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

The Story: Tony rallies his very scant troops against the Mandarin, JARVIS goes nuts, and just where exactly is Justine Hammer?

The Review: Fraction and Larroca’s Invincible Iron Man continues to rocket to it’s conclusion and I continue to enjoy the ride quite a bit.

Without a doubt, the Stark/Stane relationship has really begun to live up to its potential.  I love the dynamic of camaraderie between these two former bitter enemies and rivals.  It’s absolutely brilliant stuff by Fraction, as Stane essentially takes Tony back to working as he did in his youth, under the gun and in less than ideal circumstances.  There’s a fantastic scene in which Stane helps Stark get in touch with the rawer side of his art, the side that recalls his days working in caves to survive.  It’s also a sort of “welcome to my world” moment by Stane, showing Stark what it is to work outside the lab in the gritty, DIY fashion that he may have lost touch with.  It’s a great moment and a highlight of the issue.

We also get a little more of Mandarin this month.  The ominous voices in his head that he seems to be taking direction from remain items of intrigue.  However, much as he did a couple of months ago, Fraction also has Mandarin go completely nuts this month.  Suffice it to say, crazy, enraged Mandarin is scary stuff and, as such, an absolute joy to read.  Mandarin has been all about that cool, professional, measured surface of villainy so seeing him lose control like this is a real treat, as we see the frothing animal that lurks beneath the surface.

Unfortunately, when things leave Mandarin City, things are decidedly less interesting.  Quite frankly, I feel that I can honestly say that I’ve become a little bored with the whole “Rhodey secretly acting as Iron Man” sub-plot.  It just hasn’t been going anywhere and Rhodey really hasn’t been doing anything of significance.  Thus, it’s pretty hard to care, particularly given the awesomeness of the goings-on in Mandarin City.  Also, Justine Hammer’s new role this month makes zero sense.  Her sudden position of power in the US military directly is very poorly explained and, given the military’s strict chain of command and such, it really beggars belief.

On the plus side, I did enjoy crazy JARVIS who was definitely very, very creepy and, well, crazy.  I’m glad Fraction didn’t swerve like I thought he would after last month’s ending.  Nope, it seems JARVIS really has lost it.  Yes, the whole thing is a little random and a little abbreviated, but Fraction’s rights JARVIS in such a disturbing and genuinely unnerving fashion that it more than makes up for it.

As far as the art goes, I’ve always marveled at Larroca’s consistency and insane work-rate.  That said, for the first time in a while, I can honestly say that I did feel that he slipped a bit in a few panels on this issue, which felt a little rougher than what we usually get from him.  This is, of course, a matter of  inches.

One thing Fraction’s series has been great at more often than not was ending each issue on a high-note that leaves you wanting the next issue.  Last issue sort of lacked that, but that definitely isn’t the case this time around.  The last page has the troops assembled for an epic team up of Iron Man and a handful of his rogues and the visual alone is just awesome.  It’s the sort of page that inevitably gives rise to fanboy glee.

Conclusion: Some parts work better than others but at this point, Fraction and Larroca’s Invincible Iron Man can do little wrong.

Grade: B

– Alex Evans