In the post-brainwipe, new Heroic Age of “Invincible Iron Man,” Tony Stark is rebuilding — rebranding — his empire from the ground up. It’s a great way to reintroduce the character as a hero, flaws and all, as he starts with nothing and has to make his way in a world that still wonders what he’ll do next. This is Tony Stark, in many ways the engineer behind much of the technology in the Marvel Universe, but it’s also Tony Stark, the man who became an arrogant super-cop, policing his own people out of a reactionary sense of what needed to be done.
Yet it’s also a Tony Stark who has the innocence to believe that he can build a new company around a single idea — a superfast electric car — by pulling together a team whose members are just as down-and-out as he is. He’s taking back his own company by starting something new, with people he can trust. It’s the Marvel version of the end of “Mad Men: Season Three,” with Tony Stark in the Don Draper role.
Matt Fraction continues his long-form approach to this series, and the structure works better here than it has over the past year or so. Part of the problem with the previous two arcs of “Invincible Iron Man” was that Fraction’s protagonist wasn’t an active participant in his own story. He was either reactive, on the run for a long, long time, or inactive, as his allies attempted to bring him back to the land of the living. Fraction did a nice job making the book about the Iron Man ensemble, but with Tony Stark fleeing or comatose, the story lost a lot of its central power supply. The return of Stark has reenergized this series, and yet his return to the lead role hasn’t come freely. Stark still has huge gaps in his memory, and those gaps have already become plot points.
This issue moves the Detroit Steel subplot forward, with a public confrontation between Justine Hammer and Iron Man. And there’s a mystery somewhere in there, and old nemesis Stane seems somehow involved. It’s mostly a character-centric issue, with personality clashes and Stark pulling together his home team.
And as a character-centric issue, the art fails almost completely. The dead-eyed Tony Stark as drawn by Salvador Larroca and colored by Frank D’Armata cannot convincingly sell the human drama. The character looks like he was posed by one of those computer programs Chuck Austen used to draw that “War Machine” comic a decade ago, with Josh Holloway’s head pasted on top. Larroca has long-ago “cast” Holloway as his Tony Stark — even though he got away from that during Stark’s on-the-run phase — but it’s more distracting than ever here, as the issue demands emotional range from Stark, and Larroca doesn’t deliver. It’s more fumetti-looking than usual.
When Larroca and D’Armata are showing Iron Man and War Machine in flight, or the oversized Detroit Steel in an intimidating pose, their work looks sleek and stunning. But that’s only a few panels. The rest of the issue is awkward acting by characters artificially, inhumanly, posed. Too much iron, not enough man.
The story beneath the surface is worth reading, but the surface is distracting more often than not.