Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March Madness - - Decimal Points .2 - - - March 29, 2011

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #500.1  “What It Was Like, What Happened, And What It’s Like Now” Matt Fraction, Writer.  Salvador Larroca, Artist.  Frank D’Armata, Colorist.  VC’s Joe Caramagna, Letterer.

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This was my second favorite of the “Point One” books that I read.  The reason is similar to why I made CAPTAIN AMERICA #615.1 my first pick - - - it gets into the core of the character - - what makes Tony Stark - Tony Stark, and what makes Tony Stark Iron Man  - Tony Stark Iron Man. (No, I’m not stuttering. Read aloud and put more emphasis on the pronunciation when the names are repeated for full impact.) As I read IRON MAN #500.1 I felt like a Roman Catholic priest sitting in the dark cubicle of the confessional and hearing the sins of the church member through the little screen that separates the thin walls of the  booth.  And, true to form and the legend of the original Iron Man, Tony doesn’t take his confessions to a church.  He bares his soul at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.   That is the root of this story.  It’s a great root, thick and meandering with multiple limbs and multiple branches.   Writer Matt Fraction touches on all of them.  It’s a work to be admired.  Nicely done.  Funny, very revealing, and a little sad all at the same time.

Before I get into more detail about how this may be the best story from the pen of Matt Fraction that I’ve read (so far) I should praise the art of Salvador Larroca.  Larroca came to my attention when I was still paying a little more attention to the FANTASTIC FOUR books (although I’ve never been a steady reader of that title - - no particular reason why), and I followed the progress and maturation of his style on various books through the coming years.  I really appreciate the little spin he put on his work on IRON MAN #500.1.  It’s got the Larroca stamp on it but I can’t recall seeing him utilize the multi-panel per page, smaller panel style that he employs here - - and he’s damn good at it.  There is a lot going on in the shadows, lines, expressions and overall depth in these panels.  And for spice, he put a few new touches in place that will remind you just a bit of Moebius.

Back to our story.  I’m less cautious about giving up some details and spoiling the story here than I was in reviewing CAPTAIN AMERICA #615.1.  That’s because you could know exactly what happens in this story before you pick up the book and still enjoy it immensely.  That’s because it’s in the telling of the tale that the magic occurs.  Fraction puts this together perfectly - - the words carefully chosen - -  sometimes almost conveying a different meaning if we were just hearing them (but seeing the images reinforces what Tony is actually talking about)  - - the segues, the pacing - - magnificent!

Now, after all the crap and hardship, the challenges that Fraction has put Tony Stark/Iron Man through he turns to his past and puts his stamp on his personal development and growth.  He’s going to make this book extremely popular with psychology scholars. 

As Fraction tells it, young Tony didn’t know how to act around his fellow students  - - so when dealing with those awkward moments trying to socialize and fit it – he just tried to act like his father did when he socialized - - he partied and drank.  The drinking loosened up his inhibitions enough to give him self-confidence and learn how to cozy up to girls, and then women.  As Tony tells it . . . . “The circuit was – anxiety, booze, women forever.  I’d get overwhelmed by my own powerlessness and the unmanageability of my life and  . . I’d reach for one or the other or both.” 

There’s more (and how telling it is):  “Someone told me once that the age you start drinking is sort of the age you freeze at, developmentally, until you sober up. . . . I buy that.  During the time of life where you’re supposed to be figuring out who you are, how to talk to people, what you want, how to be . . . I was comfortable being plowed, getting girls, and letting people down. . . . . Can’t disappoint anybody if they don’t expect anything from you . . .”  Brilliant !

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But as Tony grew, he matured a bit and found his calling in his work and created a new habit/cycle. Fraction puts exactly the right words into Tony’s narration to make his points: “The work . . . the women . . . gettin’ sauced twenty-four seven . . . I had built myself a shell,  (perfect irony in that choice of word)  and I disappeared inside.  (again, the perfect example).  However, before you think this is getting hopeless - - Tony relates how he changed, and learned to relax and accept his responsibilities and not revert to old habits (well, not all at once anyway). 

You must read this to the last page  or you will miss two real end caps that will make you smile.  One involves a phone call to an old “friend” that I won’t reveal.  The other is a fitting tribute stenciled into the restaurant nameplate in the last panel. 

End result:  While at many instances I have not liked the character (CIVIL WAR comes to mind immediately) I now like Tony Stark more than ever before.  Knowing all his flaws, I accept him for what he is.  He’s conscientious,  and he seeks meaning and purpose.

I think I chose CAPTAIN AMERICA #615.1 as my favorite of the “Point One” books for purely sentimental reasons - - there’s just so much history, etc. behind it that it evoked some warm memories and caused me to really take the story to heart.  Because Fraction really does out-writes Brubaker in IRON MAN #500.1 .  I’m sure that a new reader picking up these two books would choose IRON MAN #500.1 as the better of the two works.   You also have my permission to call it a draw.  Rating:  A+.

2 comments:

  1. This is by far my favorite of the "point ones" I've read so far, and every issue of Fraction's Iron Man since has been better than the last. As usual, Mike, great job at articulating what makes it tick.

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  2. Thanks for the complimentary feedback. I've also got a smaller stockpile of Iron Man trades starting with the "Wanted" storyline. Sigh. It seems I can never catch up.

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