Hey all… I’m back, and chock full of sunshine. No, seriously, I am. You see, there was a sad time for me, about a 18 months ago, when DC was getting ready to reboot their entire universe. And during this time, I endured the “epic” conclusions to all the books I was enjoying. But that word there… enjoy? It’s a lie. At the time of the great Flashpoint, DC’s writers, artists, and editors were phoning in their performance like the actors in ‘Battleship’. And to be frank? DC lost my respect pretty hard. So hard in fact that most of their “New 52” leaves a bitter aftertaste in my mouth. But I digress.
After the death of the DCU, I looked towards brighter shores. The shores of Mickey Mouse, and his comic company. And here I stand at the end of “Invincible Iron Man”, a comic I can say with authority I have read since its first issue (which was a #1, before they got silly with the renumbering). At the end of all things, Fraction and Larocca take a bow, and it’s a well deserved one.
Invincible Iron Man debuted shortly after the first Iron Man movie. Larocca’s photo-realistic style married the obvious wink and nod to Robert Downey Jr.’s brilliant performance with Matt Fraction—a then fresh-faced golden child of Marvel’s rookie bullpen. In spite, or perhaps in celebration, of modern comic writing tropes… the book decidedly played ‘long ball’. Where some books get 6 issues to an arc, Fraction pushed for year or longer super sets. What this meant for the reader? The true equivalent of enjoying a feature film in 10-15 minute increments. While I’ve little doubt this increased the barrier to entry for new readers, it made the series have a gravitas only being seen in other great runs in Marvel (like Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman, or Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America).
Specific to this issue, there’s little to be said. As 20 pages of content, it’s essentially worthless if you’ve not been following along. The basic gist: Over the last 2 or 3 years (or however long this series existed in ‘Marvel Time’) the Mandarin was all up in Tony’s bid-ness. And due to his long-formatted evil scheme, he ended up imprisoning Tony in his hidden city, and forced him to build him weapons. Cheeky, no? In the issue before this, it all came to a head; Iron Man and his compatriots (including Chinese super-heroes, War Machine, and a gaggle of previous Iron-Menaces like Whirlwind and Blizzard) saved the day. In this issue, Tony is attempting once again to return to civilization. And here is where Fraction shows his sheer brilliance.
After every gigantic arc throughout the series, Fraction has painted the picture of Tony Stark as a man possessed… with the future. And here, returning back to normalcy, it doesn’t take long for our titular hero to grow bored with the grind. It’s ballsy to play the card like this. So easily, Fraction could have written this book with nothing but hugging, kissing, and maybe a silly fight to round the issue out. Instead he gives us all of that in the first 5 pages, and then spends the remainder creating new mysteries, a murder plot, deep feelings, year-spanning resentment, and a new Iron Man suit of armor… all before ending on a final spread that takes Tony where he’s finally never been before. It’s a testament to Matt Fraction to have played his hand this steady this long. Minus a few brief stumbles, this arc is as worthy a representation of fantastic Iron Man stories as any of the other great arcs that have existed in the characters’ decades long career.
Artistically speaking, Salvador Larocca deserves far more credit than other reviewers tend to give him. Yes, it’s obvious he uses photo-references in his work. But take it from me, an artist who does the exact same thing, it’s not as easy as you think it is. Larocca’s ability to capture subtlety and nuance in a face is second to none. His armor designs throughout the series have been a boon of creativity. His redesigns of the often-morty rogues helped legitimize formerly laughable concepts. Don’t believe me? Seven issues ago, I actually could have been afraid of the Melter. If that doesn’t deserve a round of applause, well, I don’t know if I could believe in a higher power. Specific to this issue, Larocca shows off his abilities in both loud and quiet scenes. And when we reach a nefarious plot conclusion in the soulless parking lot in Washington DC, a single environmental shot is all that’s needed to prove that Salvador not only knows what he’s doing… but he’s doing it at the prime of his career. Wherever he ends up the Marvel NOW books, I’d be hard-pressed not to follow.
At the end of the day, Invincible Iron Man 527 shows off just how potent Marvel is when it wants to be. Aside from it’s craptastic epic-crossovers, and continuously bloated X-Line of books, here is a corner of the 616 I couldn’t be prouder to recommend. Matt Fraction’s scripting is tight, funny, and profound. His characterization of Tony Stark and his compatriots were deep and fleshed out far better than just about any 5 characters across the street have been in the same amount of time. Salvador Larocca started out the book stiff as a board, but ended it as he should have—as a master craftsmen playing in a sandbox he’s defined for years to come. Invincible Iron Man was a fantastic ride into the stratosphere. For their sake, I hope Gillen and Land are up to the challenge following this near flawless act.