Matt Fraction “World’s Most Wanted” arc here on Invincible Iron Man has had a few good issues. However, for the most part, the story continues to feel like a rehash of old Iron Man stories. Fraction just has not done enough differentiated this current story from the old Iron Man stories. And with the recent announcement that this arc is going to end in issue #19 Fraction really needs to step things up a notch before it ends. Let’s see if Fraction can step up his game with Invincible Iron Man #16.
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Colorist: Frank D’Armata
Story: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Art: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Overall: 6.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: The issue starts in Tony Stark’s secret base in Russian Federation Kirensk where Madame Masque has Pepper Potts tied up to a chair and Tony pinned on the ground showing him her real face. Madame Masque tells Tony to see the monster she sees herself as. Tony tells Madame Masque that all he sees is a sad woman who is mentally ill.
Tony continues to say that even with all that he loved her. Madame Masque replies by saying over and over that she loves Tony. While that is happening Pepper can do nothing but watch what she says is torture.
Madame Masque starts talking about how even though she is seeing someone (The Hood) that she is still willing to go on the run with Tony. She starts rambling about how romantic it will be being two lovers on the run. As she talks Pepper’s suit turns on.
We cut to Natasha’s apartment in New York City where Maria Hill’s cell phone is ringing. Natasha asks Maria if she will answer her phone. Maria tells Natasha that she does not have anything to say to the people that she used to know especially after having the Controller in her head.
Natasha says Maria really knows how to instill confidence in someone. Maria becomes upset by the comment as Natasha does not have the right to judge her. Natasha then tells Maria that she will not endanger Bucky, Natasha says that they will go through the meeting tonight as Natasha hopes that Maria is still a gifted secret agent that she was once was. She ends the conversation by saying that the second Maria blows it that they will die and Norman will win.
We cut to Avengers Tower where Norman Osborn is trying to make his Iron Patriot suit work better. Osborn becomes frustrated that he cannot figure out the suit created by Tony. Osborn then has his computer look for Madame Masque but as soon as it finds her communicator the locator is turned off. However, Norman is still confident that Madame Masque can handle the mission given to her.
The scene shifts back to Russia were Madame Masque tells Tony he is all she ever needed and proceeds to put her mask on Tony so he can see how much they are alike. As this happens, we see that Pepper’s armor is almost done assembling itself with all that’s left is the helmet.
But as soon as Madame Masque puts the mask on Tony, she sees that Pepper’s armor moving and tries to shot Pepper with her gun. Tony is able to trip Madame Masque and her bullet misses Pepper. Pepper’s armor then uses its repulsor blast to destroy the rest of the bullets Madame Masque fired at Pepper’s direction.
Madame Masque kicks Tony in the face and then grabs him by the neck and points her gun at his head. Madame Masque asks who does Tony choose: her or Pepper. Tony’s answer is Pepper.
Madame Masque points her gun at some gas tanks and shots them causing them to explode. At the same time, Pepper’s armor frees her from being tied up in time before the big explosion happens.
Back in Natasha’s place Maria is in the middle of taking a shower when she suddenly flashes back to what the Controller did to her. She starts freaking out and falls to on the floor of the bathroom. Natasha rushes into the bathroom and hugs Maria telling her everything is okay.
Later that night Maria falls asleep after taking a few pills. Natasha decides that Maria is not in any shape to complete the mission. She decides to try and find out what is on the disk that Tony left in the care of Maria by going to see one of her tech guys to decipher the disk.
Back in Russia we see Pepper crawling towards an unconscious Tony while the base they are in is on fire. Pepper wakes Tony up and tells him not to worry about Madame Masque as her suit, Rescue (still a horrible name by the way), had some reserve power and JARVIS was able to use it to protect them.
Suddenly, Madame Masque attacks Pepper and they start fighting with Madame Masque telling Pepper she does not love Tony like she does. As the two women fight Pepper’s grabs Madame Masque and is able to restrain her by holding her against a wall.
Pepper then goes back to Tony and tells him he must leave while she handles Madame Masque. Tony tells Pepper he is not going to leave her behind. Pepper tells Tony that while she knows that Tony would never leave her that he must put on his suit and leave her behind or else Norman will win. Pepper says that this is what Tony trained her to do. Tony and Pepper kiss while Madame Masque watches and screams out that she will kill them.
After they finish their kiss Tony, with the help of Pepper, puts on his Iron Man suit as the room they are in starts crumbling. Tony and Pepper say their final goodbyes and Tony leaves right as Pepper’s suits power runs out. With Tony gone Pepper and Madame Masque charge at one another to finish off their fight they started earlier.
We cut back to NYC on Ludlow Street where Natasha enters a store with only a kid in it who ask Natasha what she wants. Natasha tells the kid she wants to talk to his boss. The kid takes out a scanner to scan Natasha’s face. Natasha tells Chen, the kid’s boss, to let her in before she breaks the kid’s nose. The kid opens a secret door in the store were Chen is in a room. Chen tells Natasha to come in before the cops see him.
Natasha hands Chen Maria’s disk and ask him if he can tell her wants on it. Chen tells Natasha it is Starktech that is not consumer grade tech and that he has run across similar tech here and there. Chen tells Natasha he can’t help her right now.
Natasha leaves asking Chen if he runs across any tech that will help her to call her. As she leaves Chen calls someone to let them know Natasha visited him with some Starktech.
Somewhere in the sky Tony is flying to the next base he has to go to. Tony thinks about how he should not have been a coward and just leave Pepper behind. As he repeats this in his head we see that some one is tracking Tony. The guy tracking Tony tells his men they are going to Afghanistan, Tony’s current destination. End of issue.
The Good: Invincible Iron Man #16 was a slightly above average read and for this series that is saying a lot, as we have gotten mostly sub-par issues throughout this arc. While I still have my problems with this issue there are a few positives to take from the issue as well.
Fraction actually seems to finally step things up a couple gears as “World’s Most Wanted” enters into its final act before the arc ends in issue #19. And while this issue still felt like it was mostly set-up like the last few issues in this arc Fraction actually moves all the plots he has been working since the start of this arc forward. This issue does a nice job setting up the final battle between Tony and Norman he mentioned going down in issue #19 this past weekend in Chicago Comic-Con.
The thing I enjoyed most about this issue is how Fraction showed us the difference in intelligence between Tony and Norman. Even though we have seen Norman using the Iron Patriot around the various Dark Reign titles some writers have indicated that Norman isn’t using the full potential of the armor because he has not been able to figure out how the armor fully functions yet. And I liked seeing Norman’s frustration as he failed to figure what how to make Tony’s suit better than it has since he has worn it.
Even though Norman has shown himself to be a very smart guy he is still no match for Tony’s intellect. I hope that Norman not being able to figure out everything that the Iron Patriot suit does plays a role in his fight with Tony in the future and Tony using that to his advantage. And with Tony’s diminishing intelligence and continuing to have to dumb down his Iron Man armor Tony is going to need all the help he can get when he fights Norman.
The other thing I liked about this issue was the chemistry between Tony and Whitney, Madame Masque. Fraction did a nice job showing that the two once had a relationship in the past and that they both share a long history with one another. Even though I do not remember Tony and Whitney having a relationship, because honestly what woman in the Marvel Universe hasn’t had a relationship with Tony in the past, I like that Fraction showed that the relationship Tony had with Whitney wasn’t just another typical fling he has had with a bunch of woman. Tony telling Whitney he did love her actually felt genuine.
I hope Whitney survive her battle with Pepper and appear in future issues. Fraction has actually made me like Madame Masque character even though I have hated The Hood and every character associated with him. I hope that Fraction is able to develop the character more in the future as an actually viable threat on her own without the help of the loser that is known as The Hood because just by being associated to him doesn’t really make her credible to me with all the failures The Hood and his group have had.
The other thing that I enjoyed about this issue was Fraction handling of Maria Hill’s mission. So far the plotline with Maria mission to find Captain America and deliver the information Tony gave her has been the most interesting part of this story arc. And I liked the insertion of Natasha into Maria’s mission. The two characters had some great dialogue in their scenes together especially with how on edge Maria has become with everything that has been happening. I liked that Natasha took charge of the situation as she realized that Maria is not on her A game anymore. I will be interested to see were Fraction continues to take this plotline and if Captain America will be involved or if he will stick to it being just Maria and Natasha.
The Bad: Even though Invincible Iron Man #16 was an improvement over the last couple issues Fraction is still running across the same problems he has had since the beginning of his run. The biggest problem I continue to have with this series is that Fraction continue to be very unoriginal with this story arc as “World’s Most Wanted” has yet to differentiate itself from past Iron Man stories.
Other than Maria’s mission and Tony’s intelligence continuing to diminish I just don’t feel that Fraction has done enough to make the story not feel like a rehash of old Iron Man stories. It doesn’t help Fraction’s story that even though he wants us to believe that Tony is the most wanted man in the world he hasn’t been hunted down by anyone other than a few Z-list to C-list villains. While it may sound like I am repeating myself I just don’t get how with all the heroes and villains Norman has under his control he can’t do any better than send a C-list villain after Tony. I don’t know if it’s because Marvel hasn’t allowed him to use any of the B- or A-list villains or for another reason but it just does not feel like Tony should be going to so much effort if he really isn’t being challenged by Norman all that much.
Also I continue to dislike Pepper’s character more and more with each passing issue. It has not help that Tony and Pepper’s relationship developing into a full blown romance feels like it has been forced into the series to give Tony a love interest to worry about. I just do not buy into the relationship and I find that is has done nothing to help Pepper’s character other than regress into a very dull one-dimensional character. At this point I really can’t see how Fraction can develop the character enough to make start liking her again since he has already tried by giving her, her own armor to defend herself that has made her even less interesting.
Salvador Larroca provided some passable artwork throughout the issue that got the story across well enough. Even though Larroca has improved his artwork throughout this story arc by making his characters less shiny I still am not a big fan of his artwork. Unless he is drawing the Iron Man, Rescue, or other armors I find his art to be very dull and stiff.
Overall: Invincible Iron Man #16 was a marked improvement on what we have gotten so far in this “World’s Most Wanted” arc. Fraction finally seems to be ready to stop giving us countless set-up issues and give us more plot progression as this arc moves into its final act. Hopefully Fraction can carry the improvement he showed in this into the last three issue in this arc.