by Matt Fraction (writer), Salvador Larroca (art), Frank D’Armata (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: The surgery to restore Tony Stark takes place.

What’s Good: The strange desert scenes within Tony’s mind were my high point in this month’s issue.  Last issue, I found these scenes a little too weird and obscure, but this month the meaning and moral lesson are said overtly and are more resonant as a result.  Despite this, the feeling of strangeness and repetition are maintained.  Essentially, Fraction walks the line between weird and meaningful quite a bit better this month, despite these scenes actually having fewer pages.

Much of this issue reads like a “step by step” instructional on how to revive Tony, and it really is fairly cool in this regard.  It’s almost a narrated montage, as we see various heroes following Stark’s recorded manual.  You really get the feel of our assembled party putting Stark back together piece by piece, moving forward one careful step at a time.   It helps that Fraction has always been great when it comes to writing Stark and his voice remains strong and, at times, humorous and the operation is just the right mixture of medical science and ridiculous superheroics.

Beyond that, Pepper’s strange dissent last issue on reviving Tony is fleshed out a little this month.  While her reasoning still seems a bit stretched, the fact she herself recognizes this does help.  While some might say that Pepper’s explaining this through writing a letter, presented on page, is a bit clichéd, Fraction manages to make it work through including Pepper’s bevy of crossouts in the narrative captions, which helps to show Pepper’s state of mind through an authorial tool that is usually guilty of purely telling.

Larroca generally puts in a much stronger performance than he did last month.  The faces are much more acceptable, the desert scenes remain gorgeous, and there’s one particular Thor spread that is simply awesome.

What’s Not So Good: There’s absolutely no action whatsoever this month.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when this is coupled with that “step-by-step” issue structure I mentioned above, the book does feel a little more stilted than it has to.  The book’s just a bit on the static side and it admittedly does drag at times.  I just wish that there was a little more excitement in this book or that it was a little more dynamic, especially given its circumstances.

Furthermore, I’m still not sure that I buy Ghost as a major threat right now.  Fraction gives him something of a power upgrade this month, but I’m still not feeling it.  Of all the enemies Fraction could’ve chosen to throw at Tony, he throws a single C-list Thunderbolt against Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Maria Hill, and two other big superheroes?  Covert or not, it’s unimpressive.

Finally, though it’s not really any fault of Fraction’s and really more a matter of Marvel editorial, those two superhero arrivals, one in particular, feel very, very wonky continuity-wise.  One of these superheroes’ appearance really is out of left field, and even a little underwhelming, thanks to delays having hamstrung his own series.

Conclusion: Enjoyable for what it is, but admittedly a bit on the drier side.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans