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

The Story: As the Mandarin’s circle tightens around Tony, Hammer and General Babbage give Tony an offer he can’t refuse.  Hint: it really sucks.

The Review: Invincible Iron Man, post-Fear Itself, has experienced a renaissance and it has not been this good since World’s Most Wanted.  A lot of people wrote this series off when it got a little slow after World’s Most Wanted but, I need to emphasize, the series has experienced a true return to form.  It’s full of Tony being Tony, Iron Man action scenes, excitement, and intrigue.

Part of this might be due to the fact that, as was the case in Fraction’s first two arcs, Invincible Iron Man works best when Tony is trapped and truly in dire circumstances, hopelessly assailed from all sides, forced to find a solution through his intellect and wits alone, all the while dragging his friends through hell right alongside him.  This is more or less the situation this series finds itself in again and, as a result, the book has never been more compelling and exciting of a read.

I absolutely love Fraction’s bad-guy team up.  It makes Tony seem so much more buried and so much more desperate, outgunned, and trapped.  Fraction really gives off the sense of the bad guys being two steps ahead of Tony, whether on the superhero battlefield or in the Stark boardroom, and this leaves him looking especially vulnerable.  And hey, who doesn’t love super-villain team-ups?  Seeing all these classic Iron Man villains show up, revitalized, is a nostalgia trip and a great use of forgotten characters and I love seeing Tony struggle with the numbers so not in his favour.  It creates a great big hole for Tony dig himself out of.

More than that though, with Mandarin moving the pawns and Hammer and Babbage blackmailing him, Fraction does a great job of showing this struggle as being one great big game with the highest stakes.  Advantages are gained and lost and it’s all about one party predicting the actions of the other.  It’s about each side trying to control how future events play out in order to entrap one another.  It’s one big game of wits and it’s gripping and engaging to read.

Fraction makes especially great use of this towards the end, where he shows Stark and Rhodey making plans off-panel, so we the reader don’t know what his planned moves on the board are and the extent to which he has planned for the moves the enemy makes that occur at the end of the issue.  We’re left dying to know what bombshell he has prepared for the Mandarin and co, which is a great segue to next month’s issue.

Despite all this talk of desperate games and such, there are also laughs to be had.  There is an absolutely GREAT scene early on in the issue of Tony being Tony, that is, being as much of a douche as possible.  Suffice it to say, you’ll get a real kick out of the manner in which he hands over the evidence of his suit’s readings to the government.  It’s sure to make any reader grin ear-to-ear.

Conclusion: A great battle, or game, of wits that intensifies with each issue.  A fantastic read, this issue only continues a trend that sees this arc get better with every month.  This is a real return to form for Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans