If you'd told me two years ago that "Invincible Iron Man" would have its second storyline run twelve issues and that I'd still be interested in it by the time part 10 rolled around, I'd have laughed at you. I was never a big fan of "Iron Man" comics, but "Invincible Iron Man" showed up soon after I saw the "Iron Man" movie, and Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca made their debut issue interesting-looking enough that I thought I'd give it a try. Well, "World's Most Wanted" still has two more chapters to go, and I'm still enjoying it, so clearly my ability to predict the future isn't that good.
What I've liked the most about Fraction's script is Tony Stark having to slowly delete his mind is more than just an excuse to trot out older suits of Iron Man armor to use as Stark's intelligence slowly degrades. Let's face it, that reason alone would be an excuse enough for many comic creators. In "Invincible Iron Man," though, it's used to break Stark down to his core. It's stripping away all the baggage—both good and bad—that the character has built up over the years. Super-knowledge, super-bad mistakes, for good or for ill it's at least temporarily getting tossed to one side. And as all the layers are slowly sloughed away, we're heading towards Stark's core. Presumably, that's where we'll find a hero still residing. After Stark ended up a virtual bad guy thanks to "Civil War," the character's needed to have his hero nature rediscovered, and Fraction's definitely providing us with just that.
Of course, there are other things going on in "Invincible Iron Man" as well. The Madame Masque and Pepper Potts story has taken some interesting turns, and there looks to be a particularly fun eleventh hour revelation being set up here. If that's not enough, Norman Osborn is in rare creepy form in this issue, and Maria Hill and the Black Widow are slowly getting moved towards a massive endgame. I've appreciated that we've had three different narratives that have intersected and departed from one another throughout "World's Most Wanted" and never having any of the three ever truly out of sight for too long.
It's sometimes hard for me to reconcile Larroca with the same artist whose early works in North American included fat, exaggerated figure work on "Flash" and "Ghost Rider." Over the years his art has become beautifully refined and smooth, one of the few superhero artists whom I think really help define "slick" as a comic book style. His characters look realistic without coming across as lightboxed or photo-referenced, and he's equally at home drawing suits of futuristic armor as he is average, ordinary people. One of the best moments in "Invincible Iron Man" #17 is that he's able to draw Madame Masque as looking lost and sad when all you get is her sitting in a chair, looking down. Because she has a metal mask on her face, aside from her eyes there are no facial expressions to fall back upon. Larroca does it, though, through not only her eyes but by using Madame Masque's body language. The slump of her shoulders, the tilt of her head, every part of her body is telling Fraction's story without coming across as over-exaggerated. That's some strong artistry on display, there.
With the second "Iron Man" movie coming towards theatres soon, it's nice that Marvel has a strong "Iron Man" comic to point potential new readers towards. More importantly, it's just nice to have a fun, strong comic like this being published regardless of a movie or not. Fraction and Larroca have made me interested in reading "Iron Man" every month. For that alone, well done.