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

The Story: Tony continues his battle of wits with Doc Ock while Pepper battles Electro and the Sandman.

The Review: In its second installment, this Doc Ock story-arc continues to be really good, almost surprisingly so.  It’s great writing by Matt Fraction.

Case and point is the dynamic between Tony and Otto.  The dialogue between the two puts forth two completely opposite personalities at odds with one another.  Otto is bitter, stoic, and sullen while Tony is his witty, charming self and the resulting verbal duel is quite a lot of fun.  Naturally, Tony talks far more than Otto and is obviously the smarter and quicker of the two, yet Otto is, quite simply, a wall.  Tony may continually seem to be scheming, always one step ahead of Doc Ock, but Otto remains inscrutable and impassable.  Where dialogue is concerned, Tony is lots of flash while Otto is a blunt force object.  It’s a wonderful duel of wits where while Tony should win, Otto prove immovable and fickle.  Indeed, this struggle is much akin to the real battle for Tony to cure Otto, with the dialogue being representative of the stubborn nature of this quandary.  Essentially, Fraction writes dialogue between two characters that, in many ways, has a dynamic that is symbolic of the narrative’s conflict itself.  Tony can be super-smart and try a million things, but he just can’t get past Octavius, whether it be his villainous plans or his physical trauma.

That said, were the entire issue just this intellectual battle between Doc Ock and Stark, I can imagine a whole lot of grumpy Iron Man fans reiterating their complaints regarding Fraction’s book being to slow and/or talky.  Thankfully, Fraction expertly paces this comic by having the focus shift repeatedly between Stark/Doc Ock and Pepper’s battle with Electro and the Sandman.  As usual, seeing Pepper kick ass is always tons of fun.  She’s a hugely sympathetic character and it’s truly enjoyable seeing her whip some bad guy ass.  There’s also a really funny scene in this fight involving Pimacher.  I won’t spoil it, but whoever thought an Electro vs. Pimacher fight would actually be competitive?

Beyond that, the art is, as always, really strong.  I continue to love Salvador Larroca’s take on Doc Ock.  I’ve really been digging the characters’ redesign, but Larroca’s style lends it a creepy realism and an enhanced focus on its sci-fi elements.  Larroca’s work on Doc Ock’s eyes is also magnificent, making the character look malevolent and always, always calculating.

If there’s one complaint, it’s that I did find Tony’s means of suiting up (sort of) a bit of a lame duck.  I guess, from an Iron Man tech perspective, it’s kind of cool, but from a narrative standpoint, it does feel like a bit of a cheat, even if it isn’t one that leads to a full-powered Iron Man.

Conclusion: Something for everyone.  You get the talky battle of wits and the Pepper Potts action scenes.  Invincible Iron Man readers are going to have to get especially grumbly to find major fault with this one.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans