The tension in "Invincible Iron Man" #521 may seem forced or contrived, but there is no denying it drives the story along. Matt Fraction delivers a scene between Tony Stark and Mandarin so wrought with theatrically-staged tension, it seems like it must have been lifted from a script. As a matter of fact, in this issue, frustration and tension are all that exist between Stark and Mandarin.
Fraction has taken Stark out of the Iron Man armor, subjugated him to Mandarin and put him in a situation where his life is threatened and he has to work side-by-side with a mentally challenged Ezekiel Stane. This situation makes Stark much more interesting than a man chasing supermodels, driving fast cars and effortlessly inventing new technology. Like the mountain hideout scene in the first "Iron Man" movie, there's an uneasiness to Stark's predicament. He's out of his element and he just might not make it all the way through, especially as Fraction writes him throughout "Invincible Iron Man" #521.
That concern is compounded by the efforts of Iron Man, who is still fighting the good fight and has actually gained the notice of Pepper Potts. Potts, as Rescue, shares a scene with the "new' Iron Man that brings a chuckle and undoubtedly sews the seeds of a subplot sure to blossom in the near future.
That pseudo-Iron Man sports a suit of black and blue armor with a gold faceplate. A number of Iron Man's armors have had nicknames, such as the Silver Centurion and the Hulkbuster, so I'm keen to hear some good suggestions for this one. The Kirby crackle-powered Tron-inspired Iron Man armor looks pretty cool, but becomes rather ornate as Iron Man armors go when you really study it. The black and blue is a nice variation and will certainly provide fans with enough of a change-up to bring cheers when the red and gold returns.
Salvador Larroca, along with colorist Frank D'Armata and letter Joe Caramagna, continue to turn in a stellar run on this series. They continue to provide clean layouts and detail, photo-referenced characters throughout the story. The photo referencing becomes a crutch in one scene where Tony is seated, but reaches out with a Frankenstein's monster-sized hand to Ezekiel Stane. Later on when Tony Stark starts fighting, the photo referencing appears to have been mismanaged. For the most part though, Larroca's art provides a clean, consistent story that is easy to follow and provides sparks of amusement.
As part one of a new storyline, "Invincible Iron Man" #521 touches on the various components of Iron Man's life thoroughly enough to provide a decent recap without slavishly regurgitating origin stories or previous scenes. Fraction pours a substantial amount of ideas into this issue, giving Iron Man fans much to look forward to in the next issue.