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The Invincible Iron Man vol. 8: Unfixable

March 4, 2012

Alright, Matt Fraction deserves to have his copy of “Oldboy” taken away for this.  Where that movie’s unforgettable climax took what could’ve been an unsatisfying plot twist and turned its utter demolition of the protagonist’s character into something so far removed from conventional expectations that I had to respect it, the main story in this volume just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.  Briefly:  Doctor Octopus is dying and before he dies, he wants to prove the superiority of his intellect and character to Tony Stark by presenting him with an “unfixable” problem.  Doc Ock wants Tony to cure him and even if you can get past the illogicness of that situation, even with Fraction and artist Salvador Larroca’s considerable talents, the climax not only serves to utterly humiliate Stark and devalue his character, it still pales in comparison to how Brian Michael Bendis did pretty much the same thing in his first volume of “Avengers.”

There, Stark and company were faced with the utter destruction of time itself with Kang’s ultimately futile struggle against Ultron.  In order to avert this catastrophe, Stark explained the situation to Ultron and then threw himself at the robot’s mercy by conceding the machine’s superiority to his intellect.  It was an unconventional solution, but what made Stark’s actions heroic rather than humiliating was that the stakes were as high as they could get and I’m pretty sure that a good case could be made for the fact that Ultron is the smarter of the two.  This also has the added effect of setting up the upcoming “Ultron War” storyline quite well, because if our heroes couldn’t defeat the machine then how do they stand a hope of doing it now?

However, Doc Ock is not Ultron.  Putting aside the fact that he’s a Spider-Man villain, he’s also had some thirty-odd years of losses to live down in the regular Marvel Universe.  While I’ve liked what Bendis has done with the character in the Ultimate Universe, there hasn’t really been a truly memorable story involving the character, let alone one of him outsmarting the hero, outside of the “Spider-Man 2” film.  (If anyone thinks otherwise, feel free to let me know.)  So having him not only outsmart, but humiliate one of Marvel’s smartest superheroes doesn’t just feel wrong, it doesn’t feel believable either.  I’ve complained about how the villains keep outsmarting the good guys in Ed Brubaker’s “Captain America” run, but this takes the problem to a whole new level.  Unless Fraction has a REALLY GOOD reason for doing this that will be revealed later, this will wind up being a huge black mark on Stark’s character and easily the worst story in his and Larroca’s otherwise enjoyable run.

Thankfully it’s not the only story in the book as the other two featured here are... well, one is actually “good,” while the other is “better” just for the fact that it’s not awful.  “Fair Weather” manages the special feat of straining the limits of what’s believable even in a superhero universe as Iron Man and Thor team up to stop some ultra-rich capitalists who are causing havoc on Earth by using stolen Stark technology to terraform the moon.  It’s ridiculous, but in a thoroughly fun way thanks to Fraction’s snappy dialogue and the art of John Romita Jr., who gives this over-the-top story the treatment it deserves.

“Rescue Me” is solo story for Pepper Potts during the time of “Dark Reign” when she had her own specially designed suit for superhero activities that didn’t involve punching other people in the face.  The story has her hallucinating her former husband Happy Hogan as she recounts her efforts to save all those involved in the aftermath of a big-rig crash.  Though her heroism is admirable, the story itself just feels kind of “there” as it serves no larger purpose and doesn’t really tell us anything about the character we didn’t already know.  Or, for that matter, have seen done better as in Fraction and Jamie McKelvie’s own “Pepper hallucinates Happy” story from back in vol. 7.

You know, it’s kind of funny that the only good story in this volume was originally available as a “Free Comic Book Day” giveaway.  So if you do have a copy of “Fair Weather” then you have no reason at all to pick up this volume.  If you don’t, just know that it isn’t good enough to justify paying for everything else contained here.

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