FEAR ITSELF: BOOK OF THE SKULL #1 (Marvel One-Shot, May 2011) Ed Brubaker, writer. Scot Eaton, Penciler. Mark Morales, Inker. Sunny Gho of IFS, colorist. Joe Caramagna, lettering & production. Marko Djurdjevic, cover art.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK revived the filmic pulp tradition and brought us one of the most exciting prologues/lead-ins to a movie in recent memory. Through the cine-magic of co-directors Spielberg and Lucas we were riveted to the screen and couldn’t wait for the main story to begin. In similar fashion, magicians Brubaker and Eaton use FEAR ITSELF PROLOGUE: BOOK OF THE SKULL to whet our appetite for the mini-series to begin.
The descent into the secret desert lair of the Red Skull during the opening moments of this story reminds me of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK as well. There are many similarities throughout this book—the desert setting in Egypt, the WWII background with the presence of Nazis (the ultimate villains), the unworldly atmosphere as an ancient artifact/entity (possibly a weapon, or an awakened demon/god) is sought for and discovered, and the implications of what it means for the outcome of the War as well as the future of the planet. There are also some unsettling and creepy images/events in BOOK OF THE SKULL that remind me of THE EVIL DEAD film—human sacrifice, ancient tomes bound in flesh, a mythic text that awakens eternal spirits, etc. I believe I read something about Ed Brubaker that mentioned his interest in films of a pulp and noir nature—and that influence can be seen here. My son Dave also reminded me of another 1991 film OPERATION CONDOR, a Jackie Chan martial arts action movie that featured a secret Nazi underground base in the Egyptian desert!
BOOK OF THE SKULL also reminds me of Brubaker’s fine body of work on CAPTAIN AMERICA (who is also featured here, but not in the main spotlight). This reads like a CAPTAIN AMERICA book and is just as entertaining—in your face action, brief but insightful glimpses of character traits and values, an implication of world in peril that enhances the sense of history behind the characters and their connection to WWII, and Brubaker’s patented story methods that utilize suspense and pacing to keep us turning pages right up until the end.
Scott Eaton’s fine artwork also reminds me of the CAPTAIN AMERICA book, as if he took some cues from the dynamic realism of Steve Epting’s work on this title. The panel placement and the use of dark borders/background also reinforce that feeling. In fact, this book could have been re-titled CAPTAIN AMERICA #615.2 and I wouldn’t object to that. I should also mention Djurdjevic’s perfectly symbolic and evocative cover image.
I’d rather not summarize the story and potentially take some of the fun away from you. Here are a few things you can look forward to:
- Some wonderful action scenes as Baron Zemo and Sin, with guns a ‘blazing, battle the Red Skull’s still active Nazi robots in the secret underground site of the buried treasure.
- Sin’s thoughts/memories as she takes out one robot after another – - “All you kept hidden, my hated father…your darkest secrets and plans…now they will be mine. You never saw that…how I was made for this…how blood and violence and screaming…to me…they’re like returning to the womb. And when you died, father…Steve Rogers wasn’t the only one who was reborn.”
- The background tale from 1942 Germany featuring Captain America, Bucky and Namor as they thwart the Red Skull’s plans for the newly discovered artifact.
- The pride and rage that constantly flows through the veins of Namor and the calm, cool and focused manner of Captain America no matter how unsettling the situation is.
- And back to more prophetic thoughts from Sin: “Are you watching from your pit in Hell, father? Do you understand now? That it was always my destiny…never yours. The Red Skull’s failure will be his daughter’s triumph…and I will reshape this world.”
I always approach these “events” from comics publishers with a sense of foreboding, as if I’m about to get sucked into a marketing whirlpool of hype and promises that sometimes flattens out with little impact as it ends. Nevertheless, I await the future issues of FEAR ITSELF. I took the bait.
There is an absolutely stunning video to promote FEAR ITSELF from MTV of all places. I tried to embed it here for your viewing but I lack the technical computer skills to pull that off. Hopefully, you can find it by using the link below. Maybe it will even take you there if you click on it (no promises, though).
This review appeared in a slightly altered but similar format on the Captain Blue Hen website on Wednesday, April 7, 2011 . . . . .