- Associated Press - Monday, February 28, 2011

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - There’s plenty of fear to be had in the Marvel Universe.

The comic publisher’s roster of characters _ heroes and villains _ will face a major scare and major test in a series of tie-ins, crossovers and a dedicated miniseries that will see heroes grapple with extinction-level events as writer Matt Fraction captures the global zeitgeist amid four-color panels.

The first issue of “Fear Itself” hits store shelves April 6. The cover sports a battered and bruised Thor and a mysterious man standing over the thunder god’s supine body, wielding the hammer Mjolnir.

Fraction said the first issue sets the tone for the entire seven-issue series.

“A fuse is lit at the end of the first issue and it explodes in the second, which is called ‘Blitzkrieg USA,’” he told The Associated Press. “The stakes start off impossibly high and just keep escalating.”

That second issue comes out May 4 and features Thor shackled in chains and Juggernaut _ Marvel’s unstoppable force with a checkered history as villain, sometime hero and always-misunderstood man _ crouched to strike.

“My focal point has been how this terrible thing, how The Serpent, how this dark god affects Captain America and Thor, primarily, with Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers characters right behind him,” Fraction said. “This story became the mega-event-thing it became because of what it meant for our characters first and foremost, so keeping them front and center, keeping them in focus, and keeping them off their toes and wildly unsafe has been the target.”

Tom Brevoort, Marvel’s senior vice president for publishing, said the goal of the series, which runs April to October, with a prologue issuing shipping this month, is to provide a cohesive story in one package without the need to acquire several other issues from other titles.

“We’re working very hard to make this an at-will buy-in situation for the consumer _ if you merely want to follow ‘Fear Itself’ proper, you can stick to just the central limited series,” he said.

But if readers are interested in how the events will affect other characters including Iron Man, Hulk and Spider-Man, “and want to experience that in greater detail than we can show you in the main series without the page count being astronomical, that’s what the assorted tie-in stories are there for.”

Fraction called the story more than just an event for comic books. Rather, it is a careful analysis of contemporary times told with heroes and villains who have had to make choices their entire lives.

“The story’s engineered by a big nerd _ me _ that feels ripped off after buying into one too many ‘event’ books that require not only a Ph.D. in ‘Big Nerd History’ but a bottomless bank account to buy all the parts to get a complete and satisfying story,” he said. “I want ‘Fear Itself’ to be completely gettable, understandable, readable and thrilling to someone that hasn’t been reading comics for 30 years, you know? Keeping it clean and accessible, but still a massive, heavy, satisfying blockbuster.”




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