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

The Story: “Paris is a nightmare.  It’s…it’s biblical, Pep.”

The Review: A lot of comic readers resent event tie-in issues.  I think a large part of this often-merited resentment has to do with the fact that they often derail a writer from telling the stories he/she was telling up to that point.  The end result is a bunch of issues that often come at an awkwardly timed moment and feel like a multi-month digression.  The fact that with this issue, Matt Fraction manages to acknowledge and, in some respects, even resolve past plot elements is cause for goodwill from Invincible Iron Man readers and also leads to a comic experience that feels more natural and organic.

The haunting locale of Paris is a bit more in the background this month; while it’s still very hauntingly and noticeably empty, it’s firmly in the backseat to all the giant-sized action.  For what it’s worth, this is Iron Man-styled action that readers expect from an Iron Man book.  That is, Iron Man battling big, powerful foes and taking a whole bunch of punishment.  It’s a lot of fun to read and Salvador Larroca acquits himself quite well.

The real treat, however, comes in a surprise appearance by a character from earlier issues in Fraction’s run.  It’s no throwaway cameo either.  Rather, it’s a highly entertaining shocker and one that ultimately ties up something of a lose end that Fraction’s left behind.  It’s a wonderful moment, as Fraction ends up giving us an event tie-in issue that doesn’t just throw his main cast into the environs of Fear Itself, but also the series itself with some its past baggage.  You’d think more writers would understand this:  a series tie-in is meant to bring a series into an event, not just a few characters.  Ultimately, this was really cool.

I also appreciated Fraction’s little scenes of dialogue among Pepper, Cabe, and the various employees of Stark Resilient, instead of just giving us Tony battling Grey Gargoyle for 22 pages.  Again, it grounds Fear Itself into the series itself, not washing over past events in the series or calling a complete halt to everything in the wake of the big event.  More than that, Cabe looks to be a solid addition to the cast.  Her dynamic with Pepper is already showing promises of nuance and sincerity and Larroca does a fantastic and somewhat eerie job in making the two women look different from one another, but also uncomfortably similar.

Then there’s that last page, which for long-time fans of Tony, is very ominous indeed.

If there is anything at all negative this month, it’s that this issue does create some bizarre pacing as far as this arc as a whole is concerned.  That it ends with Tony flying back to HQ, only to fly back out again (presumably for round 2 with Grey Gargoyle) feels a little strange.  I think it’s due to Fraction’s not wanting to totally divorce Tony from the rest of the cast, but it just seems strange.  If anything, regardless of that last page, this issue felt like the final issue of a two-parter, albeit one with an open “Empire Strikes Back” sort of ending.    Yet, of course, even this wouldn’t quite work, as Tony resigning to having Grey Gargoyle stomp around out there interminably also feels wrong.

Conclusion: Pacing issues aside, this was really solid as far as tie-ins go, with a balanced model that I wish more writers would use when writing these sorts of issues.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans