- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 21, 2010

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The real world is intruding in a real way for the heroes _ and villains _ of the Marvel universe.

The publisher _ whose characters range from the wall-crawler Spider-Man to mutant outcasts X-Men _ said Tuesday that the fear, uncertainty and overarching anxiety that has gripped today’s world will play havoc with its fictional heroes next spring as it embarks on “Fear Itself,” a seven-issue limited series that will reach across numerous titles and leave its characters scarred but smarter.

The story line starts in March with a one-shot prologue penned by Ed Brubaker.

The prologue, said Marvel executive editor Tom Brevoort, will involve Captain America, Namor and the Invaders “and a mission in World War II that sets the stage for what’s to come in the main ‘Fear Itself’ book.”

From there, the seven issue miniseries will launch in April, written by Matt Fraction and drawn by Stuart Immonen and will, Brevoort said “be, in terms of its size and scope across the Marvel Universe” analogous to the multi-issue, cross-title epic “Secret Invasion” that focused on the subtle, behind-the-scenes invasion of Earth by shape-shifting Skrulls.

Marvel has never shied away from cataclysmic story events. In “Civil War,” the company put its heroes on the front lines of personal civil liberties and freedoms, a story that ultimately ended with the death of Captain America.

“Fear Itself” will run through numerous issues, too, and, Brevoort said, shake up the Marvel universe.

Fraction said that the story would be relatable the world at large.

“It is something that speaks to the world we live in,” he said in videotaped address at a press conference in New York. “It feels like there is this great shadow over us all, this anxiousness, this anger. It feels like reason and discourse have taken a back seat to mob mentality and hysteria. And everyone is afraid of something right now.”

The details of the story, and its path, were closely guarded, but Fraction said it would feature heroes versus a “God of Fear” who draws his power from fearful feelings.

“The more you fear him, the stronger he gets and we are all his weapons,” Fraction said.

Joe Quesada, editor-in-chief and chief creative officer at Marvel Entertainment said the story was born out of plans for bigger stories for Marvel’s universe.

Brevoort and Axel Alonso, another Marvel executive editor, said the thread of the story will be woven in the coming months and involve major characters from the X-Men to Dracula.

What the outcome will be is still a secret, but Alonso remarked that with the tension plaguing the world at large, the aim is to “tap into the Zeitgeist of the day.”

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