With the movie a hit in theaters, EW.com checks out ''Invincible Iron Man'' and director Jon Favreau's ''Iron Man: Viva Las Vegas.'' Plus: a look into Lynda Barry's ''What It Is''
The Invincible Iron Man
Credit: © Marvel Entertainment

Jon Favreau and Adi Granov
(Monthly; issue No. 1 is on sale now)
Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca
(Monthly; issue No. 1 is on sale now, issue No. 2 goes on sale June 4)
With Iron Man now well past $200 million at the domestic box office, Marvel has smartly released a pair of new titles featuring their Man of Steel: one by the film’s director, Jon Favreau (teamed here with Adi Granov, the photorealistic artist who helped design the movie’s supersuits); the other by the company’s acclaimed hipster-scribe Matt Fraction (partnered with Salvador Larroca, the deft pencilist who left his mark on the Fantastic Four and Uncanny X-Men titles). And it’s quite apparent that the two writers subscribe to two very different schools of comics thought when it comes to dispatching Mr. Tony Stark into action.

Favreau’s title envisions Stark as self-assured frat-boy type. Vegas starts off very much like a big-budget Hollywood flick, with our action hero thwarting a rather conveniently timed one-man terrorist plot that unfolds on his flight to Vegas — you see, Stark just happened to decide to fly commercially on his own Stark Airlines. (And never mind what this says about his carrier’s security, that a dude can effortlessly jump on board with a Wile E. Coyote’s worth of ACME explosives strapped to his chest). Once at his final destination, Stark Casino, Tony finds the time to troll the pool for hotties in bikinis and then bed a pair of tattooed new lady friends. (His pick-up line: ”I wanted to let you know that there’s a tattoo-counting contest about to begin…up in my suite.”) Stark’s makeshift spring break is stopped short when the comics’ actual plot finally emerges: A sculpture flown in to decorate the neighboring Golden Dragon Casino hails rather mysteriously from an ancient Chinese temple — and seems to be attracting droves of lizards. That’s right, lizards. Or as Tony declares, ”Leaping lizards!” And here we were, trying to spare you any Swingers clichés, when Favreau goes and unleashes some Little Orphan Annie catchphrases.

Ironically, fans of Favreau’s movie who are seeking a more gripping take on Stark — a global do-gooder made most likeable both by his repartee with brainy assistant Pepper Potts and by his dry sense of snark — are better off picking up Fraction’s book, Invincible. Here, Stark (aye, still a playboy, just with better lines) and the intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D. are called to action after suicide bombers start setting off devices that deliver nuclear-type hits without the radioactive fallout. These circular-shaped gizmos, which are embedded, undetected, in their ribcages, look suspiciously like Stark’s own glowing power supply. This, in turn, causes him worry that his technology may be growing obsolete. So S.H.I.E.L.D. tracks the technology to a radical group that has ”provided arms and manpower for every bloodbath from Rwanda to Somalia to Darfur.” Their rather potent moniker? Advanced Genocide Mechanics! But there’s an even bigger villain lurking about: ruthless bioweaponry developer Ezekiel Stane, the son of storied Iron Man foe Obadiah Stane (a.k.a., for the film literate, Jeff Bridges). The younger Stane has masterminded this technology to turn terrorists into weapons of mass destruction; in issue 2, they’ll up the ante by amassing more than just civilian casualties. Meanwhile, Ezekiel has figured out a way to detonate his caloric energy without killing himself, and, naturally, he has designs on eliminating Mr. Stark himself.

FOR FANS OF… Viva Las Vegas: the lesser work of actor Jason Statham, The Mummy, reptiles. Invincible Iron Man: CNN; Iron Man (the movie); Fraction’s The Order.

DOES IT DELIVER? Vegas has never been known for its subtlety, and Favreau’s Vegas adheres to that aesthetic: Issue 1 indeed sets a tone, and that tone is cheese. Offering just a smattering of plot to come — and not even enough to whet our appetites — you’re better off heading back into the theater and seeing Favreau’s other Iron Man, a far more entertaining adventure. After you’ve caught that matinee, check out Fraction’s immensely engaging Invincible. No, it’s not so original in conceit: Apparently suicide bombers are totally the new Russians. But after oscillating between expository plots and, as such, thick dialogue, Fraction manages to transcend clichés. He finds his footing amid issue 2, where he delivers a one-two punch of both escalating cliffhangers and winky wit. ”Your tax dollars pay me to beat the hell out of people like this. (I decline the paycheck, by the way.) The job is its own reward,” Tony Stark remarks, before kicking into action. You get the feeling Fraction just may get a similar sort of thrill from penning this book. Viva Las Vegas: C-; Invincible Iron Man: A- — Nisha Gopalan

NEXT PAGE: Ken Tucker reviews What It Is, by Lynda Barry

Lynda Barry
(Hardcover; on sale now)
Lynda Barry’s What It Is is a unique, transporting, inspirational book. The well-known underground comics artist (”Ernie Pook’s Comeek”), memoirist (One! Hundred! Demons!), and novelist (Cruddy) offers with this volume a way to create art. Inspired by one of her college teachers’ methods but marinated in Barry’s own decades as an artist and writer, What It Is is filled with drawings, collages, diary entries, and paintings — all examples of work she has created via the deceptively simple techniques she propounds.

This beautifully designed volume is intended to look like the stuffed workbook of a vivid imagination, and as Barry insists, anyone with persistence, time, and will can create art of some degree of quality. I usually cringe at sentiments like this, not believing for a second that most of us possess one percent of the free-flowing creativity of Barry. But there’s a lot to be said for Barry’s open-hearted generosity, sincerity, and earnestness — her contagiously exciting belief that creating even the most amateurish art not only nourishes the soul but can lead to renewed clarity and purpose in life. I realize this sounds like a lot to heap upon a book of cartoony sketches and you-can-do-it-too advice, but What It Is is itself a fine work of art — not merely a valuable addition to Lynda Barry’s achievements, but something of an explanation of how she achieved them. A — Ken Tucker