It’s amazing how little of Iron Man himself we get in The Invincible Iron Man. First there was “Stark Disassembled,” where Tony Stark was in a persistent vegetative state for the entire story arc, then “Stark Resilient,” which followed Stark’s attempt to put together a new company and get an Repulsor Technology-powered car off of the ground and concluded with a nice brawl between Iron Man and Hammer Industries’ own robot, Detroit Steel. And then there’s the past couple of issues. We had parallel stories of Tony Stark and Peter Parker trying to figure out a doomsday device that Stark had been working on but forgot about in the wake of “Disassembled,” while (in the future) an elderly Stark laid in the clutches of the Mandarin (#500, a fantastic comic book that shows how to make a proper anniversary issue). Then, in the Point-One issue, Stark told his life story to an AA meeting. While extremely compelling, neither were about Iron Man punching things.
Now, with #501, we have the opening to a new story arc, “Fix Me,” in which Iron Man appears in seven panels total and the premise once again doesn’t call for Iron Man to punch things. This time, Doctor Octopus has captured Tony Stark and has blackmailed him into taking part in a challenge: fix Doc Ock’s fatal brain damage as Stark managed to fix his own, or admit that he’s been given a problem he can’t figure out, and thus isn’t as smart as he thinks he is.
It’s a problem that doesn’t require Stark to transform into Iron Man and “beat [Doctor Octopus] to death with [his] own ridiculous little tubes.” In fact, Fraction seems to be lampooning the entire idea of Tony Stark as a violent, laser-blasting superhero, as evidenced by that previous bit of dialogue and lines like “I know my work when I punch it” (in regards to putting down villains who try to rip off his technology). And, quite honestly, Iron Man isn’t exactly missed in these pages thanks to the great dynamic between Stark and Doctor Octopus — Stark is being held by a captor that he not only has no respect for, but openly knows he’s superior to. The Doctor’s only upper hand is his nuclear weapon and his other, non-Tony Stark hostage.
Otherwise, it’s not like an artist can draw Tony Stark emoting inside the thing thanks to its expressionless helmet, though Jon Favreau got around it through those “inside the armor” shots that Fraction gleefully lifted from the film trailers for the purposes of his own book. Let’s face it — Tony Stark is one of the more fully formed characters in Marvel Comics, a know-it-all fuckup with his own foibles and inner demons. That he has a suit of armor that shoots lasers is actually the least interesting thing about him.
(Also, as in #500.1, Salvador Larroca draws in two separate styles: modern-day scenes are in his usual ultra-slick “realistic” style while his flashback scenes are more expressive and vaguely European, almost akin to Moebius. It’s great, and I wish he’d always drawn in that style.)
Before he was the Marvel superstar writing three of the company’s biggest titles, Fraction was an indie comics creator, writing non-superheroic graphic novels and talking about the art of comics and the industry itself in places like Comic Book Resources and his own online magazine, Savant. While it’s easy to go back to his “comics activism” days and see the dramatic irony in reading a guy express his disinterest in writing superhero comics a decade ago now about to unleash Fear Itself upon the world, one need look no further than Invincible Iron Man to see that Fraction isn’t completely relenting to the form, but subverting it, going beyond the superhero genre to make a modern, relevant, forward-thinking comic book thriller about the politics of technology — something that has more in common with Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President than Batman. It’s almost like what Ryoichi Ikegami did with the Spider-Man manga back in the ’70s. Fraction keeps decreasing the amount of Iron Man we see in the book, and not only do we not notice, but thanks to what he’s writing instead of armored men kicking things, we don’t even care.