Invincible Iron Man #20

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Salvador Larroca
40 pages, color
Published by Marvel

There’s a lot of attention directed—justifiably so—towards the cover of The Invincible Iron Man #20. Redesigned by Rian Hughes, it’s eye-catching and beautiful, looking absolutely nothing like anything else on comic racks right now. But with all of the talk centered around what’s on the outside, hopefully people won’t remember what’s on the inside as well. Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca are continuing to craft a comic that enthralls, without throwing a single punch.

After a year’s worth of "World’s Most Wanted," where Fraction and Larroca had Iron Man chased around the world while Tony Stark used all his old technologies to wipe his own brain clean of all information, the book is now going for a different tactic. With "Stark: Disassembled," Fraction presumably has Tony Stark just where he wants him, literally purged of everything that’s come before and able to be rebuilt. Essentially, it’s a "back to basics" moment for the character, but giving Fraction the opportunity to decide just how "basic" that approach will be. There’s a lot of baggage attached to the character, with nanotechnology fueled armors and global companies that dominate the planet. Most notably, Stark essentially became a villain in Marvel’s Civil War event a few years ago, a tarnish still attached to him. The past itself might not get erased, but presumably the memories or artifacts of those moments are now up for grabs.

At the same time, Fraction makes this a story about family. Not the kind of family you’re born into, but rather that which people create for themselves. Stark lays the path towards his resurrection (or reboot, if you will) in their hands, recordings created before he went comatose. That to me is probably the most interesting aspect of the latest Iron Man. His message to them is unapologetic about what he’s done to get to this point, even as he gives them advice and ideas about how to go up against the villainous Norman Osborn. It feels like a strange combination of support, manipulation, and hope that Stark spreads out before his best friends, and I think that’s one of the most accurate reads on Stark that I’ve seen in a while.

I’m even enjoying what could in other hands have felt too much of a cliché, as what’s left of Stark’s mind sifts through the sands and finds small fragments of what used to exist there. I think it helps that Larroca’s now creating what feels like the art of his career. When I first encountered Larroca’s art on The Invincible Iron Man it didn’t feel quite there, but any qualms I once had are now gone. There’s a soft, human approach to this book’s visuals here; Larroca and colorist Frank D’Armata make the book look painted directly onto the pages, with soft red morning skies in the background and careful curves and gradients of people’s skin. What struck me upon reading The Invincible Iron Man #20 is that Larroca is able to take the real and the imaginary and blend them together in a unified style. Norman Osborn’s board room full of super-villains looks real but without making the characters seem like rejects from a Halloween parade. At the same time, it’s without breaking away from how he draws Stark’s comatose body in a hospital bed, or the mental landscape of an archaeology dig. Old cars half-buried in sand and ghostly assassins get to exist side-by-side and both feel like they belong.

"Stark: Reassembled" is scheduled to run for five issues, letting it not only culminate with issue #25, but just in time to (presumably) have the new status quo in place before the theatrical release of Iron Man 2. This is perfect planning in my book; people who see the movie and love it will want to pick up a comic that matches the same look and feel of the film, and Fraction and Larroca are certainly on the same wavelength as director Jon Favreau. They’ve got the fundamental idea of what makes the character of Iron Man work. Two years ago I never thought I’d be actively reading and enjoying Iron Man, but I’m cheerfully proven wrong. This is a book I look forward to every month; if you haven’t given The Invincible Iron Man a shot, now’s a good time to do so. With an omnibus of the previous 19 issues around the corner to boot, it’ll be easy to catch up.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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