Doomed To Repeat It – Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man

I’ve been a huge fan of the character of Iron Man since the first film starring Robert Downey Jr was released in 2008.  HUGE!  It was everything I wanted from a superhero movie: a great origin, lots of humor and explosions, and Robert Downey was back!  Iron Man even drove me to finally check Downey out in Zodiac (which was also a great film!).

Moreover, the film made me more interested in Marvel’s Golden Avenger than I had ever before.  Up to that point, I was pretty much a DC guy.  I enjoyed the first two X-Men movies and the first two Spider-Man flicks, but I found the comic properties of those films to be too dense and confusing to jump on to and really enjoy.

I’d like to say that Iron Man was different in this manner… but it really wasn’t.  I found a couple of trades that I enjoyed (most especially Warren Ellis’ excellent 6 issue run entitled Extremis), but even some of the long-held classics like Demon in a Bottle left me feeling bored and listless.

Now there’s nothing really wrong with Demon in a Bottle, but… well, the four-color art is too-bright sharp for my lazy eyes that have been raised on mostly digitally-colored art-work  and often I find it difficult to enjoy comics from the pre-computer color era.  JR Jr’s art looks great, as always, but the color… just kills me.  Can’t do it.  Michelinie’s writing is also consistent as the story goes on and Stark has a more and more difficult time in fighting his alcoholism… But…

Hiram Dobbs

Early in the run, there’s an excellent battle between Iron Man and Namor that would be so much better if not for one of the supporting characters.  The story introduces us to a man named Hiram Dobbs, a character who would fit right in if this were a Wild West comic and we needed a stereotypical Old Coot, but to me… the character felt hackneyed and forced.  Took me completely out of the story, which makes me sad.

Still, the story has been incredibly influential to future writers of Iron Man books and some great things come out of it in Matt Fraction’s fantastic sixty issues.

The Invincible Iron Man
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Published July 2008 through October 2012
Sixty Issues + One Annual

Invincible Iron Man Omnibus Volume 1

The first thing you need to know is this: the first nineteen issues are collected in an omnibus collection and this is the way you have to get it.  It is another beautiful hardcover from Marvel (see: Avengers VS X-Men and Bendis’s Avengers: The Heroic Age for other examples of this) and you get awesome value when you buy the issues in a large collection like this.  The hardcover is much preferred over buying the three paperbacks.

A second omnibus has also been released, collecting through issue 33 and is also a great value.  The second quarter of the story arc is more hit and miss, but… we’ll get to that later!

To begin: I hadn’t read any of Matt Fraction’s work before I started on this series, but I’m excited to check out his ongoing Hawkeye series after reading Invincible Iron Man.

What I’ve come to appreciate most about Matt Fraction from this series is definitely his sense of pacing.  The first seven issues, an arc titled “The Five Nightmares” not only sets the stage for pretty much the rest of the series, but also stands alone as my favorite run of issues in the series.  The pacing is tight and quick, the artwork is superb, and the plot is timely, frightening, and unbelievably tense.  In addition, the dialogue is snappy and Fraction includes just enough Iron Man’s history to tie it all together without being too confusing for new fans just starting off.

“The Five Nightmares” is a story of a hero brought low.  In it, Tony Stark\Iron Man is fighting against an enemy unlike any he has fought before… but also one with which has some familiarity.  The villain of this arc is Ezekiel “Zeke” Stane, son of Obadiah (Iron Monger) Stane, one of Iron Man’s villains from the 80s.

There is a tendency in the Iron Man films (and to a lesser extent, the comics) to have Iron Man fight against an enemy who is using basically the same power set… a powered exoskeleton (or armor) that is supposed to take the Iron Man armor to the limit… And that’s… fine, I suppose.  But the premise definitely seemed tired after forcing Whiplash down our throats in the second film.

Fraction gives Zeke a similar power set, but uses it in a much different way.  Stane is a genius, much like his father, but has much less money and much worse tech on his side.  Still, Zeke Stane is able to seize Iron Man tech from the black market and uses a number of off-the-grid centers to coordinate his attacks and quickly move on.  After several terror attacks where seemingly normal people go nuclear using tech similar to Iron Man, Tony Stark is forced to investigate.

Stane is also particularly frightening because he is almost an anti-Iron Man.  Instead of an actual suit, he has managed to upgrade his biology in order to lower his metabolism.  This results in an excess of energy that allows him to fire repulsor beams from his hands, similar to Iron Man, but without any sort of armor.  Even though Tony Stark is practically one with his armor after the Extremis story, Stane is just as capable outside of an armored suit, which makes him very dangerous to Stark.

The seventh issue really sells the whole collection, as it pairs Iron Man and Spider-Man together, as Spider-Man chases Iron Man around New York.  Peter Parker’s goal is to get a big news story out of Iron Man so he can save the fledgling paper he works for.  Iron Man doesn’t know who Spider-Man is because of… well, let’s call it “Stupid Bullshit Editorial Decisions” and move on…

The last issue in the first arc manages to both humanize Stark’s character and allows the reader to sympathize more than they should with a genius billionaire.  Mainly because, by the end of the collection, Stark is a billionaire no more.  Left to pick up the pieces of his fallen empire, will Stark rise?  Or will he continue to fall?

You’ll just have to read the rest of the collection to find out!  I really think you’ll enjoy yourself.  There’s very little down time in the first nineteen issues (or really the whole series) and they’re well worth reading.  There’s a bit of crossover material you should probably also read to get the full picture, but… you could skip it.

The Fear Itself: Iron Man trade stands out in the series as an incredible meditation on death, failure, and resilience that no fan of comics should miss… and you could (and probably should) skip the Fraction penned crossover that the series often references (seriously, Fear Itself ain’t that great).

Coming up in next week or so: That’s Not A Feeling by Dan Josefson, a post about how much a title can affect my knee-jerk reaction to a book, and maybe some more comic action.  After all, there’s at least six-thousand Brian Michael Bendis comics out a month and I may eventually catch up on those…

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