Yeah, I don't get the whole numbering thing either, but hey, who cares, right? "Invincible Iron Man" #500 has given Matt Fraction and a pretty unassailable team of artists an excuse to tell a story that spans almost fifty years.
We open on Peter Parker, riding the subway in Queens, which is a sure fire way to get me interested immediately. (I like to think he caught the N at Woodside.) Tony Stark, as of late, has been trying to remember some of the more dangerous things that his recent brain reboot caused him to forget, and enlists Peter to help. They track down a dangerous weapon in the hands of Stilt-Manist Extremists (yes, really) and we follow the seeds of that technology into the future, where the Mandarin has used it to basically murder the planet. It's an ambitious, widescreen story, and it melds together the book's traditional strengths of crazy technology and Tony Stark's otherworldly skills at planning.
There's also a wonderful moment towards the end where Tony and Peter discuss his secret identity. It's a scene that highlights Fraction's greatest skills as a writer. As much as this story showed his inventiveness, he's always excelled at crafting human moments for the characters he works with.
(One nice touch is that this issue is, at long last, not an anniversary issue that is padded with over a dozen pages of reprinted comics. There's a preview of "Iron Man 2.0," but the bulk of this oversized issue is actually used to tell an appropriately oversized story.)
All four art teams work very well, and all with unique styles. Salvador Larocca, we all know, is very good at drawing Tony Stark and Iron Man. Next up is Kano, who drew the segments involving Tony's daughter, Ginny (perfect name, right?) He'd probably be my favorite -- kind of a rugged, less severe Paul Gulacy with a touch of Riccardo Burchielli in those early issues of "DMZ," but with a little more air between the lines. Nathan Fox captures the chaos of war with his trademark aplomb. One thing that was a bit of a detriment to a few of sections was that they were hard to parse out. Because of the traditional way Iron Man is depicted internally (you know, the Tony Stark head surrounded by monitors and stuff that couldn't possibly fit at that scale in such a head-sized helmet), it took a while to figure out which War Machine was related to Tony Stark. Looking back, Fox (and presumably Fraction) took pains to give his suit markings, but there's still no immediate visual/narrative connection between the suit and the face we're shown inside when the character is introduced. Carmine Di Giandomenico handles the Mandarin sections, as he did in the recent "Invincible Iron Man" Annual and captures the character well. He also gets to draw, let's say, a pretty critical moment in Tony Stark's life, and it turns out to be a wonderfully rendered moment.
Overall, "Invincible Iron Man" #500 shows what a great creative team can do when it's given the room to stretch its legs. Fraction is also clearly laying some groundwork for future stories, but mostly, this is a self-contained, and very satisfying story about Tony Stark and the brain that's always getting him into trouble.