Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Colorist: Frank D’Armata
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
The Marvel meta-plot of the last seven or so years hasn’t been too kind to Tony Stark. He’s been shoehorned into the role of technocratic fascist, put at the head of the charge for superhero registration, and vilified as the guy who failed to protect Earth from a Skrull invasion. He’s royally screwed up his friendships with Thor and Steve Rogers, he’s watched Norman Osborn run roughshod over the world, and he’s had to delete his own brain to escape HAMMER’s clutches.
So, what do you, as a Marvel writer, do to restore Tony’s heroic reputation after nearly a decade of mudslinging? How do you get from “universally reviled techno-fascist” to “one of the three pillars of the Heroic Age?”
If you’re Matt Fraction– and come on, you wish you were Matt Fraction– you go big. You trust in your own audacity of narrative. You do something so outrageous that it should annoy the living hell out of the fans who’ve been following the book for two years… and then you leave it on the last page and let them sweat for a month.
You also let Dr. Strange and Maria Hill rough up the Ghost a bit, just in case anyone was waiting for that. I was waiting for Pep, myself, but I’ll take Stephen instead. I’m a sucker for the sorts of characters Warren Ellis described with the line “I’m a doctor of mystery” in newuniversal.
A great deal of this issue is, of course, editorially-mandated board-shuffling before Thor, Cap, and Tony get together and sing “Kumbaya” in Avengers Prime: Siege Aftermath. The resolution of the Ghost’s plotline is necessary to move him into place for the post-SiegeThunderbolts arc, as much as it feels like a total cheat to those of us who were waiting for Pepper and JARVIS to beat hell out of the little rat bastard.
That being said, though, it’s still a gripping read. The sequences that take place within Tony’s internal landscape are gorgeously rendered, lending the proceedings an air of high fantasy. We get a little expansion on Tony’s evolving… whatever sort of romance it is… with Pepper, just enough to remind us that he’s got a lot to answer for with both Pep and Maria when he’s fully recovered. Chad points out, rightly, that the man both of them slept with in World’s Most Wanted is… not the man who’s going into the Heroic Age now, and wonders if either Pep or Maria is going to be having any of the new model.
There’s a pretty big open question of what that love triangle is going to mean for Tony’s future business affairs, too, since Pep and Maria are basically splitting the Bethany Cabe role between them at this point. Maria’s been acting in a bodyguard/ security capacity, while Pepper’s become Rescue and gotten her own Iron Man armor; both of them are sexually involved with Tony, and both of them are ambivalent about it. There’s part of me that looks forward to this book as a Pepper and Maria book more than a story about Tony some months, and I hope Fraction doesn’t move forward and drop the ball entirely on their uneasy shared story.
And yes, I’m going to sweat out the next month, trust in the synergy of the IIM creative team, and see how Tony works his way through this one. If it’s anywhere near as good as World’s Most Wanted, it’ll be well worth Fraction’s big trick this issue.