Friday, May 09, 2008

Comics Are Expensive: Invincible Iron Man #1

Comics Are Expensive is brought to you by noted Expertologist Chris Lamb

I wasn’t going to buy comics this week. Really. There’s still books from NYCC to talk about, after all, and I’m still very, very poor. But I pick up a copy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for a friend, see, and well...

I managed to get out for under ten dollars, though, so I suppose that’s something. Next week I should be back to picking up new things again, which will satisfy the maddening itch that inevitably takes over the back of my brain every Wednesday. In the meantime, it’s a bit of a short one this week, with just the one book to talk
about. I’ll try to be back to my usual level of verbosity next time. Potential spoilers lurk ahead, as usual.


Writer: Matt Fraction

Artist: Salvador Larroca

Opening up Invincible Iron Man on the walk through Madison Square Park back to work, a realization hit me: this is the first Iron Man comic I’ve ever bought. Oh, I’ve read plenty of them – friends have tossed me runs of “Demon in a Bottle” and “The Armor Wars” over the years, both of which were great. I’ve just never felt moved to pick up any of the character’s solo stories myself. To be honest, I probably would have left this on the shelf if not for the helpful confluence of three things: enjoying the hell out of the Iron Man movie last week, my girlfriend mentioning she’d like to read some of the comics if I had any, and Matt Fraction’s name on the cover.

The Iron Man movie succeeded on a number of levels – its cast was excellent, the story was remarkably tight, getting through the obligatory origin and first villain fight with hardly any fat, and the pacing ensured even the quieter bits never slowed things down too much. It was the sort of movie-going experience that left me wanting more the moment the house lights came up, creating a near-desperate need for something as clever and fun as the movie to maintain the happy momentum I was buzzing with all through dinner afterwards and on the way home. I’d never considered myself a big Iron Man fan (at least, not outside the old Avengers arcade game), but for a version of the character more like Downey Jr’s take and less That-Guy-Getting-Deservedly-Punched-In-She-Hulk-This Month, I was wholeheartedly ready to sign up.

Which makes Invincible Iron Man just about the perfect thing to find on the shelves the Wednesday after seeing the movie. The history of comics trying to align themselves with versions of the characters seen in their movies is one of botched attempts and missed opportunities, with companies either hijacking the long-term plans and storylines of their creative teams in the name of potential new readers or going the other way and completely ignoring the chance to appeal to them. Marvel deserve a lot of credit then for hitting upon a solution that works better than any in recent memory – rather than toss out all the continuity of the last few years that has positioned Tony Stark as arguably the most important character in the Marvel Universe, launch a new series that streamlines it all, presenting the character as both superhero and director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and written to feel more like the character so many came out of the theater in love with.

The result is the best take on Tony Stark I’ve seen in years – he’s funny, arrogant (but deservedly so), brilliant to a fault, and so completely convinced that what he’s doing at any given moment is the right thing that it’s hard to doubt him. The weight of what the character has been through in the last few years seems less apparent here, and while it’s just the first issue I can’t help but feel that it won’t be showing up any time soon. It’s part of why Invincible Iron Man is such a good idea – if you want to see Stark continue to wrestle with the aftermath of the Civil War or fight Skrulls or whatever, there’s the other on-going Iron Man title (and much of the rest of Marvel’s output, frankly). Invincible Iron Man looks to be (and with any luck, will turn out to be) an event-free zone. It’s the solo adventures of Iron Man doing what he does best – finding problems and applying his big brain to solving them.

The first problem of the series appears in the form of Ezekiel Stane, son of the late Obidiah and genius mass-murdering psycho. Whatever his plan is, it’s clear he’s been working on it for a while – Ezekiel’s body has been modified to take advantage of its excess energy in rather nasty ways, and he’s been creating human bombs out of what looks all too much like Iron Man tech. He’s clearly being positioned as a younger, faster counter to Stark’s entrenched ways of doing things, and the inevitable confrontation is all but guaranteed to end in a mess. Ezekiel is a smart choice for an opening villain, tying not only into the villain from the movie but also echoing the theme of the son overcoming the father from both the comics and the screen. You’re an old-school Iron Man fan? Great, here’s something for you. Your only exposure to the character is two hours in a dark room with Robert Downey, Jr? Then hey, here’s something for you, too.

As mentioned earlier, Matt Fraction’s involvement was another draw for picking up the book, and he doesn’t disappoint. Fraction’s grasp of the characters is immediate and extremely satisfying, from the back and forth between Tony and Pepper in the elevator to Tony’s inability to stop thinking of new things to add to the suit even when being shot at and beyond. I can’t say how much of it rings true with the how the characters have been written recently, but honestly, I don’t really care. It’s smart, it’s believable, and most importantly, it’s exactly what I wanted. While Larroca’s art varies from beautiful in places to a bit muddy in others, it’s nice to see him producing work again that’s not photo-referenced to the point of distraction. Between the two of them, this arc stands to be something truly lovely, and I really can’t wait to see it continue.

Perhaps most important of all, though, is this is the first Marvel comic in a while that I’ve immediately wanted to start pushing on people. While no movie is going to send a million people into the shops like Burton’s first Batman did, Marvel’s approach to creating a friendly point of entry here has produced a book that can be handed off to pretty much anybody without an afternoon spent explaining why the character here isn’t like what they saw on the screen. And maybe that’s the way to hook those interested in more of the character but put off by the years and years of continuity: put out a version of the character that can be easily passed from comics readers to their uninitiated friends that’s both easy to get in to and doesn’t throw the current status quo into utter disarray. If Invincible Iron Man can continue with the same strength and grace it’s opening with, then comics may have found the recipe for the perfect gateway drug.

BUY STATUS: Very much in for the foreseeable future. I was still a bit bummed over Brubaker and Fraction leaving Iron Fist, but this could very well take its place as my favorite Marvel book.

And that’s it for this week. Again, apologies for the extremely short installment, and for the every-other-week nature of the column recently – the day job making videogames is taking up more and more of my time and energy as things get busier, so I’m afraid it might be the norm for a while. Thanks for your (and Val’s) patience with me, and with any luck things should eventually return to normal. In the meantime, if there’s anything I should be reading or talking about, drop a suggestion in the comments thread or via email to See you next time.


  1. I'm not a fan of photorealistic comic book art by any means... but WOW! Just looking at that makes my drawing hand ache. All those holographic robot suits? The hexagonal floor, inside a circle?

    Just... WOW!

  2. Really, really liked this book and immediately added it to my pull. Once Favreau and Downey reminded us how cool the character could be, it was great to see Fraction do the same. With gusto, even.

  3. Joel - Tony's Armor map is what originally blew me away as well. It's just stunning.

    Rich - Glad ya liked it. From what I understand, Fraction's on it for the foreseeable future, so with any luck this is just the beginning of a regular quality Iron Man fix.

  4. It seems that I'm the only person who was really, powerfully disappointed with this book. To me it just seemed like such a let-down compared to Fraction's more immediately-engaging previous works, the art did nothing for me, and the storyline seems to be of the done-before-and-done-better sort, in that I'm certain I've read this exact Iron Man story before somewhere, but just can't place it.

    Still, I'm glad people are enjoying it, but it seems that this is one that's just passed me by.