Review: Invincible Iron Man #24

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Or – “Anybody Up for Texas Twister: Disassembled? No?  Anybody?  Otter?  Nobody?  Bueller?  Bueller?”

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So, I’m a Matt Fraction fanboy.   That’s cool…   It even brought me to read the adventures of the X-Men again after years of cold turkey. (Joss’s run on ‘Astonishing’ doesn’t count.)   But I didn’t jump on board this title when it launched a couple of years ago, no matter how many people told me it was awesome.  I think I was still feeling the betrayal of “Herr Gruppenfuhrer Stark: Dictator of SHIELD” and the use of Tony as the Marvel Universe’s autocratic de facto villain circa Civil War.  (Remember when he punched out and depowered She-Hulk, a woman he’d been sleeping with the previous night?)  It got worse when, as my associate Professor Wasserstein so succinctly put it, ‘the fascists won.’   But I have been reading this book for months now (the perks of running the back issue bins are few, but they’re totally awesome) and with this issue, I think I’m officially back in the corner of Ant’ny and his ferrous alter ego, monkey-looking helmet or not.  We all expect that Iron Man’ll be back in full running order before Siege ends, but how will they manage to redeem Tony in the hearts and minds of those who can’t forgive Stark (read: Marvel Editoral) for the disastrous event of the last couple of years?

Invincible Iron Man #24

IM2.jpgWRITER: Matt Fraction
PENCILS:Salvador Larroca
COVERS BY:Patrick Zircher/Salvador Larroca

Previously, on Invincible Iron Man:  Tony Stark’s creation of a superhuman database housing the secret identities of the heroes of the Marvel Universe was inherently a bad idea.  Not because of the potentially devastating information housed therein, but because not everyone can be trusted to be as even-handed with the information as Anthony himself intended to be with it.  For someone who described himself as a ‘futurist,’ Tony didn’t seem to have any idea of the kind of damage someone with the wrong intentions could do.  Cut forward to Norman Osborn’s inauguration as head of the soon-to-be-dismantled SHIELD. Stark was forced to download the database into his own bionically enhanced brain, and then to wipe away all of the information with a system reset. This unfortunately wiped away his own mind, memories, and personality as well, leaving him open to an assassination attempt from his old enemy, The Ghost (now, ironically, a member of Norm-O’s own Black Ops Thunderbolts Strike Force.)  Even with Maria Hill, Pepper Potts, Stephen Strange and the recently resurrected Captain America in his corner, Tony Stark’s odds are slim at best. Will next issue be the first adventure of the Invincible Corpse-Man?

We open in the mindscape of Tony Stark a harsh, mountainous terrain through which Tony (tellingingly garbed in rags) and Strange (tellingly garbed in his customerary ‘Master of The Mystic Arts’ costume) are forced to trek. Doctor Strange is concerned that the trail that they’re following means that Tony’s mind is irretrievalbe, until he asks Tony to think of someone “worth living for.” A huge gleaming city appears out of nowhere, apparently Tony’s hopeful image of his mysterious someone, when suddenly they both hear something odd, and Strange disappears. Back in the the real world, The Ghost has gotten past Tony’s friends, and holds a gun to the face of the comatose former Iron Man. “I condemn you, Anthony Edward Stark, to death. Any last words?” As his finger begins to squeeze the trigger, his gun disassembles itself, and he is confronted by one of Marvel’s finest. “Stark?” Ghost asks incredulously. “Strange,” comes the reply. “DOCTOR Stephen Strange.” Before he can respond, the good Doctor engages him in combat, disarming him and striking repeatedly while the Ghost is still tangible. “Master of mystic and marital martial arts,” smirks Doctor Strange in a moment of pure badassery…   Sadly, his victory is short-lived, as the Ghost reaches into his chest and partially solidifies his hand (“My name’s Ghost. I’m a ghost.  BOO.”) and leaves the doc bleeding on the ground.

In his mindscape, Tony stark ventures up the stairs of the imaginary cathedral, only to find himself walking through a crowd of zombie-like strangers. He realizes that he knows them, all of them, and suddenly recognizes Happy Hogan among the throng. As the parade of the dead continues, he slips in free-flowing blood, and finds himself face-to-face with Professor Yinsen, the man who helped him to create his armor years ago. Escaping his own guilt, Tony pushes through a giant stone door to find… Howard and Maria Stark. “Keep it down, boy,” chides Howard as Tony starts to find it hard to breathe. His dead parents tell him that he is finally home, that his life is to sit on a throne in a sea of blood, as innocents die in his name. “This is your home… Your legacy. The Stark Legacy.” He tries to get away, but his mother is disgusted by the blood on his hands, while (back in the real world) Maria Hill tries to keep the Ghost from strangling his body to death. Tony realizes again that it’s all in his head, and cries “I want to get better!” As the Ghost gets the better of Maria Hill, Pepper Potts manages to bluff him with a phone call to HAMMER, turning herself in and revealing the Ghost’s duplicity to Norm-O. Before the criminal can kill her, though, Tony rises, and grabs the phone that Ghost used to teleport himself to Oklahoma. “You can just dial yourself anywhere around the world with [this,]” he realizes, and dials the old number for Stark Industries plant in Seoul, Korea. We end with Captain America checking in on a hospitalized Doctor Strange and Iron Man, and finding out that Tony’s mind wasn’t backed up with the most up-to-date information, and that Tony has been spending his days in the library figuring out how much time he’s lost. We end the issue with Tony reading of the events of Civil War off his screen, and becoming horrified with what he sees.

This issue was good, no doubt about it. Every doubt that I had about whether Tony could be restored was addressed, right on the page, and while the ending has elements of “reset button” to it, at least he didn’t sell Pepper Potts to the devil to restore the status quo. Tony’s guilt over lost friends and his years as a weapons dealer was very nicely handled, although I’m not sure that I like yet ANOTHER abusive father among the core heroes of the Marvel Univers. (Professor X, The Hulk, and Reed Richards already have them, after all. It’s like Walt Disney’s ‘Dead Mother Syndrome’ all over again.) I also like the fact that Fraction can balance Tony as a know-it-all and a sympathetic lead character at the same time, and have much love for the sudden remembrance that Stephen Strange knows all the martial arts of the Tibetan monestery where he studied , lo those many years ago.  All in all, it’s an issue that has made me like Iron Man again, an issue that has returned the Golden Avenger to my pull list at long last, and an issue that sets up a brand new world for Shellhead, just in time for his new movie to come out. Salvado Larroca’s art is very well done here, giving the appearance of Pepper Potts in a a hospital gown a heroic aspect (although his Captain America looka bit bulky in the ending shots.  Invincible Iron Man #24 has done something I would have deemed impossible not so many months ago, and earned 4.5 out of 5 stars in so doing.  It’s good to have Tony back, although I still hate the current armor…

[rating 4.5/5]

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Is it a cop-out to redeem Iron Man by returning his mind to a state before his actions during Civil War? Can you think of another way to redeem his actions?