel lifer, I read every issue of Avengers: The Initiative, but I couldn't get through this book without constant Wiki-ing. Only the background of Prodigy, former leader of the Slingers - a team made up of kids who dressed in Spidey's cast-off Underoos - is recapped here. Yes, people are named as they come into the story, but we're not told anything of their backgrounds or powers. It's true that personality is more important than either of these, and I suppose miserable personalities still count as personalities, but a context for them would be nice.
I do like having Thor Girl and Ultragirl around, they're female powerhouses with nicely complementary natures. The rest of the characters, though, run towards the lame (Stunt-Master, Red Nine) or just unpleasant (Hardball, Kimono - sorry, Komodo ... Commode?). I expect that over the course of this six-issue mini-series they'll come together as a team, but I'm not sure I can take much Fear Itself beyond the main book (and even that lost momentum with #2, which you could boil down to Tool Time in the Marvel Universe). Reviving the Initiative is actually a fascinating idea - Dan Slott and Christos Gage showed the potential these characters have in Avengers: The Initiative, but tying the move to Fear Itself dampens my enthusiasm,
Mike Norton's artwork is my favourite thing about this book. His storytelling is first rate, and his people live on the page. That he manages to make the comic look good while dealing with some of the worst costumes ever gathered in one place (when they're not ugly, they're nondescript) is remarkable. The worst of the lot belongs to Prodigy, who looks like Beta Ray Bill after a nose amputation. Veronica Gandini's colours complement Norton marvellously. I like the assertiveness of Clayton Cowles' lettering, but the uniformity of the speech balloons - all circular, basically - is ill-suited to the vibrant artwork.
Guiseppe Camuncoli's cover is attractive in a 'Grr, generic' way, though I'm not keen on the trade dress for this crossover; it makes the comics look like gravestones.