The first of Marvel’s ‘.1’ initiative comics hit the stands this week with “Invincible Iron Man” #500.1, a supposed ‘easy jumping on point’ for new and old readers alike. So, with that in mind, the one question I’ve decided to ask myself after reading any of these ‘.1’ issues, whether it’s a book I currently read on a regular basis or not, is “Does this comic make me want to buy the next issue?” Because, let’s be honest, more than other comics, that’s the stated goal here. You’re supposed to buy a ‘.1’ issue and, then, want to keep reading that title. The entire reason for these comics is so that people can pick them up and start adding that title to their pull list.
So, does “Invincible Iron Man” #500.1 make me want to read “Invincible Iron Man” #501? No.
In theory, it’s easy to see why the approach Matt Fraction takes to this issue would seem like a smart one for a ‘jumping on’ issue: Tony Stark recounts his life story at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It allows a window into not just Stark’s history but his character and personality as well. In that respect, Fraction is absolutely fantastic. Stark’s speech is self-deprecating, funny, sad, and rings true to the character. Both sides of Tony Stark are well represented: the charming rogue and the thoughtful man who wants to be so much better than he is. As a Tony Stark character piece, you couldn’t ask for much better.
But, as a ‘jumping on point,’ it’s a dismal failure. Stark’s recounting of his history is purposefully vague because of the setting and, thus, serves what purpose? He speaks in such generalities that even the images of events don’t actually help unless you already know what happened in the story he’s talking about. Especially as he gets closer to the present and what’s been happening in “Invincible Iron Man,” his story falls apart unless you’ve already been reading the comic. How is it a ‘jumping on point’ if you need to have been reading the comic already to understand his vague references? All you really learn is that Stark used to base his life around drinking and women, now it’s just women. The entire issue comes off so divorced from the comic that there’s nothing here that says ‘Here’s what’s been going on and here’s why you should buy future issues!’
Even the two-page visual tease for what’s coming up in the next year of “Invincible Iron Man” doesn’t work. Partly because Salvador Larroca chooses those two pages to adopt a high-contrast, obtuse art style that doesn’t emphasize clarity and, partly, because the images are taken out of context to such a degree that they’re practically meaningless for a new reader. None are so arresting or engaging that they’ll inspire someone to say “I have to see what that means!”
Like the writing, Larroca’s art is both effective and not. When illustrating Stark’s history, he adopts a style influenced by Moebius, one that has more intricate line work and a look that’s completely out of step with the style he uses for Stark in the present. It’s an amazing contrast where one emphasizes cartooning skills and features bold, striking colors from Frank D’Armata. For the present, Larroca’s style looks artificial despite its roots in photoreference. Part of the problem is D’Armata’s colors for contemporary scenes where he colors Stark’s face with so many different shades that he doesn’t even look human.
In one respect, “Invincible Iron Man” #500.1 is a strong character study of Tony Stark with an emphasis on Matt Fraction’s mastery of his voice and Salvador Larroca showing off his cartoony skills. In other, it’s an obtuse and vague comic that doesn’t seem to relate to the current title or offer much reason to pick up the next issue, which is supposed to be the reason for these ‘.1’ issues from Marvel. It’s a fine self-contained story, just not an arresting comic that demands you come back next month.