Plot: After the events of “World’s Most Wanted” Tony Stark is in a persistent vegetative state as his comrades receive orders to "reboot" his brain. Too bad his current state leaves him very vulnerable.
Comments: In this wretched post-Watchmen era that some of us still struggle to escape, writers like Matt Fraction are showing how to do a proper serious superhero comic. His Invincible Iron Man is heavy without any affectation of the juvenile morbidity passing for “dark” that's been going on since people ignored that Alan Moore’s seminal work is a hilarious dark comedy. No, Fraction writes Invincible Iron Man with things like wit and pathos that is earned from things like characterization and plot. Novel idea.
Everything about Invincible Iron Man #20 screams bold: the supercool Rian Hughes designed, reminiscent of Casanova, cover that sets the book apart from everything on the shelves; the surreal Waiting for Godot of Tony’s vegetative consciousness where he just keeps digging up teeth and tangerines (good bad band name?); the distinct lack of action in the first part of a major story arc in a superhero comic that some readers might dismiss as "talky." Which is not to say that Fraction is incapable of action. This week’s Uncanny X-Men proved a brilliant fight comic with a dozen cool action moments.
The issue’s crowning achievement is the sequence of Tony Stark delivering his final orders to Pepper Potts and company via prerecorded video. Six pages of repeating panels all rendered in a blue glow, it shows a staggering restraint for superhero comics, where creators might feel a need to be striking and dynamic all the time. With the repeating, static angle, we can focus on Tony Stark’s words via Fraction's scripting and Salvador Larroca’s skill as a sequential artist in making Stark "act," bringing life to a character who is, ironically, on the threshold of death. It's easily one of the most powerful scenes of the year, simultaneously an inspiring call to arms, bittersweet last will and testament, and heartbreaking confessional.
What ensues after Tony's video is the issue's other great moment. Pepper Potts has an extremely human breakdown where she asks the most important question of the book--after all he's done, why does Tony Stark deserve to come back? He may be one of the smartest men in the world and the hero of our story, but does he deserve rebirth when so many others have died at his hands? Fraction just won't let us have our superhero back.
Speaking of restraint, Larroca does a bit less celebrity lookalike drawing in this issue, which is always appreciated as I find that kind of art very distracting, especially considering in Salvador Larocca's Marvel Universe it turns out that both Donald Blake and Reed Richards resemble Brad Pitt, but only from certain angles, which leads to more confusion.
Otherwise, Larroca continues to be a fantastic artist, especially in his rendering of the post-apocalyptic world of Tony's consciousness, where the desolate land is continually wiped out by giant nightmare robots that Tony Stark hasn't even invented yet. My personal favorite is the establishing shot of this world, where technology like cars, planes, and even giant hands are covered in huge mounds of sand. Fraction's inclusion of these scenes is a smart take on the "absent hero" trope as seen in the “Death of Captain America" saga and Fraction's own "Gula" story arc in Casanova. Rather than completely remove Stark from the story while the supporting cast works to bring him back, we see Tony's own consciousness attempting to do the same.
It's a shame that Invincible Iron Man comes but once a month because it's easily one of Marvel's best superhero comics, if not the best superhero comic right now. If the rest of "Stark Disassembled" is as good as this opening chapter, Matt & Sal may as well start writing their Eisner acceptance speeches now.
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