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

The Story: Tony Stark is imprisoned as slave labour for the Mandarin; Rhodey continues his adventures as the mysterious new Iron Man; Resilient delivers a wicked Power Point presentation.

The Review: First thing to get off my chest:  how does Salvador Larroca do it?  Seriously, the man has drawn every single issue of Fraction’s run on the book.  Now, with Marvel’s, in my opinion lamentable, double-shipping policy that has seen Invincible Iron Man basically become a bi-weekly title, Larroca somehow STILL manages to draw every single issue without any form of assistance or relief.  Not only that, but his work remains ridiculously consistent regardless.  I’m starting to wonder if “Salvador Larroca” is actually a pseudonym for an entire art studio.  For one man to pump out art of this quality and consistency with such speed is utter insanity.  Larroca must have decided, with the advent of double-shipping, to give up sleep in favour of 16 hour work days.

The story Fraction gives us, as has been the case for some time now, is very strong.  He gives us a Tony Stark, trapped almost powerless in dire circumstances, who shows true heroism.  It’s not just about flying around punching and blasting stuff.  Rather, Fraction’s Stark almost goes New Testament on us here, showing care and compassion for villains that tried to kill him three seconds ago.  The result is a very human Stark who shows a different side of Tony, or rather, emphasizes and manifests the empathy and goodness latent in Tony, things not always readily apparent amidst all the roguish bluster and smart-mouthed arrogance.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the new relationship Fraction has Tony take up with Ezekiel Stane, former sworn enemy, mass-murderer, and terrorist.  While technically they are co-workers, Stane has been reduced to a seemingly brain-damaged shell of himself by the Mandarin.  There’s something extremely touching in seeing Tony take care of the devastated Stane, almost acting like a big brother, even helping Zeke eat his food at one point.  Fraction does two things here:  he makes Tony all the more admirable and humane in having him show something that approaches love to someone who has, in the past, hurt him so much and, at the same time, Ezekiel Stane of all people is a character that it is impossible not to feel a little bad for, in spite of everything.

For what it’s worth, I also really enjoyed Resilient’s presentation.  Fraction’s imaginary super-science and tech are always loads of fun and imagination and that’s really on display here.  It’s also pretty funny drawing parallels between Resilient and Apple, particularly given the presentation format and Wyche’s dressing like Steve Jobs.  The tech was neat and this little wink to the reader was a nice touch.

If there’s a downside to this issue, it’s that in leaping 6 months into the future from the last issue, some things are a bit jarring.  How did Tony end up in Mandarin City (granted, we can figure it out given the last page of the last issue, but still)? Who did Cababa go on a date with such that it’s such a big deal to his co-workers?  Why exactly is Babbage considering suicide (again, I can surmise a bit, but more development would have been nice)?  Again, this is sort of the game Fraction is forced to play in making this time-jump, as we are basically forced, with this issue, to jump in the middle of things.  This also means that, for all its strengths, this issue seems more devoted to establishing the status quo and setting the scene than establishing and progressing a central narrative.

Conclusion: I love where Fraction is going with Tony in this arc and can’t wait to see what’s in store.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans