There are few creative teams who have had as much impact on a monthly book as Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca have.
As a kid, I was always attracted by the design and look of Iron Man, but the book itself left me cold. I tried to get into the series several times as teams came and left but nothing really stuck.
When Daniel and Charles Knauf took over after Warren Ellis revamped the character for the 21st Century all of that changed. Suddenly, Iron Man was an interesting character and his adventures were complex and intense. With the inclusion of the Extremis virus, Stark became bonded to the technology that he had designed and finally stepped into a new era, one that would catapult him into the next six years in print.
However, it was Fraction and Larroca who took the hard work pioneered by both Ellis and both Knaufs and made it something more. The Fraction/Larroca run repeatedly placed Stark against challenges that pushed him to the limit, threatening to demoralize him, shatter his identity and reduce his lifelong work to ash. Even his alcoholism returned which once destroyed his personal, professional and superheroic life.
Through it all, Stark persevered, showing that Iron Man may be invincible, but Tony Stark indomitable.
Under the watch of Fraction/Larroca, Iron Man became an invigorating and stylish series, finally bringing one of the founding fathers of the Marvel Universe into the forefront. Stark went from being director of S.H.I.E.L.D. to a wanted man, his tech reduced to the most basic version of the Iron Man suit as he eluded capture. In more recent issues he has attempted to reinvent himself as a next-gen businessman, offering up bleeding edge technological resources to everyone. It’s this continual modernization of the character that has kept the series on its toes.
The latest story line saw Stark at the end of his rope, reduced to a prisoner and slave to his most dreaded foe, the Mandarin. Mad with ambition, the Mandarin forced Stark to produce shells for the ten alien spirits that dwell inside his rings. Of course, the Mandarin is koo-koo for cocoa puffs, but that doesn’t stop him from achieving his goal. Once more against insurmountable odds, Stark adapts and uses a combination of his charisma to win over his fellow prisoners (formerly enemies of Iron Man’s) and a swarm of nanite repulsor technology.
Developed by Stan Lee on a dare, Iron Man is a concept that should have failed; a weapons manufacturer as the hero during a time when war was protested by his readers. But to his surprise, the comic was a hit. The startling action, sizzling romance and non-stop drama made Iron Man into a sensation back in the 1960’s. Today, he is even more popular than ever thanks to the Iron Man and Avengers feature films and cartoons. But it is the hard work of the monthly book that makes such success possible as it is in print where the hero is defined and developed and that is reflected in the past three years’ of Invincible Iron Man quite well.
For modern readers, in my opinion this is the best Iron Man we have ever had. Opinions will differ, of course (The Michelin/Layton run is still very popular for instance), but for me this series made Iron Man a favorite series and it quickly rose to the top of my read pile each month. The Iron Man monthly book has been a phenomenal read over the past six years, combining humor, action and brilliant ideas. But the past three years’ worth of Iron Man comics have left a high water mark for the character.
This week the final chapter of that run hits the stands, with Kieron Gillen and Greg Land to follow shortly. It’s a hard act to follow.