Sunday, January 31, 2010

Review: Invincible Iron Man vol. 1: The Five Nightmares

Invincible Iron Man vol. 1: The Five Nightmares, by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca, 2009, Marvel, 184 pages, $19.99

This collects the first six issues of this ongoing series about everybody's favorite member of the military-industrial complex.  It's slickly-produced, fact-paced, and has lots of explosions.

Ezekiel Stane, the son of Iron Man's nemesis Obadiah Stane and fresh off his first appearance in the Matt Fraction-penned The Order, is out to destroy Tony Stark.  He's upgraded Stark's own technology and implanted it in terrorists, creating super-human suicide bombers (let nobody say that Marvel isn't trying to be timely).

And while the plot is driven by Stark's hunt for and battle with Stane, I found that some of the most interesting parts focused on Stark's relationship with his assistant Pepper Potts (you remember her: she's Gwyneth Paltrow).  She also was featured in The Order, so it's clear that Fraction likes the character.  Here's our first look at Pepper in this series (click all images to enlarge):

Did you know that "Girl Friday" just means "an especially faithful female aide"?  I always thought it meant something more than that -- something that involved a relationship that had an underlying current of, "oh, if only he realized that everything he is looking for is right under his nose."  And that works here, too.  Pepper is sharp, sassy, and beautiful.  If only Tony could drag himself away from the vapid sport sex with the Contessa, he'd see that Pepper is the one for him.  The reader just wants them to get together.

Tony and Pepper's relationship gets about one to two pages per issue.  The only other times she shows up is to act as his support staff when he's in the armor and blowing away bad guys.  So although I don't like to give away the story in a review, this is a fairly minor piece of the book, and I wanted to talk more about why I liked it so much.

Briefly, Tony acts like a bastard during a party and treats Pepper poorly.  She walks out, and then the whole building explodes.  Chunks of the building fall on her.  Tony desperately searches for her and rescues her.  At the hospital, this happens:

I really liked this page.  Probably everybody sees what is going on here, but just in case, re-read it again only imagine that Tony is asking Pepper to marry him.  The way he holds her hand, the little box that could have come from Tiffany's, the ring.  It makes me happy to see a Marvel comic book working on multiple levels -- most of the time they don't even try to do things like this.  And the proposal-imagery does work, since Tony is asking Pepper to accept Tony's technology -- the same technology that kept him alive and which is a part of him -- and place it next to her heart.  They will be bonded together like no other two people on the planet.  Remember, this happens after Tony rescued her from near-death and in the process realized how much he cares about her.

So... Pepper recovers, and then this happens:

When Pepper rejects Tony's ring, by extension she has rejected Tony. He is devastated.

Here's one of the things about Fraction that makes him special among Marvel's top writers: he puts romance in his comics.  Compare his stuff to comics written by Ed Brubaker, Jason Aaron, and Brian Michael Bendis. Brubaker's Daredevil was pretty great, but damn it was bleak. Fraction has a great way of highlighting the relationships between people, and isn't afraid of straight-up romance in comics.

Did you know that Fraction and Larroca have collaborated previously, on the Sensational Spider-Man Annual #1? It was a touching look at Peter Parker and Mary Jane's pre-One More Day/Brand New Day relationship, and was nominated for a 2008 Eisner Award for Best Single Issue. It was one of the first things written by Fraction that I read, and definitely made me want to read more.  Again, it was the romantic aspects of that comic that made it stand out.

Back to "The Five Nightmares."  In a later scene, Pepper tells him she wants him to take out the ring. Tony tells her that it's made from different, non-weapons-based technology.  Then he takes her hands in his, and asks her to close her eyes and focus on the ring.  Then there's a neat little bit, where it looks like Tony is slowly lowering himself down to a kneeling position next to her, but you flip the page and realize that Pepper has actually been slowly rising above the ground:

That image?  Loved it.  First, definitely caught me off guard with the whole floating thing, since I thought Tony was kneeling, not Pepper floating.  Second, Pepper's floating!  It's a wonderful, super-heroic twist on the whole "love makes you feel like you're floating" idea.  That "Oh, Tony, I --" line could be straight out of a Jane Austen novel, when Elizabeth Bennet finally realizes that Mr. Darcy really, truly loves her.  Look how happy Pepper is!  And Tony is happy too!  And he's down below her again, looking like he is proposing!  It's just so sweet!

Like a romantic comedy, the two leads are interrupted just when things are getting interesting.  (Tony's relationship with Maria Hill also has some interesting things going on, but I won't get into them here.)  That's their last scene together.  Yes, I want to see where this is going.

READ MORE: Here's an excerpt of issue 1 and an excerpt from issue 2.

BUY IT: From Amazon here: Invincible Iron Man vol. 1: The Five Nightmares


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