When we last saw Tony Stark, his mind had been rebooted thanks to some help from the Avengers and his own guilt. I’ve decided to skip the Iron Man Stark Resilient books (volumes five and six) because, to be honest, they’re a bit of a slog. Matt Fraction is telling one very long story with these books, and while everything does interlock nicely, both World’s Most Wanted and Stark Resilient were heavily padded out. Each could have been shortened by two or three issues without losing any major details.
At some point, I may go back and review volumes five and six, but they aren’t really necessary to read Invincible Iron Man Vol. 7: My Monsters, which is very much a standalone. In fact, this trade is an unusual collection, containing Invincible Iron Man’s first annual, issue #500 and issue #500.1, plus a back-up story from a later issue. I find that Marvel’s “Point One” concept is rather silly, and I think that they would be better off either publishing a book twice a month or creating extra-long specials. However, no matter how they do it, I like that we can get more out of each story.
The first story in this trade is the biography of the Mandarin ... in a way. Iron Man’s arch-villain has kidnapped a director, forcing him to make a biopic from his own twisted view of history and his life. What makes this story really effective is a bit of reality subtext: the situation was inspired by the kidnapping of Shin Sang-ok by Kim Jung-il to make the monster film Pulsagari and start a North Korean film industry. Check out this New York Times article for more information; it’s a fascinating story.
I was a bit leery when I heard that they were doing another retelling of the Mandarin’s origin, as I didn’t want it to conflict with Joe Casey’s fantastic Enter the Mandarin mini-series. However, this story is less about retcons and more about director Jun Shan’s struggles with his insane “benefactor” and film subject. Like I mentioned in the Carnage: Family Feud trade, the Mandarin went unused for much of the Eighties since the writers had trouble with his Communist origins and his clash with the corporate themes of the Michelinie and O’Neil runs. The Mandarin is now more rooted in Chinese mysticism, Genghis Khan and the concept of ruthless meritocracy -- rising to the top through any means necessary.
To counterbalance the story of the Mandarin’s life, we have the story of Tony’s life, narrated at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Tony has been attending Al-Anon for years in comics, and with his mental resurrection, it’s a good sign that he’s keeping up with his addiction issues. This was the “Point One” issue, but it feels more like a back-up story in an annual: well-told, but ultimately a bit pointless except as a refresher on Tony Stark. It traces his life through his many obsessions, including booze and women. This is followed by a flashback story revealing how Howard and Maria Stark met. While cute, it again is just a back-up story used to make the trade a bit larger.
Issue 500 comprises the final third of the book, and it serves as a culmination of the entire Invincible Iron Man series before the renumbering. It goes between three stories drawn by four different artists in two different time periods. The “present” section of the story rekindles Tony’s friendship with Peter Parker. My Monsters is set slightly before Carnage: Family Feud, which, in turn, were both likely taking cues from the various Avengers comics. The strength of their relationship really comes through in this story. The future here is one of the many possible futures of Iron Man, but this one is also tied into Tony’s guilt visions from Stark Disassembled; Tony and Peter must stop the creation of the tentacle-wielding mecha seen in that story.
I’ve been holding off about the art until now, because it’s key to this story. This is the first time in thirty-three issues with an artist other than Salvador Larocca, and even in this case, it’s for artistic reasons rather than time or scheduling issues. Larocca’s style changes a bit during issue 500.1, mostly thanks to Frank D’Armata using a different inking style to make the art look scratchier.
The art for the annual is by Carmine Di Giandomenico, and it looks … odd. Going from Larocca’s gorgeous, realistic, almost-painted art to the grittier and more fluid style of Di Giandomenico is jarring. He does convey one of the key parts of the annual: the Mandarin lying about his grand origins while displaying his true downtrodden life.
Howard Chaykin is the artist for the back-up story. What happened to Howard Chaykin recently? Did he change his inker or colorist, or is it just a new style? Either way, his figures are now really blocky with obvious charcoal outlines.
It all comes together in issue #500’s interlocking stories. Larocca does the primary story with Iron Man and Spider-Man tracking down the anti-technology disciples of Stilt-Man. (None of them actually knew Wilbur Day as well as Spidey did, and their stupidity demonstrates it.) After a few pages of this, it cuts to Kano’s take on Ginny Stark, Tony’s future daughter. Kano’s art is more angular, with a well-crafted brownish-yellow tint to the post-apocalyptic setting. Nathan Fox then tells the tale of Tony’s other child, his cyborg son Howard II, the new War Machine. In this section, Fox’s art has a boxy feel reminiscent of Jack Kirby. Finally, Di Giandomenico returns with this world’s ruler, the Mandarin, and his manservant -- Tony Stark. The present Tony and Peter help the future Starks succeed in taking down the Mandarin. The art duties rotate every few pages as the story progresses.
In the overall narrative of Invincible Iron Man, My Monsters is the equivalent of the "Times Past" trade from Starman. It contains a few thematically important stories with unusual art styles which hold clues for the future, but you can technically skip it without losing much of the story. All four stories are good reads, especially the respective life stories of Iron Man and the Mandarin, but unless you’re reading the entire story, My Monsters is rather skippable.