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

The Story: Tony Stark comes clean to his employees before finding himself in a fight for his life against the Living Laser.

The Review: After the underwhelming Fear Itself, it seems that Matt Fraction is fast replacing Bendis as the new whipping boy for vocal internet comics fans.  What said readers seem to gloss over is that Invincible Iron Man is still a really strong comic and that Fraction has an incredible grasp of Tony Stark’s voice and personality.

While it has been a rather slow year for the book, what we get this month is a bit of everything that makes this series great.  For starters, the character work is superb.  As always, Fraction’s knack for Tony’s gift of understatement and wit really animates what otherwise could’ve been an extended scene of talking heads.

More impressive, however, is Fraction’s writing of the tense relationship between Potts and Cabe.  It’s quite nuanced and has a good amount of emotion and subtlety.  However, what will definitely grab the attention this month is the absolute BOMBSHELL that Cabe drops on Pepper.  It’s a big reveal that makes for a gripping conversation between the two and serves as a foundation for a very interesting dynamic between the two characters.  It also serves to humble Pepper a bit, while also showing her to not be quite so squeaky-clean herself.  It’s really great stuff.

One of the main areas of criticism that Fraction has had this year with respect to this series has been the relatively slower pace as far as narrative progression.  Not so this month, as a lot of stuff happened, certainly enough to make you feel you got your money’s worth.  Along with that big reveal and the character-work, there’s also a healthy amount of Iron Man action scenes.  Frankly, I love seeing Fraction use some older villains.  This month, we get the Living Laser and Spymaster to go along with Mandarin.

And as far as the overall plot goes, aside from that big reveal, there’s also  a really cool little tease involving Stark Resilient’s mole.  Suffice it to say, it’s worse than we thought and it’ll leave you REALLY wondering who isn’t who they say they are.  It’s the sort of tease that accomplishes exactly what teases are meant to do: it has you begging to know more.

On the art front, Larroca does a great job with the action sequences, but as usual, it’s the subtleties of his work that impresses.  The emotions on his characters’ faces are excellent, particularly in the scenes with Pepper.  I’m always surprised whenever Larroca manages to shine in these quieter moments, as his is not a style that I’d normally expect to excel in these areas, and yet he passes with flying colors.

Really, the only downside this month is Frank D’Armata’s colors.  I’m not sure what’s going on, but there are several portions where the colors looked a lot more faded/washed out than normal.  The first two pages are so washed out, that it might almost pass as a flashback sequence.  Not sure what went wrong here.

Conclusion:  He may not have shown it in Fear Itself, but Matt Fraction is an excellent writer.  I’ll have to double-check my longbox, but I think this may have been the best issue of Invincible Iron Man to come out this year.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans