Reconciling the sheer fun of Tony Stark’s movie incarnation with the grim times brought about by the Dark Reign immediately sounds like a thankless task, and its hard to see a better way of the doing so than this week’s offering from Matt Fraction. While the writer couldn’t produce a poor comic if he tried, at times the difficulties in the redefinition of the Marvel Universe seem to be threatening to overwhelm even his talents.
With his public credibility shot to pieces in the aftermath of the Secret Invasion, Tony Stark was looking to make a dignified exit from the stage, but the loss of his armour interface proves to be a greater hindrance than he anticipated. Fraction manages to keep the story moving quickly, without sacrificing depth from any particular strand. The core cast which the issue’s final scene brings together is an unexpected pairing, promising some interesting interactions to come. Less unpredictable is the loss of Stark’s Extremis abilities. While Warren Ellis’s 21st century reconceptulisation of the character will be missed, the success of the old-school movie approach made the abandonment of Tony’s omnipotence a forgone conclusion. Thankfully Fraction seizes on his Pepper plotline as a means of continuing to explore these issues, so hopefully the themes raised will continue to be a presence in the book. Complementing the action perfectly is Salvador Larroca’s art. One of comics’ most under-rated pencillers, it’s a delight to see him finally paired with a writer worthy of his mettle.
However, the underlying difficulties brought about by the Dark Reign appear to be firmly established as the elephant in the room. The root cause of the problem seems to be Marvel’s failure to anticipate fan reaction to the Civil War, with the publisher playing catch-up ever since. Joe Quesada and Mark Miller expected a 50/50 split between the two sides, and were taken aback by the near-universal support for Captain America’s cause. Rather than playing out the story that appeared to be planned, Marvel have reconfigured the scenario to an uncomplicated black hat & white hat agenda, with most right-thinking heroes united against Norman Osborn’s sinister cabal. Unfortunately, rather than growing organically as part of the story, the new status quo has simply been presented as a fait accompli, with no sense of resolution to the 50-State Initiative story. After the subtly of the final conversation between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, it feels distinctly odd that the Initiative’s existence is left entirely unresolved, being dropped cold with no conclusion to its themes. There isn’t even the smallest step to bridge the gap between the Marvel Universe’s previous setting and the Dark Reign- not even a brief acknowledgement by one of the previously pro-registration characters that the corruption that Rogers feared has (instantaneously) come to pass. Stark’s theft of the Initiative’s database (presumably the redemption moment which Quesada teased fans with at conventions earlier in the year) therefore comes across as a massively inconsistent piece of behaviour. In a telling moment at the opening of the issue, he’s found ruing a relatively complete victory over the Skrull race, rather than the installation of a lunatic as the king of the world.
World’s Most Wanted promises to be a lot of fun, and Invincible stands as one of the best-written & drawn books on the market. Most fans will be buying into the new status quo with gritted teeth, however, given their knowledge of how causally it might be dropped.