Issue by issue, Fred Van Lente might be the most fundamentally solid writer in superhero comics today. He doesn’t necessarily write big sweeping arcs, but whenever I pick up a single issue that he’s worked on, I know that it’s going to contain a clear, well-crafted story that has plenty of substance. That’s why he’s a good choice for this Iron Man series, which tells out-of-continuity stories set at specific points in the past. A book like this can’t slide by on the “newspapers from an imaginary country” principle that keeps readers coming back because they need to know the next new thing. If the story-telling and characterization aren’t good, there’s no point. Fortunately, Van Lente is a terrific storyteller. He writes a great Tony Stark — smart, driven, and a little too mouthy for his own good — and puts him into interesting situations. In this arc, set in L.A. during Tony’s down-and-out phase, he fights the Serpent Society and the Pride, despite lacking functioning armor. If you’re looking fora 70s/80s-style Iron Man story, or just a fun, solid comic book, this under-the-radar series is well worth your time.
Acting as an epilogue and to reset the table for the new Punisher series launching next month, this issue finds Frank Castle recovering on Monster Island, the Bloodstone healing him, but also corrupting his soul. His monster allies, realizing the danger to Frank (and to them), bring in an expert on the stone, Else Bloodstone, to stop him. This is a nice send off to the first Punisher arc I’ve truly enjoyed in years. While Garth Ennis’s MAX run was very good, it certainly was not fun. Franken-Castle was FUN. Dan Brereton provides some beautiful painted art for this issue and it serves as a great showcase for what he can do.
Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been catching up on Nocturnals as I read this storyline but I am very sad to see it go, and even sadder that Dan Brereton didn’t end up with more pages along the way. That said, this issue brought together everything great about Brereton, writer Rick Remender, and the entire concept of Franken-Castle into one tidy package. I did enjoy Tony Moore’s pencils early in the arc but Brereton’s art is always dripping with lurid spooky glee and I can never get enough. My only complaint is that I feel like this could have gone on another couple years, at least–maybe this could happen to Ultimate Punisher or something and we could read it forever?