Or – “This All Sounds Familiar…”
When I was younger, the tradition of the comics Annual was different from today’s Annual in two ways: First, it was actually an annual event, and second, the stories were generally not all that special. Some of them, in fact, were little more than filler issues that covered territory that even young readers like me were pretty damned familiar with. Why in the world would that thought occur to me while reviewing this title?
Previously, on Invincible Iron Man: Anthony Stark has had a rough couple of years, spearheading the Superhuman Regsitration Act, getting his colleagues killed, failing to notice a full-fledged alien invasion, having been revealed as key to a ridiculously arrogant group of “Illuminati” working behind the scenes in the Marvel Universe for years. After his position as top cop was usurped by the frickin’ Green Goblin, Tony erased his mind to keep safe the secrets his own actions has endangered, rebooting himself and the Iron Man into a whole new paradigm (that strongly resembles Jon Favreau’s movie, to no one’s surprose.) Now the head of a new company, Stark Resilient, Tony has to rebuild his future out of pieces of a past that he himself smashed with bull-headedness. For those of us who’ve followed him for years, it’s a familiar sort of story…
What’s Past Is Prologue…
The first thing I realized as I began reading this issue was that it was going to be a “Who is The Iron Man, and How Did He Come To Be?” sort of story. I’ve already read a few angry comments about Marvel’s .1 issues, and how they’re lazily retelling tales that we’ve already heard, like a Star Trek clipshow. (In defense of that line of thought, though, ‘Shades of Grey’ was really inexcusable.) Still, I found myself immediately hooked by Matt Fraction’s framing device: Tony Stark at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Hearing the story of what helped turn Tony into an alcoholic, in his own words, is actually pretty gripping to read. And even though we’re seeing events of “Demon In A Bottle,” the Obadiah Stane storyline, and other classic stories, there’s a great deal of care and craft in the way it’s told. Tony describes his origins in whatever war it was this time, the formation of the Avengers, and key poinsts in Marvel history as though he were just another working stiff, referring to the “shell” he created to protect himself without ever admitting who he is. It’s very nicely balanced.
I Suppose, Then, The Future Is Amateurlogue?
LaRocca’s art is as amazing here as it was in the superlative issue #500 a couple of weeks ago, showing a Tony Stark who is old enough to have experienced all the adventures we know, young enough to be approachable in a Robert Downey Junior sort of way, and the explanation of his own erratic behavior is well-handled. Tony explains that when he forgets the sensation of being at an AA meeting with a little cup of coffee, things tend to go off the rails, while the art depicts him talking to the body of Captain America post-Civil War. There’s even a rare admission of the existence of Teen Iron Man back in the mid-90’s, albeit just a visual reference. The story even ends on an ominous note, as Tony calls Pepper Potts, and while we only hear his end of things, it’s clear that whatever she has to say does NOT make him happy, leaving him to find the company of an anonymous young woman and possibly step back into the cycle of behaviors that opened his tale of woe…
The Verdict: Nicely Handled, Veruca
The simple fact of the matter for me is that a tale well told, even one I’ve read before, is worth the time and money. This serves as more than just a primer for the history of the superhero, it’s a blueprint of what Fraction and LaRocca have done and what they intend to do with Shellhead. There’s even a two-page preview of coming attractions (what I tend to think of these days as a “Geoff Johns Preview”) that promises intrigue, adventure, Spymaster and possibly even The Mandarin, all of which make me happy. The $2.99 price point doesn’t hurt my feelings either, making this a pretty affordable jumping on point for new or lapsed Iron Man readers. The best part of it all? If you’re involved in the ongoing story of Tony and friends, you don’t even HAVE to buy this issue and lose a month of momentum in the ongoing storyline, as it’s a standalone issue that naysayers can easily avoid. It’s pretty much a win-win, and if all the .1 issues are done with this level of workmanship, I’d say that House of Mouse Ideas has a winner on their hands. Even with recycled material, it’s great character work, and Iron Man #500.1 earns a well-deserved 4.5 out of 5 stars overall, and hitting on all cylinders.
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: What is it that the .1 naysayers see that I don’t? Haven’t we all been clamoring for a way to make titles accessible to new readers?