Marvel has spent the last couple of years ensuring that Tony Stark is a hard man to like. After the encouraging (if heavily delayed) six-issue 2004 relaunch under Warren Ellis, the character of Iron Man has fallen prey to editorial dictates and gone from being a troubled futurist with a heart of gold to becoming a de facto villain in the post-"Civil War" climate at Marvel. This, of course, must have presented a challenge to the editorial and marketing people concerned with capitalizing on the highly-anticipated film version of the character.
How do you launch a new reader-friendly series when the last couple of years have seen the character champion a bill that made his friends' activities illegal and build a cyborg version of Thor to keep them in check before opting to hunt them down with hired supervillains and throw them in transdimensional prisons? Apparently, you ignore all those recent goings-on and tell Matt Fraction to make Tony cool again. So, we've got the director of SHIELD making time with beautiful women, exchanging snappy dialogue with Jim Rhodes and Pepper Potts, and, in the finest Iron Man tradition, dealing with yet another misuse of his technology. This is the Tony Stark that (as far as I can tell) pretty much everybody that contributed to a $100,000,000 opening weekend (domestic) liked spending time with. While I'd ordinarily be a bit miffed at a long-standing comics character being changed to match with the mass media version, Jon Favreau and crew created an Iron Man that I wanted to see more of.
One of my frequent complaints about Fraction's scripting (particularly in his Marvel work) is that it's too lean, rarely giving more than the barest of bones to establish why readers should care. But the combination of Stark's narration and Fraction's ability to simplify the more heavily-involved aspects of the character (including "Extremis" and the "Armor Wars") mean that even the most virginal of Marvel readers will be brought up to speed quickly. Because of the combined narration and action, this first issue moves along fairly quickly, hooking the reader in a way that most "big" Marvel books fail to do until well past the mid-point mark in their stories. There's an explosive opening and a well-handled reminder of Stark's battle with alcohol before the reader is brought up to speed with a slightly whitewashed status quo and the menace for this first arc is established. There's definitely some DNA shared between Ellis and Fraction's writing for Iron Man's world, which can only be a good thing. It's nice to see actual science (even if it's being bent just a bit) featured in a series about a technologist who wears future armor and leads a massive espionage agency. It's plain that Fraction's done his research and enjoyed it enough to make it work on the page.
Salvador Larocca's art is the only sticking point I actually have with this comic, and I'm not sure how much of that has to do with him versus the effects-heavy coloring of Frank D'Armata and the recently-deceased Stephane Peru. While the storytelling and layouts are usually quite good, the heavy rendering on elements such as faces lends a too-detailed look to many panels, particularly in contrast to that clean, high-tech world that Tony Stark works in. This, alongside a few blatantly-Photoshopped elements such as the Humvee in the final sequence, distracts from the story more than I'd like, but it's not a fatal flaw.
While I'm unsure of the longevity of a title such as this, "Invincible Iron Man" has launched with a strong debut and looks to have no small amount of potential for as long as Matt Fraction is writing. It's certainly the best "big" Marvel book I've read in quite some time and while I enjoyed it thoroughly, the cynic in me can't help but wonder if this title could have been a true blockbuster for Marvel with a proper marketing push and availability in comic shops the same weekend the movie debuted. You know, while Free Comic Book Day was happening.
While offering customers a free "Marvel Adventures Iron Man" comic is not the worst thing in the world, I'm fairly certain that most retailers would have enjoyed having the option to sell them a high-quality, well-produced $3 book featuring the guy they went to see in theaters in addition.