The Invincible Iron Man: Stark Disassembled

I mean this in the best way possible: The Invincible Iron Man: Stark Disassembled is pretty up its own ass. The first issue was pretty much all prologue, pages of pages of Tony Stark just explaining, it's totally wrapped up in continuity type stuff, and it's got those completely insane comic book sequence of events thing where say, Tony Stark's computerized body is jumpstarted by Thor striking the Captain American shield with his hammer creating electricity or something. In the end, it's basically a story arc hurtling towards retconning the character.

But it works. Every goofy Marvel's character entrance or exit was thrilling because at any moment it could've gotten stupid and even when it did get stupid it was the good kind of stupid, where writer Matt Fraction just thought, "fuck it" and went there. There hasn't been this kind of devotion to the Marvel Universe and blatant disregard for it since say, Old Man Logan (or to go back a bit further, Civil War). The difference is, "Stark Disassembled" wobbles but it never falls down and each issue got better, not worse. Still, it shares Mark Millar's understanding that comics always gotta be fun. And emotional.

At the heart of Fraction's Invincible Iron Man twenty-four issues ago, was Tony Stark's painfully sincere--too sincere really--attempt to not be such a douche. Sounds like most aware Iron Man comics since well forever, but a lot of it, this time around, is filtered through a weirder, sympathetic but kinda ambivalent perspective on Stark. He's not the lovable playboy and he's not a jerk readers just kinda roll their eyes at, he's somewhere in between. And he's also a genius. Fraction understands how important that is, the complex, jerky genius part.

We don't like the word "genius" anymore because it's divisive and elitist. A decade or two of little league where everybody gets a trophy has us too comfortable with the idea that everybody's special. Fraction's hip to this but he knows it's a little bullshit and really stifling and so, he makes the comic book less about Tony Stark the genius and more about Tony Stark the genius who is also a prick and maybe more of a prick because he's a genius? The tension of the comic, that sorta palpable discomfort you get reading it, comes not from Stark as conflicted individual, but just how much bullshit he can make his friends and employees fucking deal with before they give up.

The answer is a whole lot. But for good reason--Stark is a genius, remember? In its original context--the first part of a cool-looking Iron Man storyline--Stark's almost issue-long monologue was just obnoxious. But as each issue came along, I realized, that's the point. It's made clear in Pepper's angry, scribbled, half-finished note to Tony in issue #21: "When is it my time? When do I stop living to support your life and start living mine?" Again, this isn't all that different from other comics, but Pepper is less a weak female or whatever, and more a self-aware person, who can't help but be pissed. "I'm throwing a tantrum and I know it." she writes a few lines before the "Why me?" portion of her letter.

Notice there's not a lot of comment on action or plot here because there actually isn't that much in "Stark: Disassembled". A lot of stuff happens, but violence and fighting are kinda besides the point. The exciting stuff is seeing how all the pieces are put together: Thor and Captain American showing up, Doctor Strange showing up, not the threat of The Ghost but how he'll be defeated. It's a comic book, Fraction seems to quietly remind readers, nothing's really at stake here. So you get your perfunctory violence and thrills and nick-of-time saves and it's fun, but there's also plenty of raw, complex emotions. People mad at Stark for his actions of the past, but concerned about him still. Stark, in his weird subconscious dreamworld confronting his actions of the past, most violently in #24, via a weird blood-filled palace with his parents--an odd, half-symbolic representation of "the Stark Legacy".

This is comic book stuff yeah, but take it out of the comics realm, say, this was the next Iron Man movie and it'd be a fucking head-trip (where's the conflict? the resolution? the conventional love interest?) but that's a good thing. Fraction isn't so much "reinventing" or deconstructing his hero, which is sorta what every comic book does these days if it isn't totally towing the party line, but shifting how stuff plays out just a bit. He's using every bloated, event-ish aspect of contemporary superhero comics and turning it just enough that it means something again. But what does it all build-up to? A clever way to make Civil War something that never happened. This is both frustrating and pretty awesome. For once, I'm psyched to see where a mainline superhero comic is gonna go next.


samuel rules said...

The greatest part is having Tony Stark have to read the past few years of his life in newspapers since his uh..back up files haven't been updated in a while.

Great post dude.

brandon said...

I think what's especially interesting about that, besides it being a really hilarious/stupid/awesome way to retcon Civil War, is that it was the thing Fraction couldn't get behind. Like, if you read the series, he's on Stark's side but even with Civil War, it's like, Stark is gonna have to come to grips with the fact that he fucked up.

Jef said...

I really like Fraction but I tend to really not like Iron Man comics so I never got around to reading this.

I agree though, great post, and I'll definitely give the series a look now.

Michael Lapinski said...

I stopped reading the arc after the second issues for all of the negatives that were tipping the scale so I appreciate hearing how Matt brought them into balance and may look to take it all in in a collected edition.

In general, I thought that Sal did an excellent job of communicating subtle emotions and the damage of the dream world but completely lost me in his poorly framed and flat rendition of the already thankless climactic moment of "Thor jump starts Iron Man through Captain America's shield."

Instead of drawing it realistically, a device that preposterous needed to be delivered like mythic comic book gold or it would undermine the "realism" the creative team brings to the book.

I'm more than ready to trade in the photo ref reality of modern comics for the basic comic principles at the root of "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way." Those tools of the trade allow us to see and dream bigger with "reality" thwarted by a well-supported suspension of disbelief.