Not With a Bang, But a Whimper: “Invincible Iron Man #527”

To truly appreciate what’s missing from this, the final issue of Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man series, you need to go back to the beginning. It was July 2008 and the Iron Man movie had dominated the summer box office for over a month. Marvel, having learned previously about what NOT to do with an ongoing series tied to a feature film (I’m looking at you, Claremont’s X-Men titles circa 2000), decided to have one of their rising star writers take the lead with a brand new ongoing Iron Man series. It was a series that would not only be a perfect jumping on point for new readers but also reboot the character and tie him very closely to the version that Robert Downey Jr. was about to make world famous.  

This move was a tremendous success for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that Fraction knew how to create the perfect “Iron Man TV series” to follow the film’s introduction to the character’s world. First, he had a continuity-lite introductory story that was heavy on action and hinged on the film’s villain, Obadiah Stane (except in the series it is Stane’s son who became the antagonist). 

From there, Fraction built a storyline that was not only an exciting international chase but one designed to introduce the reader to Tony’s extensive past and rogue’s gallery. Further story lines had Tony getting new armor and new abilities, expanding on his list of enemies, the birth of Pepper Potts as the superhero Rescue, and bringing back the Mandarin as Iron Man’s #1 nemesis. All of that brought us to issue #527 and the “final episode” of Invincible Iron Man.  

With issue #527, Fraction (like the other Marvel U writers right now) seems to have been forced to wrap up his loose ends and clear the board in preparation for MarvelNOW! in a hurry. While that’s just the name of the game in comics, it’s unfortunate that Fraction and his brethren all seem like they either had to extend runs already winded down or hurried up plotlines that needed more room to finish. Bethany Cabe, James Rhodes, Zeke Stane, and even Pepper Potts all seem to be without a real ending to where their storylines were headed.

Tony himself is also left with little resolution to his own personal crisis that was started by the arrival of Zeke Stane in the series’ opening storyarc “The Five Nightmares”. Stane originally used Tony’s tech to not only commit terrorist attacks but also destroy Stark Industries while doing it. This was an incredibly strong way to open the series and solidified “The Five Nightmares” as a classic Iron Man story. It showed that not only is it Tony’s biggest fear to see his tech used for evil but also to effectively be replaced by the younger generation. To have Stane’s storyline not be resolved with an effective ending started as far back as issue #1 is sort of a letdown.

Now that the negatives are out of the way, I’d like to reflect on where Fraction knocks this issue, and the series as a whole, right out of the park.

Over the four years he’s been writer, he and artist Salvador Larroca have delivered a terrific writer/artist collaboration that has shipped more than 12 issues a year, every year, with no fill-ins. In today’s day and age, that’s almost unheard of. During that time, Larroca has delivered some insanely original visuals featuring tech-based villains like Detroit Steel, the Marauders, and Mandarin’s army. Since these all came from the wicked mind of Fraction, credit where credit is due that this duo will be missed in my monthly pull list.

Fraction also took the lead on making Pepper Potts more than just a hostage/love interest but didn’t fall for the easy trap of just making her “She-Iron Man.” Rescue is an armored hero whose gadgetry is all about, well, rescuing those in danger. No weapons to speak of, just life-saving uses of the repulsor technology. With the way Fraction seems to take her armor off the board at the end of this issue, I hope someone else comes along and says, “No no, that was awesome, let’s do that again.”

You’ll notice I haven’t touched too much on specific instances in the last issue of the series that worked/didn’t work, and again I’ll point out there really isn’t much to see here. It’s an epilogue with a 22-page count. But again, since the series as a whole has been so satisfying, seeing where everyone lands isn’t a poor ending insomuch as it is an ending for the Iron Man we’ve come to love reading. As well, an ending that we can all walk away from if we choose to. And an ending to a series we can remember as one of the most consistently fascinating, well done, and entertaining Marvel has put out.

RATING 8 / 10