Friday, January 11, 2013

Review: Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Force/The Deep

This Fear Itself tie-in collection is put together using the same strategy as the previously discussed Fear Itself: Deadpool/Fearsome Four—two entirely unrelated series sharing space between the same covers because they are too short to deserve their own collections.

Knowing how sophisticated Marvel's market research and manipulation has become, I'm certain there was a logic to deciding how they put these collections together, and which short series they paired with another short series, but some of the pairings are fairly counterintuitive. Like, mixing-and-matching just those two collections, there would be more apparent logic in an Uncanny X-Force/Deadpool trade and a Fearsome Four/The Deep trade, as Deadpool is part of the Uncanny X-Force ensemble, and the groups of heroes in both Fearsome Four and The Deep contain one-time members of The Defenders. (I realize, of course, that an Uncanny X-Force/Deadpool book would have sold quite healthily, while a Fearsome Four/The Deep book would have sold rather dismally).

Well, whatever: This book contains the three-issue Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Force series and the four-issue Fear Itself: The Deep. The former is written by Robbie Williams rather than Uncanny X-Force writer Rick Remender and drawn by Simone Bianchi (who gets some inking assistance near the end by John Lucas). I was kind of surprised to see Bianchi's name show up in these credits, as he's an A-List talent who Marvel usually only employs on pretty high-profile stuff, so a spin-off of an X-Men B-title that is also a disposable tie-in to an event/crossover series isn't where I would expect to see his highly idiosyncratic work appear, but I'm not complaining—it looks great, and he acquits himself nicely.

The latter is written by Cullen Bunn, penciled by Lee Garbett and inked by David Meikis (with John Lucas and Rick Magyar assisting on the final issues—wait! That's the connection between these two stories! They were both in danger of missing their deadlines, and thus John Lucas had to help ink the final issues of each!). It is basically a temporary Defenders revival, given a different name, perhaps because marvel was briefly worried about the fact that their audience refuses to buy anything with the word "Defenders" in the title (I say briefly because Marvel then launched a book called The Defenders, which has already been canceled, and are about to launch Fearless Defenders, which should be canceled in about six months).
There's a lot to like in that first story, particularly if you already like X-force, the Remender version. The villain is your typical human bigot X-Men villain, presented as an extremely right-wing Christian fundamentalist who wants to wipe out the impure mutants because they are contrary to God's plan for the world, only stripped of all their but the vaguest signifiers, so as not to risk alienating any actual extreme right-wing Christian fundamentalists in the audience.

Actually, Williams' villains are a sort of melange of religious fundamentalism, as they are American, white and conversant in Christian-like language, but their tactics echo those of Islamic jihadist attacks of the last decade or so—an execution filmed and televised on the Internet, the superhero version of the Mumbai attacks, suicide bombings and, of course, a plane being flown into New York City. Everything is amped-up with superpowers and doomsday devices and all, but the parallels are hard to miss.

It's up to our cast of hardcore killers with their edged-weapons and healing factors to kill their way to victory. There's some great art on display throughout, and, in addition to Williams deft but blunt force real-world allusions, there's a wonderfully discordant juxtaposition in the penultimate and ultimate panels.

Williams reaches that same inspired level of contradictory binary awesome/stupid that characterizes so much of Geoff Johns' writing, but he does so in a smart, funny way that demonstrates without a doubt that he's doing it on purpose.
If you don't like Remender's version of X-Force, chances are this will be somewhat disappointing: It has pretty much nothing at all to do with Fear Itself. There's a scene early one where Wolverine and Angel look at some computer screens that Bianchi has filled with his renderings of "The Worthy," the hammer-ed up Marvels who constitute part of the threat in Fear Itself, and there are a few off-hand comments about how the world is in bad shape and all, but the connection to Fear Itself couldn't be more tenuous.

I think the idea is that fear of the end of the world is motivating the bad guys, at least in terms of timing, but this reads like a story that was tweaked just enough that Marvel felt comfortable putting Fear Itself in the title. Or, alternately, Williams wouldn't have had to change more than a few lines of dialogue to decouple this from Fear Itself completely and allow it to stand on its own.
The Deep's connection to Fear Itself is much more direct. The major conflicts are both straight out of the event series it ties into. Namor's longtime villain Attuma is one of The Worthy who earns an evil magic Thor hammer, and he uses it to kick Namor's ass and conquer Atlantis. Namor, meanwhile, must struggle (rather unconvincingly, if we're being honest here) with the fear and insecurity that his loss to Attuma has instilled in him.

As I said, this is a Defenders story in all but title. The characters are pretty much the Defenders—Namor, Dr. Strange, The Silver Surfer and, standing in for The Hulk, tertiary She-Hulk Lyra, who explains "The Hulk's my dad...sort of..." (And that's pretty much all I know about her). Also along for the ride is Loa, who I think is a minor X-Men character who had to move to Atlantis due to some accident that rendered her totally aquatic or something (I think she was in the few issues of Marvel's latest stab at a Namor ongoing that I tried to read, because I love Namor, but had to drop almost immediately, because it was fucking terrible).

The story is Fight Comics 101: Namor loses to the powered-up Attuma, he retreats to lick his wounds and joins forces with a kinda sorta version of The Defenders, they fight some sea monsters, then they fight Attuma's lieutenants, then they fight Attuma and temporarily defeat him (He retreats in order to get back to the main Fear Itself miniseries, I guess).
There's absolutely nothing wrong with The Deep, but that's probably the most positive thing I can say about it, too.

And now it's time for Caleb Reveals His Ignorance! So, at the climax of the series, Dr. Strange casts a spell which calls everyone who has ever been a Defender to come to the Deep-fenders' aid to help them turn the tide. (The tide of the battle. Not the actual tide. Which is maybe an important distinction, as this does occur on the beach):
Sooooooo who is the guy with the X on his chest with the sword? And the guy who looks a little like Kirby's Demon...?


MrCynical said...

Demon Slayer (I guess) and Gargoyle (Definitely)

A Hero said...

Wow, I was such a Marvel zombie growing up, I never realized Gargoyle was a complete rip off of Kirby's Demon until you mentioned it.

Anonymous said...

Whoa, just had a weird moment there. Couldn't for the life of me remember how The Deep ended. Had to go back an do a quick re-read. Good review, though. Fear Itself was the first "event" comic I collected month-to month, and I gotta say it left me a little wary of doing it again. Not my favorite.