As we have established, Marvel Comics Presents was a great idea in premise that — in function — gave us some weird, weird stories. And we have a great example of that right from the start with a 4-part Al Milgrom tale called The Fear Eater that ran through the first four issues of Marvel Comics Presents, totaling 32-pages in all.
Calling this series of shorts a “story” is actually being a bit generous. More honest would be to call it a series of recaps follow by a bad punch-line. The premise is pretty simple: there’s a cosmic parasite called the Fear-Eater. Guess what he does? Yup, he eats fear. He’s also the only thread linking all the chapters together. See, in each story we follow the Fear Eater as he tries — and fails — to bring out the fear in a different Marvel hero, only to be thwarted.
At first he tries for the Silver Surfer, hoping to gain access to the Surfer’s power cosmic by devouring and manipulating his deepest, most primal fears. This includes, primarily, being trapped in the ghetto prison planet that its residents call “Earth.” Well, screw you too, Surfer. some Space-Jesus you turned out to be. The Surfer then remembers his exile on Earth and how his servitude of Galactus lead him to that point, culminating in the Fear Eater tricking him into thinking he was powerless in the center of space. The illusion was broken when the Surfer (guised as Norrin Radd) realizes that if his board was still in existence, so to must his power be. Now free, rather than stopping the Fear Eater or doing really any investigation at all, he just bounces off, happy that he’s okay… having stranded the Fear Eater on Earth. Thanks for that, Surfer. I no longer feel bad that that boring-ass cartoon show you had on Fox Kids got cancelled.
From there, the Fear Eater attacks The Captain… who I at first mistook for US Agent, but this story takes place during a brief time when Steve Rogers had been stripped of his title and took up this monkier. So, this is Captain America, and he’s fighting a new villain he describes as “a cross between the Iron Man villain Jack Frost, and the Iceman.” Presumably the X-Man, not the character from Top Gun. Although that would be interesting. All is going well, until the Fear Eater shows up and makes the Captain remember first his origins, and how he was frozen in a block of ice for… well, depending on which part of the Marvel Sliding Timescale we’re on, anywhere between 20 and 60 years. He eventually gets over this, defeats the Fear Eater and the unnamed Frost Villain.
Why did Al Milgrom create his own Frost villain here? Did he think other writers would want to use this unnamed ice-themed villain would be so beloved by readers that new authors would use him and that he’d get residual checks? Why not just use Jack Frost?
Anyway, we quickly stumble upon the weirdness of this story: it’s almost an anti-story. It’s just an excuse to retell the origins of character after character. In fact, most of each chapters pages are devoted to rehashing each character’s origin or rehashing the events of every chapter preceding it.
We move on from The Captain to the Thing, whom the Fear Eater tortures by slightly reducing how monstrous he looks, and then playing on his fear of how monstrous he looks. Eventually the Thing overcomes his fear (and reverts to his previous lumpy form, because if there’s one thing MCP wasn’t allowed to do, it was effect ongoing title continuity. The last panel shows a fairly desperate looking Fear Eater worried that if he can’t successfully devour someone’s fear soon, he’s going to starve to death.
Is this really the message you’re going for Milgrom? I mean, we the reader even feel pathos for characters like Galactus, arguing that they’re only trying to live. If this is your scary villain, perhaps we shouldn’t be placing them in such a sympathetic light. Also, faced with possible death, I’m guessing the Fear Eater will pick someone weak to feed off of, so he picks: The Mighty Thor.
Because when I think “characters crippled in fear,” I think about the literal warrior god of thunder.
Remember back when I said this was all leading up to a bad punch-line? Well, unable to get any fear from Thor, the Fear Eater finally does the sensible thing and decides to just try to eat the fear of the first person he sees, rather than God-level heroes. So he enters a random shadowy person in an alleyway, and promptly shrivels up and dies, because he enters: Daredevil… the Man Without Fear.
And so we celebrate the death of an alien creature who was simply trying to eat to survive. Huzahh.
“Is this really the message you’re going for Milgrom? I mean, we the reader even feel pathos for characters like Galactus, arguing that they’re only trying to live. If this is your scary villain, perhaps we shouldn’t be placing them in such a sympathetic light.”