By Matt Fraction (Writer), Salvador Larroca (Art), and Frank D’Armata (Colors)

Some Thoughts Before The Review: I’ll admit that I was a bit worried that the excellent Invincible Iron Man series would lose a bit of it’s flavor now that it’s a major part of Marvel’s Dark Reign. However, all doubts were quickly laid to rest upon reading the first issue to tie into Dark Reign. I was glad to find that the strong character work remained and that the series remained loaded with potential.

The Story: With his brain now acting like an extremely advanced external hard-drive (thanks to the “Extremis” tech) and housing pretty much every bit of information Norman Osborn would like to have Tony Stark’s plans to erase the contents of his brain. With the help of Maria Hill and Pepper Potts, big changes are in store for Stark the man and company name. Meanwhile, Norman Osborn begins his plan to label Tony and his friends the most wanted people in the world with the help of H.A.M.M.E.R. and a helpful media.

What’s Good: Turns out, the Dark Reign story might actually end up being even stronger than “The Five Nightmares,” and that’s no small feat. I mean nearly everything in Invincible Iron Man #9 is a high point. For starters, the high-concept, high tension plot is ripe with potential for a character that has pretty much hit absolute rock bottom. In addition, Matt Fraction elevates the supporting cast to new heights with some great stuff written for Mariah Hill, Pepper Potts, and, in particular Norman Osborn. That’s not to say the title character takes a back seat. Far from it. In fact, I would go as far as to say this might be the best issue for Tony Stark as a person (and super-genius) yet.

What’s Not So Good: One thing for sure that isn’t a high point is Salvador Larroca’s artwork. Sure his take on Iron Man looks pretty great, but it can’t make up for the fact that his facial work looks borderline awful at times. And in an issue that’s almost entirely devoid of the iconic suit, it almost drags the whole effort down. Maybe Larocca should have sat on the sidelines for this arc.I can only handle so many ugly, bloated looking people in one comic.

Conclusion: Comics don’t get much better than Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man series. The character work is outstanding and the storyline rocks. The latest issue is no exception. Pick it up.

Grade: A-

-Kyle Posluszny

A Second Opinion

The Story: It’s part two of “World’s Most Wanted,” and to say Tony Stark has fallen on hard times would be a severe understatement.  Stripped of his leadership of the Mighty Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D., Stark now finds himself fighting a losing battle with Norman Osborn, who is determined to possess everything Stark once held dear.  However, Tony has one last ace up his sleeve. The sole database housing the secret identities of every registered hero now resides in his head.  Norman wants the database, and will kill to acquire it.  Tony knows this full well, and is willing to destroy his own mind to keep Osborn from getting it.

The Good: This is shaping up to be an amazing story, possibly even better than the opening storyline of the series!  In true dramatic form, Stark has gone from enjoying unparalled power to now being a fugitive on the run, and I’m excited to see where this storyline will take him.  Fraction and Larroca took Bendis’ ridiculous premise and are turning it into another story worth reading, but I should have expected as much from them.  I especially enjoyed the sense of peril and suspense they created here, the feeling that Osborn’s reign of terror is actually the greatest threat they faced yet.  This story was incredibly well-balanced, skillfully and stylistically blending the tender moment between Tony and Pepper, Maria’s dramatic capture and escape, and Osborn’s psychotic villainy.

The Not So Good: Honestly?  Nothing.  No joke.  Well, okay, maybe the cover design is a little lame, but if you judge this comic solely on its cover, you’re missing a treat here.

Conclusion: From Fraction’s writing, through Larocca’s art, and on down to D’Armata’s lush colors, these guys have crafted yet another story that has all the feel of a summer blockbuster movie.  Whether you pick this up in individual issues or wait for the graphic novel, you won’t be disappointed.

Grade: A-

-Tony Rakittke