It's either a statement to the predictability or reliability of this title that I can pick up "Invincible Iron Man" #516 after months away and feel like I haven't missed a beat. The story is titled "Long Way Down," but the cover is boldly emblazoned with an Iron Man faceplate and crossbones above the words "Iron Man No More!"
Tony Stark has had a rough go of things lately with the Mandarin and Ezekiel Stane conspiring against him. Add in Justine Hammer and her Detroit Steel Corps who barge into the middle of Iron Man's fight with amped-up and "new-and-improved" versions of his foes Firebrand and Crimson Dynamo in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina and things just start to suck for Stark. Rather than get down and feel sorry for himself, Stark does the next best thing: he lashes out at those around him. In this case, that includes getting into a screaming match with Ms. Marvel and stupidly picking a fistfight with Captain America. This isn't Fraction's best use of Stark to this point, but it does move the story in a particular direction.
Beyond that, Fraction sets Stark aside for a large portion of the remainder of the issue and focuses in on Hammer, Stane, and Mandarin, returning to Stark only for the cliffhanger final page. Fraction chooses plot over characterization in this installment, moving pieces across the board towards Stark. After all, Fraction has been writing Stark long enough and building the world around him so thoroughly that he can choose to focus on threats and enemies as opposed to "finding" a character's voice. That's not to say that Stark isn't recognizable or relatable in this issue, he just isn't a big focus.
Salvador Larroca and Frank D'Armata have likewise been at this long enough that their art has become synthesized like an alloy. The duo almost effortlessly detail the life and struggles of Tony Stark, pumping up some scenes, such as the opening appearance of Firebrand, with dramatic flair, while enabling the quieter scenes to remain detailed and concise. The big reveal shared between Mandarin and Ezekiel Stane, however, is so full of detail that the action of the panel gets lost. That seems to be the hazard with Larroca's art as sometimes figures and items become truly frozen in time rather than captured in motion.
"Invincible Iron Man" continues to deconstruct Tony Stark who, during the course of this book, has restarted his enterprise, deleted his own mind, fallen off the wagon, alienated friends and found himself attacked from every corner by augmented foes. Fraction doesn't deliver done-in-ones in this series, and this issue, while the start of a new storyline is, without doubt, only a sliver of a much larger, much longer story. I'm glad I took the time to check in with Tony Stark again this week and with the fervor sure to erupt surrounding his appearance in "The Avengers," more than a few people are sure to check in as well. What they'll find is a much deeper exposition of Stark's world that offers up a good point to join in for the long haul.