There’s a problem with big events and the surrounding books that tends to crop up. Instead of being structured like regular stories, events are usually structured around big moments, like “Civil War” going for, in the words of Mark Millar, a ‘fanboy orgasm’ with each issue. That means two things: supporting comics have a lot of gaps that they can fill in and certain characters have little to be expanded upon because of the demands of those big moments. Take Tony Stark for instance; in “Fear Itself” #4, he fell off the wagon, offering his sobriety up as a sacrifice to gain the attention of Odin and, here, in “Invincible Iron Man” #506, the reason for that is revealed. And not much else.
If Marvel’s teasers are to be believed, a group of heroes called the Mighty will turn up in “Fear Itself” to stand against the Serpent’s Worthy. Using that knowledge, it’s easy to see why this issue of “Invincible Iron Man” doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Stark makes his sacrifice and Odin takes him to the Dwarves that make weapons for Asgard, like Thor’s hammer, so Stark can make weapons for his fellow heroes to use against the forces of the Serpent. But, since the Mighty haven’t appeared yet, Stark can’t exactly make the weapons yet or give them to the heroes yet, can he? That leaves a comic that’s nothing more than a very short, very direct plot point (Stark enlists Dwarves to make weapons) and stretches it out to a full issue.
Stark working with the Dwarves could have been interesting and a journey to be enjoyed with no mind of the endpoint were it not for Matt Fraction’s decision to fill the Dwarves’ speech patterns with as may swear words as possible. Except, this isn’t a ‘mature readers’ comic, so all of the swearing is censored out using runes. That’s a clever way to avoid using the random symbols that comics often use and would work quite well if done in moderation. Instead, writing this comic like it was a lost episode of “Deadwood” makes reading the Dwarves’ dialogue tedious. What starts as a smart variation on censorship in comics quickly becomes a lame gimmick.
The issue has its bright spot in Pepper’s struggle with her obligation to the world during this crisis. She’s bristled against using her armor like other heroes, not wanting to engage in violent conflict, but also knows that, if she can help, she has an obligation to do so. However, so little time is spent with her that the subplot doesn’t get the room it needs to breathe. By placing such a large focus on Stark’s interactions with the Dwarves despite those interactions going nowhere, Fraction misses out on a better way to expand upon the events of “Fear Itself.”
The role of tie-in books during events is a tricky one. Some are left with large gaps that can be filled, while others are constrained by the mechanics of the event. What’s sadder is when there’s the potential in a comic to fill some of those big gaps and, instead, it spends an issue mostly treading water, running out the clock until it’s able to pull the trigger on a ‘big moment.’