I've said it before and I'll say it again, I hate prophecies. They come out of nowhere with their terrible foreboding, add a little cheap drama and scuttle away again, rarely paying off. Here we have Thor revealing that it's been foretold he will die to slaughter a serpent. That's after he's told Nick Fury, Iron Man and Black Widow that the Serpent - an ancient, forgotten Norse god who feeds on fear - is a shame Odin kept to himself.
Which probably means it's just some ruddy great snake. The prophecy has likely already been fulfilled in one of the regular Ragnaroks Thor takes part in, and he's forgotten because he drinks too much mead.
Is anyone really worried that Thor is going to die? We've just had Steve Rogers return, and he's not even a god. Last issue, Bucky Barnes was killed, motivating this month's most hysterical line, courtesy of Iron Man: 'This can't be happening! Since when does the Red Skull kill Captain America?' Get a grip, man. And it's not the Red Skull, it's his needy daughter, Sin, turned into the earthly incarnation of a silly plot.
Ah yes, the hammers. They're still being tossed around by 'The Worthy' (what was the voting process?) who were 'destined' (another silly prophecy?) to wield them. We don't see much of the likes of the transformed Absorbing Man, Juggernaut and Thing, but they pop up throughout the book, begging us to read spin-off titles. It's neither engaging nor dignified.
The good stuff here sees Steve Rogers return as Captain America after refreshingly little soul-searching, reuniting with fellow Avengers big guns Thor and Iron Man before the three split up to tackle the problems on various fronts. Thor takes on the Serpent himself and learns that he's his uncle, before being knocked back to Earth in the book's funniest moment. Cap joins the Avengers in Manhattan, where the souped-up Sin is thrilled at the prospect of killing another Captain America. And Iron Man's mission offers a pair of surprises.
Firstly, that it's him, rather than obvious candidate Thor, who calls out Odin, hoping to discuss the All-Father's dimwit plan to scorch the Earth as a means to slay the Serpent. Then there's the nature of the sacrifice the alcoholic Tony Stark offers Odin in order to appear before him - his sobriety.
On the one hand, writer Matt Fraction is right, it is the biggest thing Tony has to offer. On the other, even one drink is dangerous. Sure, he may not go off half-cocked in the Iron Man suit and cause awful damage, as he's done previously. But it's one step down a dark road.
So kudos to Fraction for a powerful, unexpected moment, brilliantly rendered by artists Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger. Their skills also come to bear in a very well-conceived spread that sees Odin and the Serpent reflecting one another, making them seem like players in some Shakespearean melodrama (though for some reason, only Odin merits the annoying Norse font - is that a clue that the Serpent isn't who he claims to be?).
Elsewhere, the people of Broxton, Oklahoma, finally realise that having Norse gods on the doorstep may not be the best thing for property values, and tell Thor to bugger off. Which is fine, they're long since played out - Thor shouldn't be dragged down by permanent residency among the mundane. A more dramatic scene sees the hammer-holding Attuma ('Nerkkod, Breaker of Oceans', apparently - good luck with that) slaughtering Atlanteans left, right and centre.
Cap, Thor and Iron Man make a terrific team - longtime comrades and friends, for whom the biggest challenge is just another day. Their confidence lifts every sequence they're in. I mean, look at this great panel.
What's more, we get to see the Cap parachute. I love the Cap parachute.
The Black Widow also shines in her single scene, berating Iron Man and Nick Fury after the death of Bucky. She's not shrill, she's strong and smart and right.
Fraction does get a demerit for having Tony refer to Thor as 'space viking', an obvious nod to the Thor movie. Thor's been in Marvel Comics for 50 years and no one's ever thought of him as that - he's a god, pure and simple.
Laura Martin's colours are stunning, while Chris Eliopoulos's letters are nice'n'neat. There is one lettering problem, and it's a big one. I don't know if it was Eliopoulos, or Immonen, but when we're getting a turn-the-page-for-the-giant-
word moment, it should at least be readable.
If you read that as 'awaken', take a bow. I saw 'awaqcn' 'dwauen' and all sorts before working it out. None of it's great, but the 'k' is the worst, throwing off most sensible readings of the word. Plus, you don't need two exclamation marks. Ever.
If one word is going to overshadow a spread, make it legible, eh?
Nevertheless, this is the best Fear Itself yet. Where previous issues have felt like a crossover sampler, it finally seems as if there's a story slipping into place. I wasn't going to bother with any more tie-ins, but this issue gets Marvel a stay of execution - no more rubbish like The Deep, Fear Itself: Fearsome Four, Fear Itself: The Home Front, or Fear Itself: Youth in Revolt, but I won't penalise the comics I usually buy. I'll pick 'em up and hope for the best. At $2.99 for 22pp of story and art, this is a dollar overpriced, but that's Marvel for you - greed itself.