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

The Story: Tony makes a deal with Odin that finds him playing Snow White.

What’s Good: While I was fairly positive of it in my review in Fear Itself, I’ve become somewhat divided on Tony sacrificing his sobriety to Odin.  On the one hand, it seems sort of cheesy.  It also seems unbelievable that after one night off the wagon, Tony’ll be back to his hard-drinking ways.  That said, while I have mixed feelings about this stunt in general, I can’t argue with Matt Fraction’s subsequent portrayal of Tony this month and the accompanying, drunken dialogue.

On the one hand, there’s no denying that drunken Tony is pretty funny to watch.  Sure, there’s a constant lingering sense that we shouldn’t be laughing, but it’s hard not to smile at Tony’s drunken buffoonery and certainly, Fraction writes a nice, happy drunk.  However, it’s not that simple.  Later in the issue, we see suggestions of the nastier side of drunken Tony and all the good-humoured guffaws end up taking a more ominous tone.  It’s nothing overly heavy, but that little hint of darkness is a nice touch.  Fraction is riding a line here and doing it well.  He’s not allowing drunk Tony to become a comedy act, nor is he yelling outright that the sky is falling.

It’s also a good month for Pepper Potts, as she suits up to do her part.  Of course, once again, Fraction has Pepper questioning just what that part is and whether or not she really is a superhero, or whether she even wants to be one.  I’ve always enjoyed this part of Pepper in Fraction’s comic, as she really does occupy a kind of liminal position.  She has a super-powered Stark-powered suit, but she’s a far cry from being an Avenger or anything like that.  Yet certainly, she is capable of heroism.  It’s always great to watch, and that’s no different here.  Her vulnerability and self-doubt are well-balanced with her sense of responsibility.

We also get to see Hammer sending a squad of suited up goons to the barren wastelands of Paris.  Again, Fraction makes great use of this haunted environment and there are strong hints of sci-fi horror here, with the group of heavily armoured soldiers lingering somewhere between hunted and hunter, shooting at the tiniest thing.  It’s a familiar scene, but one that almost always works.

What’s Not So Good: Tony enlists the aid of a large group of dwarven weaponsmiths this month and unfortunately, I hated what he did with their dialogue.  Fraction thought it’d be funny to have them be potty-mouthed to the maximum, but substituting the usual curse-word symbols with those kooky Asgardian rune symbols that the Worthy have been speaking in.

It’s moderately humorous at first, but Fraction kills the joke dead by overdoing and continuing it through the entire issue.  The dwarves’ dialogue becomes an absolute chore to read, as they’re all completely filled with these censored curse words, long after the joke of the runic symbols and their profanity has worn out.  Hell, it wasn’t even that funny to begin with, being a bit juvenile from the get-go.

Worse still, Larroca seems at a loss on how to draw these foul-mouthed dwarves.  They’ll often be bellowing profanity-laced rants, only to see Larroca drawing them looking completely calm to the point of being lackadaisical.   The emotion, or lack thereof, the dwarves’ faces simply do not match the tone of their dialogue.

Conclusion: One failed joke, even if it drags on through the whole issue, isn’t quite enough to snuff out strong character work.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans