I don’t know Marvel’s plans for the future, but I suspect that “Invincible Iron Man” will become the central Iron Man title, if it hasn’t already. This is the Tony Stark that combines the best elements of the film version with the comics version, and this is the one that’s a compelling read on its own. While the “Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.” comic suffered from laborious pacing and all the fun of board room conversations, “Invincible Iron Man” combines high-tech superhero thrills with a strong thematic underpinning. In its six issues, this series has emphasized the conflict between the aging Tony Stark and the younger generation, and moved the character from an intellectually arrogant playboy to a leader who realizes how little control he truly has.
“Invincible Iron Man” #6 isn’t perfect, and it’s not Matt Fraction’s best work, by any means — that would be “Casanova,” which, as one of the best comics of the decade, would be hard to top — but this is a good, solid superhero story. It works particularly well as the culmination of the first half-year of plot developments. On its own “Invincible Iron Man” #6 is an extended fight scene, but as the climax of the Ezekiel Stane/Tony Stark conflict, it’s a successful piece of storytelling. The fight scene does have its nice moments, like the cliffhanger from last issue where Iron Man’s head is blown off, carried over here into an assault by a battalion of remote-controlled Iron Men. What would an Iron Man comic be without a multitude of different armor designs? Not as cool. Not by a longshot.
And when Stark unleashes an electromagnetic pulse to destroy all technology in the area, it’s not just a simple deus ex machina; it’s a strategic move by Stark and a realization that the battle must be fought on the ground, hand-to-hand, face-to-face. He’s distanced himself from the conflict with his remote drones, but Stark cannot win that way, and even the electromagnetic pulse has its cost, as it not only destroys his own technology, but it leads to the death of some of the would-be suicide bombers. All of which raises some moral questions that leave Stark in a more pensive situation than he was in issue #1.
So far, this has been a series about responsibility, and what happens when Stark’s technology is used for destructive purposes. It’s the conflict between the old military-industrial complex and the new, street-level hackers and terrorists like Ezekiel Stane. Fraction’s version of Tony Stark weaves the characters contradictions together — he’s an arms dealer who fights against those that use them — and gives us a Stark who isn’t an ideal hero, but a human one, no matter what layers of technology he surrounds himself with.
Fraction, and artistic collaborator Sal Larroca, haven’t done anything shockingly new in this series, but it’s a very good portrayal of the Iron Man universe in all of its sleek beauty and moral uncertainty.