Whenever I am talking to former comic book fans who are drawn back to the medium by movies, video games or (shock) reading a random comic, they often ask me what a good book is to buy for a particular character. This was easy when the questions were about Batman as there have always been plenty of highly talented creators drawn to the character. However, it became tricky when friends asked about X-Men (where do you start there??) or more recently Iron Man. The answer for where to start with the armored Avenger has become much easier thanks to the outstanding comics produced for Iron Man. Whereas the only real option used to be the Demon in a Bottle collection, there are several great trade paperbacks on the shelves now that anyone interested in the adventures of the high-flying playboy can pick up.
Iron Man: Extremis
(an updating of the character into the 21st Century by Warren Ellis)
Iron Man: Director of S. H. I. E. L. D. 1
Iron Man: Director of S. H. I. E. L. D. 2 ‘With Iron Hands’
Iron Man: Director of S. H. I. E. L. D. 3 ‘Haunted’
Invincible Iron Man Book One: The Five Nightmares
Invincible Iron Man Book Two: Most Wanted (part one)
More significantly, the current monthly comic by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca has been firing on all cylinders since it started last year coinciding with the John Favreau film. Fans of the Invincible Iron Man have thrilled to non-stop action in each issue over the past 19 issues, but in this month’s closing storyline, ‘World’s Most Wanted,’ it has become quite clear that some very grim times are ahead for Iron Man.
I recently wrote about the ‘Fall of the Elder Statesmen‘ of the Marvel Universe and in that post wrote about Tony Stark’s fall from grace but to be fair it has been a rather acrobatic twirl rather than a direct decline. Seeking to do the right thing, Stark embraced the Superhero Registration Act which sought to register all super-powered citizens, record their identity and enlist them as a fighting force similar to the US Army only with superhuman abilities. This drove a clear division in the superhero community, costing him the friendship of several former comrades and the life of his closest friend, Captain America.
S.H.I.E.L.D., The Initiave and Thunderbolts
Left with the task of picking up the pieces, Stark spearheaded the 50 State Initiative. With the recruits of Camp Hammond (named after the Human Torch), Stark was also the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. where he was in charge of rounding up unregistered heroes. Part of that initiative involved recruiting villains who would gladly do the dirty work that no hero in his/her right mind would ever do. Heading a team of nanite-controlled supervillains called the Thunderbolts was Norman Osborn, formerly the Green Goblin. While this seemed to be an insane idea to many, I suspect it occurred to Stark simply because he felt that he could control Norman and truthfully he did not want to fight any of his former friends. This may explain the numerous opportunities that Stark passed up to arrest Spider-Man and the other former Avengers. Tony Stark even formed a new team of Avengers but assigned Ms. Marvel to lead the group rather than himself.
Playing what he saw as a necessary role, Tony Stark appeared to be ‘the bad guy’ to many comic readers and when the Secret Invasion storyline was announced, stating that several heroes would be revealed to actually be Skrull sleeper agents, many immediately guessed that Iron Man was actually an alien invader and not the hero they knew him to be. The truth was more complicated and Stark was not, in fact, a Skrull at all. One of the chief architects of the 50 State Initiative, Hank Pym (Ant Man), was a Skrull, however. It turned out that the Skrull forces took advantage of the unrest caused by the Civil War and had infiltrated the Initiative and its workings to achieve its own end and make Earth the new home planet of the Skrull Empire.
His technology invaded by the Skrulls, Stark was crippled in the interplanetary war and humiliated by Norman Osborn, who stripped S.H.I.E.L.D. down and replaced it with his own organization, H.A.M.M.E.R. With Osborne granted access to the Superhero Registration Act files, Stark realized that he had to take a great risk in protecting the privacy of the superhero community. Downloading the entire database into his brain, Stark ran for his life with H.A.M.M.E.R. forces hot on his heels. Stopping off at numerous secret bases the world over, Stark has been burning the data out of his brain, destroying the only copy of the information but also portions of his own brilliant mind along the way.
But according to a recent interview with series scribe Fraction, the worst is yet to come…
In the current “World’s Most Wanted” arc of Marvel’s “The Invincible Iron Man,” writer Matt Fraction and artist Salvador Larroca are preparing to answer that question as they take Tony on a heroic journey that strips him bare of his fortune, his advanced armors, and even of his intellect and memories. “World’s Most Wanted” ends with “Invincible Iron Man” #19, issue #20 begins “Stark Disassembled,” an arc that shows who Tony Stark is when you remove all of his carefully crafted artifices. CBR News spoke with Fraction about the story, which was announced Saturday at the Mondo Marvel panel at Wizard World Chicago.
“In ‘World’s Most Wanted’ Tony is going to win the race he set out to run, but Osborn kind of wins too,” Fraction told CBR. “What you’re going to see, to an extent, is all the King’s horses and the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty back together again because maybe Humpty didn’t want to get put back together again…”
Fraction’s hints may sound bleak, but readers shouldn’t assume that “Stark Disassembled” is a grim or hopeless story. “It’s the third act of this first run of stories and my goal is to bring Tony all the way through this ordeal that started with my first arc, ‘Five Nightmares,’ and carried through to ‘World’s Most Wanted,” Fraction explained. “The first arc was about destroying Stark, the corporation. The second arc was about destroying Iron Man and now this story is about Tony, who he is and why he is this way.
“There is a specific end destination in mind. There’s a road map and I’ve been saying where we’re going from the get go, but I don’t think people realize the depth of what that means,” Fraction laughed. “I’ve not been clever or coy at all. Tony’s going to win the race he set out to run, but what does that mean? This story is about what makes Tony a hero.”
Stark Disassembled begins next month with issue 20 that sports a brilliant wrap-around cover.