No one likes a high and mighty know-it-all. Even Classius Clay didn't become the people's champion until he lost his first fight. In the Marvel universe Tony Stark, the world's foremost futurist, is probably the most smug smart guy around. He wasn't ever my favorite costumed crimefighter, but then the live action movie came along and made me like him and then I picked up Matt Fraction's run and he made me like him even more. Drat.
This is the INVINCIBLE IRON MAN Omnibus and it collects the first 19 issues of the new series, and it's unputdownable enough that it won the Eisner award for Best New Series. If, like me, you're not caught up with everything that Tony Stark has been up to, well, it's fine, because Matt Fraction catches you up enough with the requisite backstory.
This first arc here covers Tony Stark's end stint as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. as he tangles with global terrorism and with Ezekiel Stane, the homicidal genius son of Obadiah Stane (who had been Stark's nemesis). Young and insane Ezekiel Stane is converting men into walking repulsor bombs, and the kicker is that the technology used is clearly lifted from Tony Stark's design. It's only one element of Ezekiel's murderous vendetta against our favorite superhero industrialist.
The second arc is epic and it comprises the bulk of this collection, and it takes us past the events of the Skrull invasion, and it finds Tony Stark discredited and ousted as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. on grounds of royally bollocksing stuff up during the invasion. And maybe, just maybe, part of it too is repercussion from his sanctimonious deeds in the Civil War. S.H.I.E.L.D. is shut down, H.A.M.M.E.R. established in its place, with Norman Osborn now running things. The public, of course, doesn't have the slightest that Osborn is a giggling psychopath.
This is about as low as we've ever seen Tony Stark, discounting his time in the '80s as a raging alcoholic, which inarguably was Stark at lowest ebb. Stark Enterprises is gutted, and when Tony refuses to cooperate (ie: hand over the Superhero Registration Act database), he becomes a wanted man. But here's the key element to this whole arc, that which makes this story so gripping: the database is now kept solely in Tony's brain and so, to make sure that Osborn doesn't gain access to it and other secrets, Tony puts into motion a comprehensive program which will hack into his brain and into the Extremis bio-electronics package in his body (the Extremis which, by the way, governs Tony's interfacing with the Iron Man armor). The result is a gradual erosion of Tony's memory and intellect and even his core personality. All this so that Osborn couldn't get into his head. Because Osborn is that dangerous.
Matt Fraction spins a breakneck, edge-of-the-seat tale of suspense, espionage, drama, and high tech skirmishes. It's crazy just how Stark becomes this utterly rootable character as he goes on the run, pressing on even as he loses bits of himself along the way, his smarts and his memory. As his intellect devolves, Tony not only finds it suddenly more challenging to survive Osborn's relentless attacks but he begins having trouble operating the sophisticated Iron Man armor and he's soon forced to rely on the older models. If you pay attention, you get to see the different incarnations of Iron Man, except in reverse chronology. As you get deeper in the pages, you can't help but note that the progressive decay of Tony's smarts and memory obversely parallels Fraction's humanizing of Tony Stark. A down and out Iron Man, I've never liked him more.
Supporting characters, Fraction gives them opportunities to shine. Pepper Potts goes thru a life-changing event and emerges as a hero in her own right. Maria Hill, whom I've never really cared about, endures some horrifying stuff and proves her mettle as a secret agent. The Black Widow surfaces in the later issues, and I like her tough as nails attitude. And there's even a team-up between the ol' Shellhead and the unregistered but incredibly helpful Spider-Man. But where Matt Fraction really lets loose is on Norman Osborn and his big bowl of crazy. In Fraction's hands Osborn comes off as possibly the worst case scenario EVER of a bad guy getting the remote control to the universe. The Goblin's insanity creeps me out and curdles the blood. It's gotten to the point now where I really can't wait for him to get what's coming to him. And I never thought I'd say this but, because of what he's put Tony thru, I won't even mind if it's Iron Man, rather than Spidey, who takes him down.
As ever, I'm digging on Salvador Larroca's sleek art, even though, yeah, the coloring on the characters' faces tend to take on this muddy look. On the other hand, the colorist is fantastic at adding texture and nuance to Larroca's pencils (check out the six pages of Larroca's penciled stuff at the back of the trade, and then compare that with the finished product).
I'm kinda curious to see more of the Triumph Division, the Philippines' preeminent superhero squad, although the first incarnation we see did go down pretty easy. But those are some pretty intriguing superhero code names.