Tony Stark faces off against Ezekiel Stane and Norman Osborn in Iron Man by Fraction & Larroca: The Complete Collection Vol. 1. The volume focuses on two stories in its pages – “The Five Nightmares” and “World’s Most Wanted.” One of the greatests strengths is the volume’s focus and consistency. The creative team for the entire volume is as follows: writer Matt Fraction, artist Salvador Larroca, color artist Frank D’Amarta, and letterers Chris Eliopoulos and Joe Caramagna. Color artist Stéphane Peru provides some work in the first issue, but beyond that there are no guest artists or guest writers, no fill-in issues or shifts in the creative team. For a modern superhero comic, that’s a pretty big success in its own right.
That doesn’t mean that the larger Marvel Universe isn’t felt in the volume, however. In fact, one of the volume’s biggest drawbacks is a massive shift in the status quo between the two stories. “The Five Nightmares” begins and ends with Tony Stark as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., but “World’s Most Wanted” opens with Tony Stark no longer holding that title, forced to hand over that mantle to Norman Osborn. A brief two paragraph summary of the events of the “Secret Invasion” event and the “Dark Reign” status quo helps to set the stage before “World’s Most Wanted” begins, but unless you have a more in-depth understanding of this era of the Marvel Universe, this shift is likely to be disorienting.
Matt Fraction’s strong characterizations make up for this lack of plot. His Osborn is someone who laughs, “A-heh. A-heh heh.” Stark is a man who can save the world and work science, but can’t seem to help himself from checking out Victoria Hand or making a joke about his “dream girls” when helping Pepper adjust to EXTREMIS. Ezekiel Stane is a gleefully fun antagonist; his embracing of his role as villain serves as a nice mirror to Stark’s own brazen behavior.
The artwork by Salvador Larroca and Frank D’Armata is impressive in its realism. The Iron Man suits, unlike so many artists from prior years, look and feel like heavy pieces of machinery – even the older suits that appear in the back half of the volume. Larroca’s non-suited figures are equally well realized. Larroca has a brilliant way of tweaking a facial expression in conversation so that these static images feel alive.
D’Armata’s color palette has a grungy feel that really works well the tone the book is striking. The use of gray, not just in the backgrounds, but on the human figures themselves, gives the illusion that everything has been cast in iron. When you look at the book, you know what you’re getting into.
What doesn’t work quite so well are the action scenes. Mostly eschewing traditional motion lines, Larroca opts to use a motion-blur effect to convey motion and speed. While this does help maintain the sense of realism the book is going for, it also adds a stiffness to the action scenes, as if we’re looking at still photography.
Is It Good?
Thrilling, with electric characters, Iron Man by Fraction & Larroca: The Complete Collection Vol. 1 is a dynamic entry point for ol’ Shellhead. This run began as Robert Downey Jr.’s take premiered in 2008’s Iron Man, and the first story in this volume warmly welcomes viewers entering from that experience. That being said, Marvel’s larger publishing plans do hinder this volume a bit, with the Dark Reign shift seemingly coming out of nowhere with little context. That bump aside, Matt Fraction, Salvador Larroca, and Frank D’Armata have crafted a pair of brilliant stories, with a cliffhanger that will leave readers desperate for Volume 2.