Invincible Iron Man #21

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks
SPOILER WARNING: The following review extensively comments on plot developments of the issue.

I haven't read any of Matt Fraction's highly acclaimed run on Invincible Iron Man, so I thought I'd check out the latest issue to see how good it was. I loved Fraction's work on Casanova and Immortal Iron Fist, so this book seemed like a good and safe choice. Plus my fellow reviewer Danny Djeljosevic loved last month's issue. So it seemed a great time to jump on this bandwagon.

As you can tell from Danny's review, Fraction has built himself an interesting level of difficulty: this comic is built around a protagonist who's in a persistent vegetative state. Tony is in a coma, and much of the meat of this issue concerns a fascinating idea to get Tony out of his coma, a solution that builds beautifully on continuity to present a very satisfying resolution.

Ordinarily, I'm one of those rare people who doesn't care much about continuity, but there's a real power sometimes in maintaining a consistent world view. Only a reader with a heart of stone and no background in the Marvel Universe wouldn't smile at the idea of Pepper Potts, James Rhodes, Captain America and Thor all coming together to use their unique abilities to save their friend Tony Stark.

Despite the melodramatic soap opera of Civil War, the revived Cap knows he must be at the side of his longtime friend in his time of need, while Thor realizes he alone has the unique power to save Stark.

The most intriguing member of Tony's inner circle is Pepper, who reveals much of herself in a classic "letter never sent." We see Pepper sitting at a table writing a confessional letter, tears in the corners of her eyes, assessing all the good and bad that Tony has brought into her life. Pepper has always been loyal to Tony: "You ask me and I come running", as she says, but that loyalty has cost Pepper her husband, "the flaming wreckage that was my life," and her own independence. Pepper has even been implanted with a lifesaving electromagnetic device from Stark that once saved her life in a crisis.

But Pepper will live without the device and Tony will never wake up without it. So despite her tantrum and despair, Pepper knows she has no choice but to be loyal to the man who she's served for much of both their lives. Tony needs her and, inevitably, she's literally willing to give her own flesh to save him. Of course, for any longtime reader, Pepper's sacrifice is inevitable. We know she'll step up because she's always stepped up. That's who she is and what she does. When there's a crisis, Pepper will always be at Tony's side.

Just as Captain America and Thor would always step up to save Stark. The scheme to wake up Tony involves Thor's lightning and Cap's shield in some sort of harebrained hot wiring scheme that feels at the same time wonderfully clever, completely wacky, and true to all the characters. Larroca delivers the big moment in a spectacular scene that pulled me almost out of my seat. We'll see what the moment does for Tony, but the money shot was tremendously exciting.

Oh, but this being Marvel, there also have to be some arch-villains involved in the story. Who better to lead the conspiracy against Tony than Madame Masque, Stark's former lover who is now an agent for Norman Osborn? There's an interesting use of continuity there, too: a nod to Iron Man's classic past along with a nod to current Marvel continuity. It's very satisfying, and not at all awkward for a fan who's not following "Dark Reign."

Masque has enlisted a nasty guy named Ghost to invade the town in which Stark is being revived, which sets up a very interesting battle in future issues. I love how the final panel sets up the kind of horse's nose under the tent. Ghost seems outnumbered by heroes, but nobody is looking at him so who knows what kind of havoc he can create?

Larroca shows his versatility and confidence with a wonderful performance on the art. He's asked to draw many scenes, from invasion of giant robots to quiet moments of extreme stillness, from a bizarre operating theatre to a high-rise penthouse. Larroca delivers all the scenes with a confidence and energy that perfectly fits this book. His biggest moment is the scene in which Pepper first sees the revived Captain America. The very solid, all-American look of Cap is really very stirring even for a reader. No wonder Pepper seems to jump out of her seat.

I really enjoyed my first look at Matt Fraction's Iron Man. This book presented a story that I found extremely satisfying on several levels. Stark's comatose state was far from a problem; rather, it was an intriguing hook to add depth and complexity to the characters and their stories. Both my inner geek and my critical adult sides were delighted by this book. Based on this issue, I'll be around for a lot more of Fraction's Invincible Iron Man.

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