Fear Itself has been an odd crossover in many ways, with more ups and downs than a rollercoater, bumpy story beats, inconsistent pacing, inaccurate characterization all over the place... it's been a bit of a mess. There've been great moments, and also a lot of not so great moments. This issue is a great representation of that trend being felt in the mini-series as a whole, as it almost feels that for every good thing, there is an equal bad thing.
The pacing of the issue was definitely a strike against it, as after last issue's slugfest, this issue felt really slow and quiet, not that that's a bad thing, but this IS the penultimate issue, and you'd expect a bit more to actually happen. That being said, you did feel the atmosphere getting more tense, as the buildup to next issue reached its crescendo, so that was definitely a major plus. The opening of the issue is strong, with great imagery by Immonen, but then we get a confrontation between Odin and Captain America that feels very forced, and a bit out of character. The actual villains of the piece, Skadi and the Serpent, make a brief appearance, but it feels more like a forced cameo. They haven't been built up properly AT ALL throughout this storyline, and it's part of what makes this event feel so forced, because the villain really hasn't been properly fleshed out, with no depth having been discovered.
One of the most painful sequences to read in this issue has Spider-Man scouring the crowds evacuating parts of New York, and looking for Aunt May, because it really made Spider-Man look foolish, like he doesn't know how to sort out his priorities (although in a meta sense, that's true, given how his priorities have been majorly out of whack since he made a deal with Mephisto back in One More Day). It takes being schooled by Aunt May for him to come to his senses and rejoin the other heroes. Those two pages were pages that I almost wish had been blank, because that's how entertaining it was.
There's an extended sequence here with Odin and Thor talking, as Thor recovers from his injuries, and I think it's the first time in a Fraction-written book that he got the voices for Thor and Odin right. Prior to this, you really couldn't say that, as Odin was shown as being irrational and quick to anger, and the relationship between him and Thor was extremely poorly written.
A problem with Fear Itself has been that key parts of the story are taking place elsewhere, and yet aren't really mentioned here in the main book, although the after-effects are. One example is what happened to Paris, which was depicted in Invincible Iron Man, also by Fraction, but which wasn't really covered here. In this issue, the sequence with Tony and him having weapons ready is a big change from what was last covered in this series proper, as Tony drank to invoke Odin's name. The intervening action was covered elsewhere, and that feels like a major mistake in terms of story plotting. It certainly takes away from the notion that the main series is all you really need, but the tie-ins fill in the larger picture with more details. My brother-in-law fell victim to this, as he doesn't read Invincible Iron Man in the single-issue format, and didn't realize what was happening essentially off-panel. If Editorial Footnotes were still in practice, this may not have been an issue.
The closing sequences of the book really left me torn, because the Iron Man one was a great cliffhanger, as I'm excited to see what it will look like when he returns from getting his upgrade, whereas the Captain America ending felt a bit forced. I get the reasoning behind it, it just felt a bit heavy-handed, not to mention impractical. A floating Dark Asgard city is coming, and one man stands there with a shotgun to stop them? Sure. Captain America is a strategical genius, so this ending just didn't make any real sense.
The artwork by Immonen is very strong, with some excellent work on the finer details of the scenes. The quiet moments work just as well as the big splashy ones, and the pathos found on Odin's face when he sees Thor is definitely palpable. His portrayal of Steve Rogers both in and out of the mask is quite strong as well, which is a big plus.
Overall this issue, just like this series, has a hard time deciding just what it wants to be, resulting in an oscillation between enjoyable and painful to read. There are such highs and lows, it's hard to figure out what one's feelings are about the book after reading it. I'm looking forward to this event being over, as it feels like there is no momentum behind it at all, it's just happening, and after nearly seven months of this, I'm ready for it to be over, and the new status quo to arrive and settle itself down.