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Idol Banter: Deep down could the villainous Otto Octavius be nothing more than a spurned fan of Ton Stark? Writer Matt Fraction's gift for characterization gave way to the contingencies of plot in 'God Number'.
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Invincible Iron Man #502

(Marvel; US: Feb 2011)

If ‘God Number’, the second act of the current Invincible Iron Man storyarc ‘Fix Me’ reads as good or even as average, it’s guilt by association. This current storyarc’s opening issue, set the stage for not only the resurgence of Tony Stark, but also the decades-long animosity that has brewing between Stark and Otto Octavius’ Dr. Octopus. This one, single issue has been of such an incredibly high standard, that even an issue with as vivid imperfections as “God Number” reads as off-the-chart. Why? Because writer Matt Fraction isn’t writing an Iron Man that you might enjoy a few weeks after ComicCon. He’s writing the Iron Man that will set the agenda for the next 50 years.


And it’s only now, with ‘Fix Me’, and following on from the phenomenal Issue #500.1, that Fraction is beginning to open the taps fully.


The February issue, the first in the current storyarc, took just about six pages to demonstrate exactly how much of his life Tony Stark had won back since the events of ‘Dark Reign’. In ‘Stark Disassembled’ we saw the battle to download Tony’s brain into his body, the latter left in a persistent vegetative state after coming to blows with Norman Osborn, erstwhile Commander of H.A.M.M.E.R. Following on from that, ‘Stark Resilient’ saw the Stark begin to rebuild his empire by licensing the one technology he had always resisted sharing—his Repulsor Technology.


It’s hard to forget that ice-water monologue during the final chase sequence. The daughter, and granddaughter of longtime rival Justin Hammer had conspired to replace the Iron Man.  Their plan hinged on deploying their own human-piloted armor, Detroit Steel, and on harnessing unknowing social media gamers into running interference.


“All across the world Hammer Industries and Detroit Steel have been trying to make me look like a stooge for wanting to get out of the war business. It’s a song I’ve sung before and they know it. Hammer bets that I’ll bark up the peacenik tree, get bored, then go back to feasting on fifteen-figure government contracts. They’ve bought up Stark weapons and sold them to the wrong people while trying to replace and privatize the Iron Man. They want to make me obsolete in the one industry that’s 100% recession-proof. War. This car… the Resilient, or whatever we end up calling it… is R. T. powered. I kept Repulsor technology to myself for years. Now? Now I want it affordable… and available… around the world. This isn’t a car. It’s a revolution. This is me inventing an entirely new form of warfare. And I’m the only one who knows how to win it.”


And after all of that, to stand in the cathedral of the opening half-dozen or so pages of ‘Fix Me’. To see how Stark’s emergent company had upgraded from building a R. T. powered car to an R. T. powered town. To see Tony himself both shine and shy away from the limelight once more. To see him ring the opening bell at the NYSE, take in shows at NY Fashion Week, accept half a billion dollars in seed funding, and duel with NYC’s reigning comedians on Shownight.


But of course, the opening act of ‘Fix Me’ wasn’t about that at all. It was about Dr. Otto Octavius. Dr. Octopus. It was the singularly genius platform to launch the idea that Octavius, the villain that had been such a thorn in the lives of Marvel Heroes (particularly Spider-Man) in the 70s, and the 80s, was nothing more than a b-grade cardboard cut-out of a supervillain. No real threat, no threat at all. But of course, that was simply the setup.


The real story was how Octavius mired himself in mediocrity all this time. How Octavius from the beginning had believed himself smarter than anyone else in the room (the defense contractors new technology conference from 17 years ago was so richly told). And how this belief lured him into thinking that he would be able to exploit the social machinery of those he deemed his intellectual inferior. Octavius’ failing as a villain was his cowardice, to never use his genius to build something. And this resulted in him losing decades, losing his life. What should have been his life.


And now, years later, Dr. Octopus is back with what he hopes reads as a vengeance. He’s back to destroy Stark, to punish Stark for the success Octavius believes himself to have deserved a share in.


What fraction gave us, just eight weeks ago, was the purest of character dramas. It was the years of pain, and anger, now giving way to the hatred and an icy cold calculus of revenge. This is about everything that ever went wrong for Dr Octopus, and cradled at the center of it all, was the same Octavius who desperately clutching to the idea that others were always to blame.


Eight weeks ago, the first part of ‘Fix Me’ wasn’t comics. It was Shakespeare. And if the second part feels like a let-down, what else could it be? Except of course, you and I and everyone who read Part Two wanted it to be slightly better. And it just feels wrong that ‘God Number’ wasn’t what it could have been, what it ought to have been.


Against the opening part of ‘Fix Me’, ‘God Number’, the second part, feels staid, static, like treading water. Stark and Octavius exchange words, then they exchange blows. Stark taps Octavius’ working knowledge on treachery in the hopes that there might be some useful information on rooting out the Stark Resilient mole. Octavius reads as witty when he replies.


But all that fission, all explosive energy is gone. This is a Stark and an Octavius going through the motions to get to where they need to get to.


Tomorrow, part three of ‘Fix Me’ will be out. I’m hoping for an explosive ending. I’m hoping for that real, deep, angry hatred that we all saw eight weeks ago. But secretly I’m hoping for Shakespeare.


And it reads a little unfair I know, entering a work with great expectations. But Matt Fraction gets graded on a different curve. His genius is our passport to a better, richer life.

Rating:

AB-, ENTJ, PhD: shathley Q is deeply moved by the emotional connection we build with our perpetual fictions, and hopes to answer for that somehow, somehow. He holds a Doctorate in Literary and Cultural Theory. His writings have appeared in Joss Whedon: the Complete Companion and Ages of Heroes, Eras of Men, as well as regularly on PopMatters. Like a kid in a china shop, he microblogs as @uuizardry on Twitter. Or hit him up directly on shathleyq@popmatters.com.


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