Posted by Don MacPherson on December 2nd, 2011
Invincible Iron Man #510
“Demon, Part 1: The Beast in Me”
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Colors: Frank D’Armata
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Salvador Larroca (regular edition)/Mike Choi (variant)
Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US
Every time a new issue of Invincible Iron Man was released during the course of Marvel’s recent Fear Itself crossover event, I’d kick myself for failing to have the title removed from my pull list at the local comic shop. The crossover completely derailed the socio-economic spin writer Matt Fraction brought to the super-hero-genre subject matter. What was one of Marvel’s best titles (if not the best, period) was reduced to a series of vignettes from a bombastic but ultimately aimless event. From a creative standpoint, Iron Man went from being a tremendous success to a tremendous disappointment. This is the first issue post-Fear Itself, but with the “Shattered Heroes” branding and the ongoing presence of Fear Itself elements, I didn’t have high hopes; nevertheless, I figured I’d give the book one last chance give the plotlines are once again standing up on their own. I’m pleased I did. Fraction brings back some classic Iron Man antagonists but also explores such real-world phenomena as the culture of celebrity and the immediacy of media in the digital age.
After disposing of the enchanted weaponry he crafted to help the world’s heroes defeat the Serpent, Iron Man returns to Seattle, with his friend Splitlip in tow. Tony’s has essentially taken on the role of Splitlip’s sponsor, introducing him to the concept of Alcoholics Anonymous. But Tony may not be suited to the role, as he’s still struggling with his own addiction, having only gotten sober again days ago. His emotional tumult is compounded by the threat of his recent relapse becoming public. Meanwhile, a couple of Iron Man’s old enemies join forces to destroy him, but not before they tear him down and destroy everything he holds dear.
It’s a pleasure to see writer Matt Fraction is joined on his lengthy Iron Man run by the same artist for more than three years, because it’s clear this creative team is in synch. I’ve run hot and cold when it comes to Larroca’s artwork, but it’s well suited to this project. So much of Fraction’s writing for this series has been rooted in reality. Economics, politics and, obviously, technology have all proven to be vital elements in this series (and in this issue), so Larroca’s more realistic style is a great fit. I found his backgrounds in this issue were a bit lacking; I rarely got a strong sense of place, especially in the Seattle scenes. His redesign of Blizzard makes sense in the more intellectual context of this series, but it’s also one that can be cast aside easily once his role in this story arc is concluded (which it may be already). There were also panels throughout this issue in which Larroca’s work reminded me of the similarly realistic and compelling style of artist Tony (Starman, Ex Machina) Harris.
Some effort is expended in this issue to tidy up the loose ends left over from the title character’s involvement in Fear Itself, such as the exploring the fate of the enchanted weaponry Tony Stark crafted for him and his allies to use. I was disappointed to discover Splitlip, the Asgardian dwarf engineer who served as Iron Man’s right-hand man during the event, seems to have joined the supporting cast. I understand why Fraction has opted to move the character from a world of myth and legend to one of science and commerce, but including a mystical creature in Tony Stark’s world just doesn’t make any sense. His presence overcomplicates the story and anchors it, never allowing it to move completely beyond Fear Itself. Splitlip just doesn’t fit in here, and while I appreciate the dynamic Fraction has developed between the two characters, I wish he’d done so with a new supporting character that was more grounded.
Fraction brings the fantastic world of technology-empowered heroes and villains together with real-world infrastructure and politics in an opening scene that helps to set this storyline apart from traditional super-hero fare. Attacks on vital resource facilities in the Middle East make for a strong hook right off the start, but Fraction is mindful of the fact he can’t cast aside the camp and appeal of the super-hero genre elements at the same time.
It’s clear now Fraction used the premise and developments of Fear Itself to explore Tony’s alcoholism once again, and while I’m not all that interested in seeing that theme explored once again in the context of the title character, I was quite interested in how the world around Iron Man reacts to the notion he’s fallen off the wagon. I don’t mean those close to him, but rather the media fallout from the potential revelation. There are social, legal, economic and even political consequences to this development in Tony’s personal life, and it’s that aspect of the script that grabbed my attention. The cover actually sums up one of the central conflicts quite succinctly. Fraction’s script is quite topical. Stark joins the likes of Anthony Wiener and Herman Cain
Iron Man isn’t just fighting super-villains in this story arc. The antagonists also include a voracious press, hungry for a scandal but not nearly hungry enough for the facts. And another villain is Tony himself; he’s forced to contend with his own mistakes here. Despite the manipulations of his enemies and the willingness of the news media to be manipulated, it’s only possible due to the missteps Tony’s made, not only recently but in the distant past. 8/10
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