Confession time: This is the first standalone Iron Man comic I’ve ever read. My knowledge of Tony Stark has been limited to team books like The Avengers, his guest appearances in other comics, and the recent movies. So in a way, I’m probably the ideal audience for The Invincible Iron Man #500.1, which is essentially a recap of Stark’s life from childhood to present day. While there’s probably nothing new here for longtime fans, it’s an absorbing, attractively presented story for newbies.
Tony narrates his story during an AA meeting, and writer Matt Fraction uses the classic flashback storytelling device. However, the script never seems cliched or movie-of-the-week manipulative. What’s most interesting is Stark’s exploration of how he became an alcoholic; how drinking almost destroyed his life but probably led to his reinvention as Iron Man. It’s clear that he has a tenuous hold on sobriety, and that his addiction has been deeply humbling. He’s a billionaire bachelor and a genius superhero, but at AA, he’s just another guy with a cup of crappy coffee who’s trying to stay on the wagon. Fraction does a very good job of conveying Tony’s basic persona and his vulnerability. You just can’t help but root for the guy despite the considerable damage that he’s done to himself and others.
I really responded to Salvador Larroca’s art, particularly his gift for realistic, detailed facial expressions. His closeups of Stark feature heavily in this intimate story, and it works. Frank D’Armata’s coloring is muted, but his palette suits the narrative’s tone. I don’t often pay close attention to lettering unless it’s done poorly, but Joe Caramanga’s stood out for the opposite reason: They’re quite good.
It’s impossible to give a full picture of such a storied character in one issue, but Iron Man #500.1 hits all the highlights: His relationship with his parents, how he became a crime-fighter, and the toll that his drinking took on his relationships with women, business associates, and the other Avengers. Seeing all that dysfunction crammed into a single issue is heavy stuff, but also touching. There’s a moment toward the end where he calls Pepper Potts, and that brief exchange reveals a great deal about their connection.
For the people who already know this stuff, Iron Man #500.1 might seem extraneous and a waste of their time. But for readers not terribly familiar with Tony Stark, it’s a solid, enjoyable read and a very good entry point.