12.17.2009

My 13 Favorite Things of 2009 (Part 3 of 17)

Invincible Iron Man (Marvel): I like to jokingly brag to people that Matt Fraction and I go way back. We both wrote for Savant Magazine, an online comics activism site, a long, long time ago. Though Savant was extremely popular as the interwebs was blowing up, getting “retarded hits” as he likes to say in interviews, he hadn’t really broken into the industry yet. I don’t even think he’d wrapped (obscure alert) Mantooth for AiT/PlanetLar at that point. This was before Five Fists of Science and Casanova at Image, and certainly before any of his blowing up work on Marvel’s The Order, Punisher War Journal, Immortal Iron Fist, or the fully blown up Uncanny X-Men or Invincible Iron Man. We don’t formally keep in touch or anything like that, but needless to say, I’ve watched his career with great interest and tend to live a bit vicariously through it. Hell, I even bought 30 Days of Night: Bloodsucker Tales because he wrote it – and nobody bought that book. I remember asking about it at the IDW Parking Lot Sale, and even the hapless IDW staffer I encountered didn’t know what the heck I was talking about. Anyway, many writers would probably feel – right or wrong – that by writing Uncanny X-Men, they’d arrived. It could easily serve as that type of destination moment you wait for as a signifier that you’d finally achieved that thing you set out to achieve – become a successful comic book writer. But for me, I’d argue that with Invincible Iron Man, Matt Fraction has accomplished a journey much more significant. With movie tie-in pressure bearing down on him, he’s been a part of the same creative team delivering solid issues going on two years now, with nary a hiccup. That’s unheard of by today’s standards. He’s juggled company crossovers, but they’re so seamless and organic you’d never know it. Issue #19 remains one of my favorite single issues of the year and serves as evidence that Fraction has clearly and carefully plotted his tale well in advance. The care is apparent, whereas in Uncanny X-Men, I sort of get the feeling that he’s flying by the seat of his pants, spitting ideas out left and right, juggling a large cast and impossible continuity. But here, here he has a clear story to tell. Things explained six issues ago begin to payoff, look at how he managed that clever email communication trick that went awry. His characters act consistently; I never saw this in his work before, but Fraction is remarkably good at writing Marvel women, from Pepper Potts, to Black Widow, to Maria Hill, to Whitney Frost, to the crumbling confidence of Victoria Hand. And let’s not forget his depiction of megalomaniacal Norman Osborn of H.A.M.M.E.R. Invincible Iron Man was full of clever cliffhangers, and never once dangled a plot thread; it was tight, tidy, and all felt organic, not like it was coming from an outline or checklist that’d been editorially mandated. This might sound like a backhanded compliment, but this book was never late, had a stable creative team, capable plotting, and art that grew with time as the creative team grew more trusting and in sync – this should all be the bare minimum level of quality allowable in the industry. Again, it’s sounding pejorative, but there’s so much crap on the market that violates all of those unspoken rules, that it makes Invincible Iron Man shine all the more brightly. It’s sort of a throwback to the way comics should be, like how old school creative teams cranked out runs of 50 or 100 issues; you just don’t see that as the norm anymore. I saw an interview with Jamie Foxx the other day and, love him or hate him, he’s a stand up comedian, comic actor, dramatic actor, dancer, classically trained jazz musician, singer, and all around entertainer – the boy has got it all, he’s old school Hollywood. I think what Matt Fraction does with this book month in and month out is the comic book equivalent to all that. Yeah, I think I just said that Matt Fraction is the Jamie Foxx of comic books, whatever the fuck that means. If Jamie Foxx is a throwback to the Rat Pack, then Matt’s becoming a throwback to whatever person in the annals of comic book history best completes this analogy for you. Yeah, you’re going to have to read between the panels and provide your own sense of closure – because that’s what you and comic books do together.

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