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

The Story: Tony fights to disarm Doc Ock’s bomb while Pepper goes for another round with Sandman and Electro.

The Review: I think it’s issues like this that make people aggravated about event tie-ins.  Looking at the cover of this issue, you’d think Fraction had postponed the conclusion of his Doc Ock arc altogether, going for the tie-in straightaway.  Thankfully, that isn’t the case, with Fear Itself only being introduced as the next storyline in the issue’s final few pages.

Unfortunately, that most likely mandated prologue makes this Doc Ock arc feel rushed in its conclusion, as Fraction seeks to tie up this story as quickly as possible in order to move on to Fear Itself ASAP.  It’s a damned shame, given how solid this arc has been.  This rushed feeling permeates the issue.  Pepper’s fight with Electro and Sandman is shockingly brief this month, with the baddies putting up no fight whatsoever.  Meanwhile, with respect to Doc Ock’s bomb, Fraction goes for the oldest and most predictable twist possible.  Given how much I’ve been enjoying the duel between Otto and Stark, that Fraction would resort to such a tired trick, and then act as though it’s clever, was more than a little disappointing.   Then there’s an image of Tony breaking Otto’s neck, but this is never addressed or referenced.

And all this is sped through in this manner to lead into Fear Itself through an event that is so conveniently timed as to feel utterly forced.  Ugh.

It’s sad really, given that there is a lot to like here, were it not for the big event gumming things up.  For instance, Doc Ock’s getting Tony to beg and call him “master” was a lot of fun, and this being his entire motivation for this scheme was crazy goodness.  I loved seeing Doc Ock gloating, rewinding and re-watching Tony’s begging again and again, treating the video as though it were internet porn.  Also, while the pacing was off, I did like how Fraction ended this plot, with a whimper and not a bang.  There’s no conclusive end of Doc Ock here, no huge battle, and no Otto walking away in handcuffs or lying unconscious.  While this particular conflict and situation are fully resolved, Fraction leaves the story feeling a little more open-ended and hence, less run-of-the-mill.  In fact, seeing Otto simply leave after getting his video of Tony (for his own personal enjoyment) just adds to the demented nature of the character.

There’s also some solid and surprising work done with Cababa and Pimacher.  These two are really coming along as likable characters and there are some nice developments regarding the two this month.

And hey, get a totally random, unrelated back-up Howard Stark story by Fraction and Howard Chaykin.  It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s fun enough to be a nice little add-on to make that four-dollar price tag a little less painful.

Conclusion: A decent issue, but one that was held back by having Fear Itself shoehorned into it.

Grade: C+

-Alex Evans