Has the collaboration of writer Matt Fraction and artist Salvador Larroca produced the best comics of the past decade?
Issue 20 of Invincible Iron Man marks the beginning of the five-part "Stark: Disassembled" storyarc and sees the reboot of Tony Stark's Iron Man in the skilled hands of series regulars Fraction and Larroca. But this is not the continuity reboot of the character, nor is this a modernization of the Iron Man mythos as was performed by writer Warren Ellis in 2005. Following the traumatic events which took place in the closing stages of preceding storyarc "World's Most Wanted", "Stark: Disassembled" opens with Tony Stark in a 'persistent' vegetative state' after a self-performed lobotomy.
But Tony Stark has a contingency plan for everything. "Stark: Disassembled" relates the story of how Tony rallies his friends and compatriots to participate in rebooting his consciousness. This includes downloading his memories from a massive file server, recreating recombinant DNA that will enable him to pilot the Iron Man system, and a massive neuroelectric recharge that will finally reconcile Tony with the God of Thunder.
At the story's heart however, lies the story of a reconciliation. For nearly half a decade, since 2007's "Civil War" crossover event, Tony Stark's Iron Man, Captain America and Thor have found themselves on opposite sides of a feud not of their own making. The three iconic, and in many senses most powerful, characters of the Marvel superheroes now found themselves gathered together once again. Will Cap and Thor participate in the resurrection of their fallen comrade? "Stark: Disassembled" is very much the story of mending fences across the chasm of a shared history, not all of it pleasant. In this regard it is the measure of such great Russian novels of the nineteenth century, like Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.
What makes "Counting Up From Zero" (part one of "Stark: Disassembled") at once so credible and so engaging is what Fraction and Larroca, along with series regular colorist Frank D'Armata, achieve over the course of six pages. With each page limited to an eight-panel grid (four vertically-stacked rows of two panels), readers view a recording of Tony's final address as Director of intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D. In it, Tony reiterates his planned reboot, but also confronts the gathered heroes with the ethics of this resurrection. The comics itself is rigorous and disciplined, and wholly demonstrative of the full skill of the creative team at sustaining drama while engaging the audience with nothing more than a single image.