For those of you who didn't go to see Iron Man when it was released in 2008, here's a quick character synopsis: After terrorists capture billionaire genius Tony Stark and force him to provide them with weapons, he decides to use that time to build a powerful suit of armor to defeat his captors and escape to freedom. Seeing this experience as a powerful awakening, Tony makes it his mission to protect the world as the invincible Iron Man.
But what happens when he fails in this mission? When he was named head of S.H.I.E.L.D., the planet's foremost spy agency, it was Tony's job to protect the world from all threats, foreign and domestic. And although he lost a lot of friends in the superhero community during Civil War when he acted as the principal proponent for superhumans to register their identities with the government, he received much public adoration. But after the events of Secret Invasion, when aliens infiltrated every aspect of our society, that same adoring public tears Stark open like a lion would a gazelle. Even though Stark--along with every other superhuman on Earth--was able to halt the invasion, Stark's failure lies in letting the aliens get as far as they did and as close as they did in the first place. The world wants answers, and leading the committee on bringing Stark in for "questioning" is the man who now holds his old office: Norman Osborn.
As the man erroneously given all the credit for stopping the alien invasion, the former--and seemingly "cured"--Green Goblin, Norman Osborn, is given Stark's job as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (now H.A.M.M.E.R.). Osborn is in, and Stark is out. And priority No. 1 for Osborn is to get that list of all registered superhumans' identities. But Osborn hits a snag when Stark downloads the only copy of said list into his computer-like brain, and as Stark slowly begins erasing the data--an act that will eventually end with being brain dead--Osborn calls upon forces both legal and illegal to bring in Tony Stark, the most wanted criminal in the world.
An exciting premise for sure, but after reading this volume, I remain torn on Matt Fraction's writing. I love his sharp dialogue and deep characterization; a particular exchange between Osborn and Stark early in the book exemplifies these strengths perfectly. In just two pages, he shows us Stark's smug confidence, Osborn's underlying mania, and he does it with crisp, believable discourse between the two men. Fraction's gift with words is second to none in the comic-book industry, and that's why it's so heartbreaking that the actual content of the book fails to deliver.
Simply put, the plot leaves one wanting more. Perhaps it's too soon to judge as this is just book one of two, but I felt that there was way too much going on with secondary characters to keep me interested. For long stretches, we delve into the subplots involving former S.H.I.E.L.D.'s deputy director, Maria Hill, snake-in-the-grass villain Norman Osborn, and love interest/burgeoning superhero Pepper Potts. While there are still ample moments featuring Iron Man (it is his name on the cover, after all), Fraction seems to cram way too much in (such as Potts donning a new version of the Iron Man armor and Hill battling a D-list supervillain in Texas), giving us scenes that I can only describe as superfluous at best and filler at worst. But again, this is still only the first of a two-volume set. There are undoubtedly elements that Fraction has yet to reveal, and if the plotlines tie together in a nice little bow at the end of volume two, I'll gladly eat my words.
Rarely disappointing, however, is artist Salvador Larocca. What I like most about his art is that, to me, it is distinctive. The problem I have with many comic-book artists is that their characters are more or less interchangeable, with my main grievance being that everyone's face looks the same person to person. But Larocca is able to give everyone distinction, giving them each little nuances that deepen the characterization started by Fraction: When Tony smiles, we see that he's cocky, self-assured, and that he already has a plan brewing in that genius brain of his; when Osborn smiles, we can see that madness behind the grin, and how he'll do anything to achieve his wicked goals. Larocca isn't just drawing characters here; he's drawing true individuals.
Overall, the comic is a fun, if frustrating, read. The playful banter, exciting characters, and gorgeous illustrations should be enough to keep the casual comic-book reader entertained. But for those looking for a deeper story, you may be better off waiting until the second volume hits the stands. As a single-volume collection, The Invincible Iron Man: World Most Wanted Book One will leave you, well, wanting more.