By Ben Morse
WARNING: READ FEAR ITSELF #5 BEFORE READING THIS STORY—SPOILERS AHEAD!
If any gloves remained on at this point, they came off in the fifth issue of FEAR ITSELF, which lived up to its advance billing of “Brawl!” and then some.
The primary action focused on a hellacious handicap match pitting the Mighty Thor against the Serpent’s most hard-hitting Worthy: Nul, Breaker of Worlds—aka The Hulk—and Angrir, Breaker of Souls—aka The Thing. The Thunder God bucked the odds, holding his own against both beasts in an all-out war with no holding back. He received an unlikely assist from Franklin Richards of the Future Foundation, who managed to revert Ben Grimm to his “normal” state, and then knocked Nul into orbit with what could have very well been his last gasp.
As his fellow Avenger battled the odds in New York City, out west in Oklahoma, Iron Man confronted Thor’s father, Odin, and attempted to barter for advanced weaponry and perhaps the fate of Earth. In the process, Tony Stark grappled with his beliefs and sacrificed perhaps his integrity.
And in the shadow of war, Steve Rogers, returned as Captain America, confronted Skadi, the former Sin, daughter of his greatest foe and killer of his protégé. Upon the Serpent’s arrival, the Super Soldier would see his legendary shield shattered and just maybe his remaining hope for victory as well, declaring to his comrades he felt victory to be impossibility.
FEAR ITSELF writer Matt Fraction joins us to dissect this crucial chapter in the epic saga.
Marvel.com: How much were you looking forward to writing this issue and the Thor/Hulk/Thing fight in particular? Did you slip into fan mode at all or keep it strictly professional?
Matt Fraction: Ferociously. I knew it was coming before a lot of the rest was in place. And it's all fan-mode to some degree or the other; it's just whether or not fan-mode gets to dictate what goes on while I'm in writer-mode, if that makes sense. Fan-mode makes for bad writing sometimes, I think. Not to say that "strictly professional" means I'm not having good time or anything, just the reader and the writer have differing opinions sometimes.
Marvel.com: How does your approach change when writing an issue like this which is so heavily focused on a big, wordless brawl?
Matt Fraction: I sort of plotted out the big broad strokes of the Thor-Thing-Hulk fight, and the big broad strokes of the Serpent-Sin-Avengers fight, then figured out where to cut from one to the next and just kind of try to blend it all together so just as one is about to explode you cut to the other and hopefully ratchet the tension up until it cracks like Cap's shield.
Marvel.com: How did the fact that it was Nul and Angrir rather than Hulk and Thing influence how the fight went?
Matt Fraction: They would have different capabilities, different tactics. There'd be an air of cruelty about them, of viciousness and a lack of care for collateral damage. Nul and Angrir would use the whole city as a weapon—and did—whereas those are lines the good guys don't cross.
Marvel.com: How much of Captain America’s standing up to Sin/Skadi is bluster, how much is legitimate, particularly once she plays the “I killed Bucky” card?
Matt Fraction: If it was bluster it ended here—it ended when that shield got snapped like an Oreo. For me—to know Thor got dropped and to see his shield broken—that's when Cap, for the first time, felt fear here. He's been frustrated, angry, and everything else but not genuinely afraid before now.
Marvel.com: How would you describe the dynamic between Odin and Iron Man? They only interact relatively briefly, but they play off each other in very interesting ways.
Matt Fraction: I'm not sure, but it's fun to write. And it comes to a boil at the end of FEAR ITSELF, so if you like reading it, you're in luck, there's more coming. Ultimately it's a guy that doesn't believe in "God" standing face to face with—well, God. Or one of 'em anyway. I don't know that there's any right answer but it's always fun to keep Tony off his game and make him have to puzzle stuff out; like, you know, the role of man in the universe and if there's such a thing as fate or not.
Marvel.com: Given his personal belief system, how does Tony reconcile his relationship with Thor? How does he maintain that friendship?
Matt Fraction: I don't know. I always thought it was like the scratch on your car you simply didn't look at—a kind of self-made aberration of logic. This was really what I wanted the heart of Tony's crisis to be in FEAR ITSELF: The man of science has a crisis of faith and tugs on the loose strand of a sweater that eventually coils around his neck.
Marvel.com: If you’re not following Tony’s story into INVINCIBLE IRON MAN, what are you missing?
Matt Fraction: Well, FEAR ITSELF is really about Thor and Cap, so in [INVINCIBLE IRONA MNA] you're seeing the above more realized, as well as the ramifications of a man that was clean and sober suffering a relapse while suffering a crippling confrontation with the tenets and limits of his own faith and his own capability to conceive of and consider things larger than himself. For my money we've not seen just Spider-Man leave the battlefield but Iron Man, too. Fear does funny stuff to people.
Marvel.com: How is Thor’s fight with Thing/Angrir different than his fight with Hulk/Nul? Why does he have so much more resentment toward the latter?
Matt Fraction: Thor vs Hulk is, like, that classic, no-win, endless, drive-your-friends-nuts-arguing-until-four-in-the-morning Marvel fight. I mean, at the end of the Avengers/Defenders War they just stood there silently grappling each other and not moving. That was the fight! They just—stood there—grappling.
So I think if it comes down to it? You're damn right Thor's gonna hold a grudge. And look at all the problems Hulk has caused just by his very nature of being The Hulk! It just felt like the right note, dramatically, to play. That Nul would be this sort of cold, cruel, relentless force of nature and, for Thor, it was One Last Chance to come out on top.
Marvel.com: Why does Thing feel like he deserves to suffer?
Matt Fraction: He didn't save Johnny. He looks like a monster. He terrifies those he loves. It's all of Ben's issues and baggage writ large.
Marvel.com: Once again, where is The Serpent at in terms of power levels here?
Matt Fraction: Pretty close to topping out now. He's nearly Odin-strong. Strong enough to break Cap's shield. It's bad.
Marvel.com: Beyond just losing his weapon, what does the breaking of Captain America’s shield do to and represent for him?
Matt Fraction: He realizes we're gonna lose. There's no cavalry that can come save the super heroes and it's time to shift tactics. The ultimate military man knows when he's outgunned on the battlefield and this, for Cap, is that moment.
Marvel.com: Why does Spider-Man make the case to Cap that they should be with their loved ones? Is he giving up?
Matt Fraction: Because they're outmatched, it's all in vain, and he doesn't want Aunt May to die worried about him. I don't think that's giving up—Spidey doesn't know how to give up—I think that's being rational.
Marvel.com: If Franklin Richards can reverse the Thing’s Worthy transformation, where do his powers put him in regard to being a viable weapon against The Serpent?
Matt Fraction: Reed would never deploy his son as a weapon. That Franklin chose to do this and only this will, for the time being, remain his choice and his alone. If you're not reading FF—you should be.
Marvel.com: Is Thor bluffing when he tells Hulk/Nul he can’t beat him and then taking his best shot or trying to lull him into a false sense of security knowing he can win?
Matt Fraction: You tell me.
Marvel.com: Why does Cap think they’re going to lose?
Matt Fraction: Why on earth would he think they're going to win?
Marvel.com: What’s coming up next?
Matt Fraction: Thor goes home one more time. Iron Man readies his arsenal. And Cap stands alone against the armies of Fear.
FEAR ITSELF #6 comes at you on September 14, and we’ll be back here with Matt to analyze the issue. Also be sure to visit the Fear Itself event page for all the latest info!