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Invincible Iron Man #1

It's no surprise that in the wake of the film Iron Man's "rip-roaring" success that the comic series is seeing quite a bit of new activity - and none too soon. Iron Man has always struck me as a C-List Superhero, someone who gets called in when Superman and Batman are off fighting each other and Spider-Man is too embroiled in angst to get out of bed. They'd call Thor but he's so dreadfully pagan. That aside, he's been around since 1963, and has been badly in need of a swift kick to the rear to get going again. There's been a surge of new titles riding the movie's coat tails, with Invincible Iron Man #1 among the front runners.

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Invincible Iron Man #1 starts off with a suicide bombing in Africa, one of many contemporary issues that awkwardly found its way into this issue. Certainly somebody, somewhere, thought this was a particularly clever touch. But there is something very strange about these bombers; instead of just exploding like your traditional detonating martyr, they glow all crazy blue before blasting themselves and several others into smithereens.

Cut to space, where Iron Man is (I shit you not) repairing the heat-resistant tiles of the Space Shuttle. Apparently, Iron Man is so cool that he can fix our real world problems, too.

Cut again to Tony Stark, zillionaire, now on Terra Firma with hot chick in bed. He looks a little awkward like he was, oh I don't know, copied from a photograph of James Bond-era Sean Connery. Of course this is nothing compared to the chick that Tony is about to bed. She looks like she's been copied off a sign for a truck stop massage parlor. She's even mugging for the camera, which should be impossible considering that this is a comic.

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Anyway, they're getting naked and then oh shit wait time to cut again to SHIELD headquarters where Stark puts his game face on and the story actually starts. Stark gets filled in on the whole Africa thing, has to take a moment when the word "genocide" gets thrown around, and then bemoans how they never show the shuttle landings on the news unless someone dies.

After that whack of exposition, the pacing slows down to a readable speed and we had better get comfy because we have more exposition ahead as the villain of the series is revealed as Ezekiel Stane. Fans of the series will recognize Ezekiel as the son of Obadiah Stane, Iron Man's long time rival. The rest of us will use Wikipedia. Stane has pulled the ol' switcheroo and instead of doing the bidding of some evil tobacco execs, he's modded his brain to keep him on speed all the time. Which, as many coke-heads will confirm, allows you to shoot fire out of your fingers. The issue winds up with Iron Man having a completely obligatory fight with some faceless military types. In fact, the fight is so meaningless that Stark is able to stop and look at a picture taken during the bombing in Africa, and I am left wondering, "If this is the big reveal, why did you show it to us in the first three pages?"

If I sound like I am not enjoying this, that's because I am not. The characters seem stiff, there's an awful lot of awkward art and writing, and nothing actually happens between the beginning and the end of this issue. Some of that can be chalked up to it being issue 1, but did we need to get all that right up front? Really, this issue isn't so much bad as it is a snooze-fest. It's just a big info-dump with a fight tacked on at the end for good measure.

What's especially disappointing about Invincible isn't just that the film Iron Man is a fantastic thrill-ride featuring Robert Downey Jr. (whom I love) playing the role he was born to play. No, the real turd in the punch bowl is that rising star, as well as born and bred Chicago Heights native, Matt Fraction is the writer of this new series. Fraction is often called a "rising star" in comic writing, and has recently dabbled with superhero writing for X-Men, Spiderman, and the Punisher War Journal. His work on the excellently weird Casanova series has garnered him much praise, all of it well deserved. And while I have always maintained that I am deathly allergic to superhero comics, it was no doubt Fraction's excellent writing that sucked me into The Order - one of the cleverest titles I've read from the genre. Fraction is one of the best writers out there, and having him responsible something for this so blase is kind of painful. But really, it's not all his fault.

There's another name attached to this comic and that is artist Salvador Larroca. This man is obviously an intensely talented individual, but his work seems limited only to dreadfully stiff, awkward characters that look like they were drawn from screen caps of political thriller flicks. Or pornos, as the case may be. While his work on newuniversal was acceptable(ish), here it actually seems to get in the way of reading the comic. Superhero comics are not known for their style, nor their artistic flare. And Larroca's art is par for the course: well done, but pretty boring. Larroca does well with action sequences, though. And anything mechanical, or technical, looks fantastic. Unfortunately, this bleeds over into the people as well, who look shallow and don't seem to be capable of displaying any nuanced emotion. The end effect of Larroca's work is very cinematic, but when everything looks like it was drawn from a movie, I kind of wish I could just watch the movie.

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For his part, Fraction seems to have remained very conservative in his scripting of this first issue. Anyone who has read Casanova is well aware that Fraction can blow your mind when he wants to. While substantially less weird, The Order was a clever take on the superhero genre. It is startling then to see how - predictable is too harsh - but ordinary Invincible Iron Man is compared to these other works. I'm willing to believe that Fraction might have some serious tricks up his sleeve for the rest of this run, but issue 1 is as milquetoast as they come.

Fraction does deserve praise for his presentation of Tony Stark. Stark from the Ultimates series and from the film have their demons right in front of them: alcoholism, wealth built on death, over-indulgent decadence, etc. Fraction's Stark has all that behind him, and has risen as high as a mechanical superhero can. His big fear (broken into five, easy to swallow fruitiful nightmare flavors in the comic) is falling from grace, back into a dismal existence he's worked hard to escape. This could make for one of the most identifiable superheroes of all time. The feeling of being so close to backsliding into what we've worked so hard to come out from seems quite apt in a time of soaring food and oil prices, war, a depressed economy, and Dancing With The Stars. Hopefully, Fraction has recognized that Stark should be the focus of the comic, regardless of what action packed antics are going on around him. Iron Man without Stark is just another superhero; it's Stark's personality that makes the character so interesting. Of course, character-based affairs can be just as trite as an action title. If, for instance, Stark bottoms out, gets a pep talk or goes on a spirit journey and comes back to kick ass, I'll be very sad.

Invincible Iron Man 1 is the beginning of a series for the tights-loving crowd. If you like action, shiny things, and the promise of plentiful pummelings, than this comic is for you. But if you're expecting for a genre-defying experience, it's probably best to look elsewhere. Personally, I'll probably get one more issue - just to see how my assessment stands up. I honestly hope I'm wrong, and that this title will be willing to run off the rails and push a venerable old title in new directions.



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Posted on May 18, 2008


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