Almost without warning, Fraction’s Iron Man has snuck up to become one of the comics I look forward to reading the most each month. Not that it didn’t start well, of course, but it exudes an increasing sense of being one of those reliably classy – and yet highly inventive – superhero titles of the sort usually peddled by… well, by Ellis and Morrison, frankly. Its biggest success has been in turning Tony Stark into a character you’d actually want to read about – instead of the stuck-up government lackey of the Civil War
years (something that already feels a lot longer ago than it actually is). As Julian pointed out last month, this wasn’t actually done with any real sense of transformation – but simply by dropping in the movie version (and, by extension, a far older comics incarnation – hey, it’s Brand New Day!) of Tony Stark. Where we differ, though, is that I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with this approach.
I can entirely understand how, for someone more rooted in recent Marvel continuity, this is frustrating – almost as frustrating as DC’s “one hand not knowing what the other’s doing” approach to anything Grant Morrison attempts to bring about – but to a reader who’s barely had any interest whatsoever in Iron Man as a character, and even less of the stuff during all that Registration palaver, it suits me fine. I’m happy to let Fraction reposition Stark as a hero, and set up Norman Osborn as the title’s main villain (as slightly disconcerting as that is, but my issues over him essentially becoming Marvel’s version of Lex Luthor ten years ago aren’t solely restricted to this book), so long as the stories are good. And so far, they are. Having essentially done what is known in the trade as “ballsing everything up entirely”, this is a Stark that’s keen to make amends – and it’s something that returns him to the roots of his character, stretching the limits of his technology and his genius to try and right earlier wrongs. Restoring Pepper Potts to main character status, meanwhile – another debt owed to the movie – has given the book one of the most compelling male-female character dynamics in comics at the moment, and made for some truly engaging moments.
Of course, Iron Man – moreso than perhaps any other Marvel title – is a series that demands to be driven by big ideas, while Fraction has shown throughout his career so far that he has those in abundance – so it’s pretty much a perfect fit, and he’s clearly enjoying playing with them. He’s rather cheeky in jettisoning the Ellis “Extremis” concept while simultaneously giving it a last hurrah – but you have to admit that the idea of Tony being able to essentially reformat his brain almost feels like the logical conclusion of just about every line of thinking about the interaction between him and the suit (if a touch familiar to those of us who remember the Red Dwarf episode “Bodyswap”). It’s also a nice spin on the classic “heroic sacrifice” (even the closing pages make clear that it’s not going to turn out to be quite so suicidal as initially seems), and one that could pretty much only be done with this particular character. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a situation with which it’s been surprisingly easy to engage emotionally – and as someone who happily voted for Stark as “Best Villain” in the Eagle Awards a couple of years ago, I can honestly say that’s no mean feat.