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

The Story: Ghost makes his move and the gang brings in some outside help.

What’s Good: Stark Disassembled continues not to disappoint.

For the second month in a row, the scenes in Tony’s mind have improved.  Tony’s new surroundings make him seem a little more pitiful and hence, it’s easier to empathize with him.  We’ve gone from the admittedly same desert and that cycle of repetition to a claustrophobic, indoor, nighttime environment.  The darkness and smaller surroundings add a greater sense of desperation and intimacy.  The changes with respect to those weird robot enemies only enhances this shift in tone; instead of giant, “War of the Worlds” styled walkers, they’re now human sized, going from house to house and hunting in packs.  This new robo-Gestapo makes Stark’s situation feel tighter and more personal.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the comic succeeds on the continuing strength of the bonds between its supporting characters.  Tied together in desperation and danger, they truly feel like a group of friends, and so it’s hard not to root for Pepper, Maria, and company.  Meanwhile, Pepper feels much more realistic and true to character this month, with Fraction’s having abandoned her bizarre jealousy/irritation/whatever over Tony.  She’s back to her good old loving, stressed self.

As an added bonus, Fraction also has this funny little ongoing joke where sooner, now attached to Tony’s party, keeps relating her new circumstances to the soap operas she normally devours on television.  Seeing her gasping expressions in backgrounds of panels during significant developments, or her seeing an odd resemblance between Dr. Lisk and the hero of her favourite show is a lot of fun in a “truth/fiction” sort of way.

Meanwhile, Larroca puts out really enjoyable work this month.  The contrast between the clear real-world scenes and the murkier “mental” scenes is well-done.  Meanwhile, Larroca’s new manhunting robots and his take on Ghost are truly outstanding.  The robots are legitimately creepy, a good mix of old, campy and slick, modern sci-fi, while Larroca’s Ghost may be the best Ghost I’ve ever seen.  Then there are the illustrations of Dr. Strange’s powers, which are simply breathtaking.

What’s Not So Good: This issue does sort of suffer from “middle of an arc” syndrome.  While it’s not to the point of feeling like a chapter in a trade, the fact remains that the issue doesn’t really do anything conclusive occur.

I think part of that might be due to last month’s operation failing.  It just feels a little cheap.  Beyond his need to fill pages, why even have that whole, convoluted operation if it’s only going to have no effect to speak of?  And if this month centers around the operation’s failure, why is there no explanation provided?

And when they call in Dr. Strange to go into Stark’s mind and pull him out, well, it’ll really have you wondering what the point of it all was.  If Strange was the solution this whole time, why didn’t they go to him first?  Certainly it’s simpler and more direct than the complexities depicted last month.

Sadly, that’s not the only corner-cutting on Fraction’s part. Despite the situation, Bucky, Rhodey, Thor, and Black Widow just….leave.  Because Fraction needs them to, and like the failure of the operation, there’s no explanation for it.  There’s just a single word bubble telling you that they’ve left.  Why now?  Fraction owes us a little more than that.   Hell, even a fast mention of Siege would’ve worked.

Conclusion: It may not blow your socks off, but it maintains the series’ high standard.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans