INVINCIBLE IRON MAN RETURNS
There's something nice about reading a collection of 14 issues of a modern superhero series done completely by the same creative team. It doesn't happen that often anymore. Even more impressively, this is the second book in a series with such consistency. I am talking, of course, about "The Invincible Iron Man" by Matt Fraction, Salvador Larroca, and Frank D'Armata. The second oversized hardcover is out now, collecting issues #20-#33, which basically make up two stories set in the post-Secret Invasion/Dark Reign world.
When we left Tony Stark at the end of the first volume, he had erased his mind to prevent what he knew from getting into the wrong hands of Norman Osborn. Now, Stark's plan to reinstate his mind and revive his body needs to be carried out by a small assembly of his closest friends and confidantes. Unfortunately, the process by which he gets there is the weakest part of the series to date. It may just be me, but I have little patience for stories that are extended dreams or hallucinations working as parallels for things that are happening in the mind. And for the first five issues, we find Tony Stark caught in a repeating dreamworld, combing the desert, and struggling to break out. It's partly so arduous because you know it's false jeopardy -- Tony Stark is going to get out.
There's nothing more tedious than an extended dreamworld with hidden or deeper meanings that I'm supposed to suss out. I just don't care. I'd rather see what's really going on. Just show me that, thanks. Thankfully, half of those issues is made up of Tony's friends huddling around his brain dead body trying to put together the cure and stay safe in the meantime. That's all that saves the story. Stark's mechanisms make great use of the Marvel Universe and all the people who have played a part in the series to date.
From there, Stark gets better and begins the process of rebuilding his family's company. Not surprisingly, he's going modern and trendy and running with Green technology. Fraction comes close to the Halo battery line from Joe Casey's much beloved run on "Wildcats," but swerves far enough away before getting uncomfortable. Along the way, his military weaponry past doesn't stay far away, creating the conflict (both political and financial) that is personified by Detroit Steel. He's the new kid in town, the hot new armored security suit system that aims to replace Iron Man in the military-industrial complex. Fraction keeps the story from being over-the-top melodramatic villainry, keeping it solidly in the "Iron Man" family while crafting a very cool action set-piece or three and a bunch of modern technology jargon that just makes sense. He only needs to skim the high concepts for us to "get it," and that works well. And if you've read "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card, you'll get a kick out of Fraction's nod to the story, with a very modern twist. You'll never play "Angry Birds" the same way again.
The end result is the most action-packed story to date for the series, with some of the greatest personal challenges for the characters. Fraction's dialogue is sharp and to the point, with real character moments stemming from events that have built up throughout the course of the series. The moment we were all waiting for between Pepper and Maria, for example, happens in here, and doesn't disappoint.
Salvador Larroca's art is, well, consistent. He's there every month with a cast of real world people he's modeling all of the characters on. If you like photoreferencing, thin ink lines, and fancy computer coloring to sculpt the art and texture it along the way, you'll like this stuff. There are also pages in the book that look like they were scanned poorly. I can pick up the pixelation in the lines in some spots. I wonder if the book was digitally inked. Maybe that would explain it?
Jamie McKelvie draws a couple of short stories along the way, but those are additional pages, not in lieu of anything Larroca should have drawn. They're smart eight page stories that help add texture to the world Fraction has built up around Stark.
The bonus material in the back features a look at the armor designs of the movie and comic, a collection of covers, and a series of black and white pages shot from Larroca's original art.
"Invincible Iron Man" Volume 2 is only $35 for an awful lot of comics, reprinted at a slightly larger size than the original issues. That extra inch or so on each side of the page makes a great difference. But the material -- after a half-rocky start -- picks up steam quickly to become the best story of the series so far. I wouldn't start reading the series with this book, but if you liked the first volume, you will not be disappointed by the second.
WHAT ELSE I'VE BEEN READING
I reread the original three-issue "Monkeyman and O'Brien" miniseries last week, the first outing of Art Adams' characters on their own. (They had appeared as a backup feature in "Hellboy" before this.) Unfortunately, it doesn't stand the test of time, though, as usual, the art is awesome. Adams gets to play to all of his own strengths: Monsters, apes and more monsters. And let's face it, that's what people were paying for with this book. On that front, it succeeds.
As three separate stories, though, it felt dry and stale. The origin story was tedious. I never felt like the leads were in great danger. They did very little to endear themselves to me, and Adams spent far too much time recapping the story so far, stopping every issue dead in its tracks for two page expository speeches from characters telling each other what they already knew. Absolutely painful. But darn fine art, with great coloring from Laura Allred.
There was a trade paperback for the series, but it's about 15 years out of print by now. The last appearance I can remember by the characters was probably in that "Gen13" crossover. It's time for the series' return, though I think Adams should bring a writer he trusts along with him to help refine the series. You can still do it with plenty of monsters wreaking havoc in the series, but a more focused narrative and less leaden stories would help.
"Fatale" #3 is due out in finer comic shops this week. Trying to keep up with a series by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips as it is released is pointless for me. I can't. I can't keep all the characters and all the twists fresh in my mind between books. I usually wind up enjoying the series, but only when I read it all together. In the past, I often would re-read the story so far before each new issue came out. I guess I was getting my money's worth by reading them so often, but it's more enjoyable for me to sit down with the whole story and read it at once. So I'll stay silent on "Fatale" until the story is done, though I will say that while Cthulhu has never been a thing of mine, it hasn't soured me on "Fatale." Also, I love the cliffhanger at the end of this issue. Kind of Hitchcockian, in a way...
You can sit down with five pages of "Queen Crab" not knowing who wrote it, and still pick Jimmy Palmiotti's name out as the writer. The book has that strong a feel of its author's hand at work, and I don't mean that in a bad way. It's a unique graphic novel that couldn't have been written by anyone else in the same way. The combination of influences and styles and brashness is uniquely Palmiotti's.
And, yet, it's not like everything else you've seen him write. This book is off-kilter, a horror title loaded with inner dialogue and a far out surreal situation that doesn't truly resolve itself. There is a grand mystery that could be solved with this story, but Palmiotti instead focuses on the character and how she reacts to her new world. It has surreal elements that get put in the "Horror" category for neat classification.
Simply put, Ginger Drake is a jilted bride who morphs into a being with crab arms and has her life turned upside down. On the bright side, that traumatic event also focused her life, even if not in the way she ever imagined.
Palmiotti's characters for this story aren't likable affable friendly folks. They have attitudes; they do things that aren't nice or respectable; they have sex in odd situations, and lots of it. These are not saints. It's hard to really "root" for anyone, which could often put a distance between a reader and the material, but it didn't bother me here. My curiosity for where Palmiotti was going with the story supplied that reader's interest.
There are a couple scenes where the caption boxes overwhelm the page, but the writing, itself, is interesting enough to not bother me too much. Besides which, losing a couple square inches of the art here isn't a problem. That's not what's selling the book.
The art is from Artiz Eiguren. It's an open-line style with lots of the final work being done with the coloring. The storytelling is clear enough, though the style isn't exciting and the art is often inconsistent. Faces look flat and proportions are often missed. Thinking of the total package as being an independent graphic novel gives it enough leeway to cut the art a break, though.
The original graphic novel will be in stores next week, carrying a $12.99 price tag. It's a hardcover edition only at this time, funded through a Kickstarter campaign -- no relation to the Kickstart company Palmiotti was once involved with helping to edit. If you're looking for something completely off the beaten path, done for mature readers and with a touch of the surreal, this is the book for you.
That's it for this week. Stop back next week for another look into the crazy world of comics in 2012. Maybe we'll talk about the Marvel "Infinite" announcement happening at South By Southwest (SXSW) this weekend. I'll go on record with my far out prediction that Marvel is about to announce a project of original content done straight-to-iPad that will use Scott McCloud's "Infinite Canvas" concept. With a release of the new iPad possible for as soon as this weekend (as it was in time for SXSW last year), the timing couldn't be better for Marvel.
Secondary prediction: Lots of people who don't use Android tablets will then complain that Marvel is exclusive to a platform that owns 95% of the market share.
Trying out some new software for my computer leads me to renewed blogging at VariousAndSundry.com. Check that site out for American Idol updates, iPad predictions, random pictures, and much more.
I also still have some original art pages up on eBay, if you're interested.
And here's the rest: