The Invincible Iron Man #18
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Salvador Larocca
Coloring by Frank D'Armata
Lettering by VC's Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
NOTE: LIGHT SCENE SPOILERS AHEAD
The end is nigh for Tony Stark. Norman Osborn is ready for war. The pieces are coming together for disaster. And through it all, you have to ask: is this book any good?
The answer: certainly. While last month I felt The Invincible Iron Man felt incomplete, this issue worked as a strong follow-up, as Tony Stark's entourage of Pepper Potts, Maria Hill, and the Black Widow make their stand in the belly of the beast, as Tony Stark's endgame grows ever more desperate.
First and foremost, Matt Fraction's structural conceit with this series -- showing Tony Stark moving backwards in his Iron Man technology as his intelligence degrades -- is still a smart one, and it allows Tony to reveal so much about the guilt and ambition that makes up his character as he waxes nostalgic. And whereas last month I felt Fraction was over the top with Tony's misspelled internal monologue this feels pitch perfect. "Typing has become miserable," he thinks to himself, as he tries desperately to code. "Delete delete delete delete."
While Fraction's writing in introducing Tony is strong and heartfelt, his introduction to Maria Hill and the Black Widow is easily the highlight of the book. Opening up with a darkly comedic panel of the duo communicating in Morse code, Fraction really steals his own show looking at the dark underbelly of H.A.M.M.E.R., especially with the reptilian charisma that's exuded by its leader. "I'm Norman Osborn," the self-styled Iron Patriot says with a wink. "That's all the authorization I need."
Salvador Larocca and Frank D'Armata, meanwhile, are the foundation that holds this series together. It's a testament to their abilities that this issue can go without a striking "money shot" for the first few pages, and it still not come off as boring or dull -- it's setting the stage for Tony's return to hell, and you can tell it comes with purpose. Tony, designwise, comes off as appropriately haggard and exhausted, and even the Iron Man suit has a look of sadness to it. And perhaps the highlight of the issue is Tony's final flight from Afghanistan, which comes off as a worthy image to remember the Armored Avenger in his twilight.
Some parts of this issue, however, are a bit rough in the execution. Part of Tony's story abruptly moves to some punk kids in Afghanistan, who interrupt Tony at a very delicate moment. It's a sequence that seems half-hearted both in the art and the writing -- I would assume that if Tony Stark was shot in the neck, it would be extremely debilitating, especially in his weakened state, but this sequence doesn't read that way, at all. And having Tony repudiate his past as a weaponeer and warlord in this way just felt heavy-handed and forced. Additionally, Matt Fraction leaves a fairly wide hole in his logic regarding the Pepper Potts/Maria Hill/Black Widow subplot that feels both a little too obvious yet not adequately set up; it was the only direction to go, and that somehow took away from the realism of it.
Ultimately, it's tough to look at this issue of Invincible Iron Man -- as well as the issue before and after -- as an individual package. This is a giant-sized culmination of nearly a year's worth of storytelling, and while I'm confident that in the end it will look stunning, as individual issues, the pacing isn't always rock-solid. But in a lot of ways, Matt Fraction is showing the same level of adoration and characterization that Geoff Johns did years ago when he reignited the Green Lantern franchise. There's a sense of mourning to all this, that even despite his many, many failings, Tony Stark is a hero that we may regret losing yet. And it's that sense of doomed heroism that is the true source of fuel for a great series.