After a strong start, Matt Fraction’s Iron Man has lost some of its momentum. The problem appears to lie in a rather unusual place. It’s not the dialogue, plot or set pieces what are letting the book down. What we’re witnessing here is that rarest of animals- a failure of structuring.
Despite last issue’s rousing cliff-hanger as the three leads headed their separate ways in a bid to escape Osborn’s clutches, the action here has cut to some time later, with Tony Stark having been on the run for some time. His friends are starting to wander whether he should just turn himself in, but their pleading is in fact only making things worse for the embittered millionaire. After several issue worth of intrigue, the may focus of ‘World’s Most Wanted’ part four is the fight sequence between Stark and Jim Rhodes, to which the lion’s share of the pages are devoted. As would be expected, Fraction devises an intelligent and believable reason for these two friends to come to blows, and Salvador Larroca exploits the sequence for what it’s worth in an issue that gives him little else of interest to draw. The generic locations this part of the story occur in give him little opportunity to display his talents, with no call for his usual busy backdrops this month.
The difficulty is that Fraction is trying to tell a quite complex story in an episodic style, with the result that it often feels like we’re being given a summary of the arc, instead of the full story. It’s possible for the reader to fill in the blanks as they go, but there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to why some scenes are included in the comic, whilst others of equal importance are allowed to fall between the cracks. It feels rather odd that we’re shown Stark’s meeting up with a casual acquaintance, but nothing of what is supposed to have been several months on the run. This intermittent storytelling also affects character motivations, with Osborn’s grudge against Stark now appearing somewhat inexplicable. Sure, he’s a useful scapegoat to direct attention away from the actions of HAMMER’s leader, but there seems to be a real personal vendetta scripted here, which isn’t supported by these characters’ lack of a personal history. Given the twists and turns included so far, Fraction isn’t vulnerable to the standard complaint of excessively decompressed storytelling, but a disjointed tale can hardly be considered an improvement.