It’s really quite amazing how closely Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca’s version of Iron Man meshes with the Robert Downey, Jr. incarnation. Fraction has stated in interviews that he didn’t have any inside knowledge of the “Iron Man” movie — he didn’t get a draft of the script and he didn’t talk to any of the filmmakers. He just wrote what he thought would be a cool and interesting Tony Stark and kept his fingers crossed. This comic was obviously created to appeal to fans who just walked out of the movie, but without knowing exactly what that movie would be like, creating this comic had to be like shooting blind and hoping to hit something close to the mark.
And it does hit the mark. In a world where there are at least four different “Iron Man” titles on the shelves (not counting the character’s appearances in any team books), “Invincible Iron Man” has quickly become the one to buy. To me, this feels like the “real” Iron Man book, and all the others (“Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Marvel Adventures,” and “Viva Las Vegas”) all feel like half-formed doppelgangers, missing an important piece here and there. Incomplete. “Invincible Iron Man,” on the other hand, is more than complete. It’s filled with ideas, strong concepts, and a clear vision of who Tony Stark must be to be the man to wear the Iron Man armor.
It’s not perfect. But “Invincible Iron Man” is very good, even with its flaws. So, first: the flaws. Salvador Larocca is now in the heavy-photo-reference slash Photoshop phase of his career — and that kind of visual style seems to sell comics — but it doesn’t serve the story particularly well whenever characters are required to emote. It’s a fine style for Iron Man’s high-tech accoutrements, and M.O.D.O.G. (I’ll get back to him in a minute) looks about as good as you could expect, but Ezekiel Stane either has face-morphing powers (which he doesn’t) or Larocca couldn’t get consistent reference. And the “Sparky” character — Stane’s client — just looks wildly different from panel to panel. I’ll go ahead and blame colorist Frank D’Armata for much of the problem, because I haven’t enjoyed his work on “Captain America” much either, and if you look at some of the faces in the crowd during the Manila sequence in this issue, you’ll see some weird distortions. Remember how, in the movie “The Ring,” the victim’s faces would get all blurry and smeared in the photographs? That’s how Larroca and D’Armata make a whole bunch of characters look in that Manila sequence, and I’m pretty sure it’s just ugly artwork, not an allusion to an unimportant remake of a J-horror movie from over half a decade ago. And I’m also not fond of how Pepper Potts just shows up to talk, in person, to Iron Man and War Machine in the field. Wearing heels. In the middle of a blast area. We just saw her, in the Fraction-penned comic “The Order,” operate as a jacked-in Oracle analogue, working behind the scenes, and now Fraction has her running around like a Bond girl. Well, not quite. But it’s certainly strange to see her taking such an active role out and about, standing next to guys in heavy armor.
What’s so good about this comic, then? Pretty much everything else. Fraction plays Stark as the ultimate multi-tasker. He’s that super-tech geek who needs to be the first one with the new toys, if he doesn’t have the new toys, he needs to know about them before you do and pass them by because they’re already obsolete. He’s the guy that plays the role of the hero, and shoulders the burdens of the world, but acts like it’s all a breeze — partly because he’s prepared for it, and partly because he’s concerned about what’s next and just whizzes through the incidents that would make the average hero tremble. He also allows himself to have fun doing it, and when he battles with M.O.D.O.G. (that’s Mental Organism Designed Only for Genocide), it’s like a cat batting around a mouse that doesn’t yet know it’s dead. M.O.D.O.G. doesn’t stand a chance, even while Tony Stark is thinking about how he needs to find a new means of propulsion instead of concentrating purely on the fight. But that’s Tony Stark — concentration is for people who can’t do ten things at once.
Just the presence, and quick dismissal, of M.O.D.O.G. gives a sense of what this comic is all about. It’s fun, it’s fast-paced, it’s dense. In a later scene, seven brand new characters are introduced and obliterated even before we get to know them. But it’s never convoluted. It’s also not all just fun and games. There are some serious implications to the technology here. There’s a pretty blatant real-world parallel, calling into question the relationships between technology and violence, religion and fanaticism, reason and faith. Fraction is treading on some sensitive territory here, and he might be accused of being disrespectful to the real tragedies in our world today by putting such things in a superhero comic. But I think he knows what he’s doing. He surely knows that he’s hitting some tender areas in “Invincible Iron Man,” and he’s not doing it in a sensationalistic way. He’s dealing with sensitive topics precisely because they are important. Is a superhero comic the right place for an exploration of how technology can be used for fanatical religious purposes? Why not?
Jam-packed with story, complex themes, and strong characters, “Invincible Iron Man” is the Iron Man comic you’ve been waiting to read, whether you knew you were waiting for an Iron Man comic or not. This is the one. Especially if you can forgive the ever-shifting faces.