Monday, March 8, 2010

Review - Invincible Iron Man

Invincible Iron Man
Written by Matt Fraction; Art by Salvador Larocca
2009 Eisner Winner for Best New Series

Despite being a life long superhero buff I've never liked Iron Man. I haven't liked the series, I haven't liked the character, and I even didn't like the movie. Iron Man tends to raise a lot of ethical questions that the creators just dodge and that leaves me feeling uneasy. They also tend to tie it to current technological trends which often feel dated very quickly. So I ignored Fraction and Larocca's recent restart of the series. Other people have tried and failed to get me interested in Iron Man and recent stories had reduced the character from one I didn't care about to one I actively despised. And still somehow they won me over. I still have all of my problems with Iron Man but I'm interested in seeing where they take things next.

The superhero Iron Man (for those not familiar with the comic or the movie) is industrialist, weapons manufacturer, and billionaire playboy Tony Stark whose good life was disrupted when he was severely injured during a field test of a weapon system. He was captured by the enemy who wanted him to work on weapons for them (they're North Vietnamese in the original and middle eastern in modern revamps). Instead he adapts the salvaged equipment to a device that keeps his heart beating and drives a suit of powered armor. Once he gets back to the U.S. he uses that suit to fight crime.

Which brings us to this series from Fraction and Larocca. A young tech wiz has worked out how to adapt the Iron Man technology to make human bombs and can do it cheaply. Besides selling that technology to terrorists he wants to destroy Tony Stark's company and stopping him involves punching things a lot.

What made this story effective for me when no other Iron Man story has been is how it depicted the titular character as a control freak. Fraction presents him as an Oppenheimer-esque figure who has let a genie out of a bottle that could kill a lot of people and realized it too late. Only Stark is trying to hold onto it as desperately as he can. It takes the question of "Why doesn't he use this stuff to improve the world?" and presents it as a situation where he doesn't trust anyone other than himself with it. At one point in these first few issues he justifies holding the armor technology back as too expensive at $4 billion dollars which has to mean that either as a defense contractor he doesn't have a clue how much the U.S. government spends on high end hardware or he's just making an excuse. The characterization is surprisingly subtle and I still think it leaves the title character as a jerk but it's an understandable jerk.

Thematically the book is interesting since it is about the proliferation of cheap but dangerous technology. That's a popular concept in SF and a genuine concern as things like nanotech and small scale prototyping become cheap to create and use. Fraction explores this through the current fear of terrorism and its effective because it's a logical extension of the risks.

On the other hand Fraction seems to know enough about technology to throw buzz words around but not enough to use them effectively. As an example the Iron Man armor has Dolby 7.1 in the helmet; the "7.1" means seven speakers positioned around a room and one subwoofer which is a set up that would be completely ineffective inside a helmet since you only have two ears. It's just "Dolby 7.1" equates with "expensive audio set up" to Fraction so he sticks it in there. That's far from the only problem; it's just an obvious one which will also make things seem as quaint and outdated as roller skates built into armor powered by transistors a few years from now.

Salvador Larroca's art has a sleek style that compliments the book well. His technology looks cool which is a major selling point when you're dealing with Iron Man. I'm not as fond of how he draws people; his faces just feel a bit off to me. Still when it's a series about about a guy wearing a suit of power armor punching bad guys that isn't a major problem.

I still don't like Iron Man and if Matt Fraction were to depart from the series I'd probably forget about it immediately. His Invincible Iron Man has me intrigued though. Intrigued enough that I've ordered the omnibus of his run. I want to read more about this Tony Stark who has so much potential and fails to live up to it because of his fears.