Well, Iron Man (oh excuse me, Invincible Iron Man) #500 comes out soon, so I figured it would be worthwhile to take a look back at Fraction and La Rocca's finale to "Star Resilient," which wrapped in Invincible Iron Man #32.
For those who missed it, our story involves the reborn Tony Stark, "fresh off of the line" after Stark: Disassembled, and his new business plan: to provide clean, free energy to the world using Repulsor Technology. To this end, and since he has almost nothing of his personal fortune left after Norman Osborne was done with it, he puts together a small team of engineers (along with administrative assistant extraordinaire Bambi Arbogast) to form Stark Resilient, with the stated goal of produced a replusor powered supercar. At the same time, Justine Hammer and her daughter Sasha have bought up as much obsolete Stark technology as possible and created Detroit Steel, an armored warrior for today's theaters of operation. The Hammer Girls sell Detroit Steel to several bidders, including Japan and the US. Using their new powerhouse as a base, the two Hammers set out to completely destroy the memory and future of Stark, including sending a cellular-controlled fleet of drones (controlled by mobile device gamers who think they are playing a Detroit Steel game app) to annihilate Stark Resilient.
It's a heck of a better setup than the last couple of epics from Fraction and La Rocca, that's for sure. For one thing it is not based entirely around Tony Stark's need for redemption. Sweet Christmas I am tired of hearing that. Beyond that, it has a good use of continuity (something which has been hit or miss from this team) and a basic Shelhead story which remains relevant and interesting. This particular issue is primarily a chase, as Detroit Steel and his drones chase Tony all over Seattle in his supercar. I would have been nice to see Iron Man and Detroit Steel throw down, but as this is the first chapter of what I am sure Fraction hopes to be a long rivalry, that is forgivable (and to a degree expected). But as a general arc for a story, I liked this one a good bit and thought it was worthy of most of the regard it has received.
La Rocca's art continues to be a mixed bag, but I will give him credit -- he is consistent. Everyone looks "on model" from issue to issue, and his eye for continuity -- the other kind -- is commendable. The offices of Stark Resilient, for instance, have clearly identifiable rooms and offices from one issue to the next, a detail often overlooked. Also, he gets to flex his design muscles a little bit with admirable results -- Detroit Steel is sort of the Robocop 2 version of Shellhead, with his top heavy, muscular beefiness (not to mention arm mounted chainsaw, ala the old Toy Biz animated Titanium Man). The drones are a nice melding of modern air drones and Marvel Comics supertech, and even the Resilient (or whatever it is called, one of the better running gags of the story) looks like a nice combination of wind tunnel slipperiness and Stark "subtlety." Overall his art is suitable and generally pretty strong.
There are, as has been the case since the launch of this title, some aspects to the way which Fractions handles Tony Stark which really get under my skin. First and foremost is this leftist idea that Tony has to ask for help constantly. Maria Hill once again dresses Tony down in this issue for not coming to her for help. In an era in this country where "cowboy" has taken the connotation of a nasty insult by the Left, having multiple characters bash Tony for "cowboying off" or whatnot gets grating after a while. The early part of this story absolute hammers home the fact that Tony needs help to get anything done. And while there is truth to the idea that it's easier to do things with help, Tony is not some useless moneybags who needs a team of engineers to get the most basic things accomplished. It irritates me to see him written as borderline ineffectual. Also irritating to me as a long time reader is the way which Tony behaves in flashbacks -- including one incident where he fires an employee in public, in front of a jam packed panel at an Expo. That might fly for some, but I don't dig that at all. Tony is a lot of things -- arrogant, aloof, technocratic -- but mean spirited he is not.
I have said it before and Lord knows I will say it again, but while Fraction plays some sour notes, he also plays some really sweet ones as well. The entire "date" between Tony and Sasha is extremely well realized, including her little "surprise" for our hero. Detroit Steel himself is a great new take on the Dynamo/T-Man/Force/Iron Monger concept, and the cellular drone fleet garners a huge "thumbs up" from me. The return of Mrs. Arbogast, still as sharp as a tack and as quick witted as ever, is very welcome (including her little spiel about what she has been up to). The rest of the supporting cast -- primarily Pepper and Rhodey -- are also treated well. The Hammer Girls make for great villains in the mold of their sire. Even the Spymaster makes a small appearance in here as well. There's a good deal of action, though it tends to get spread out due to the page count of the overall story.
Overall, while there is still room to grow here -- isn't there always -- this story arc was a big step forward for Fraction and La Rocca and I have high hopes for more growth as we move forward. Iron Man is one of the Marvel heavy hitters and I am glad his book is finally getting some attention. Let's keep the trend going, fellas, and make Shellhead the best book on the stands.