"My Name's Ghost. I'm a ghost. Boo."
Matt Fraction did it. Over the past year, Fraction has peeled back the layers of Tony Stark. We've seen familiar faces, places, items, and villains as we re-visited what made the Iron Man. As we ended Dark Reign, Stark was one of the most hated heroes that I could ever remember. Over the past 16 issues, Fraction did his best to remind us why we love not only the Iron Man, but Stark as well. By the time Norman Osborn savagely beat a near brain-dead Stark, a lot of fans were back in his corner. Stark showed his heroism by going the distance to protect his fellow heroes and their loved ones. However, some fans were not as quick to forgive because Tony did too much to easily be absolved in one fell swoop. In this issue, Stark took the last step and faced a lot of his past mistakes.
Outside, The Ghost wreaks havoc and dispatches of Dr. Strange. This leaves him to face off against Maria Hill and a still-recovering Pepper Potts. In the mean time, Tony's left to his mental dream journey as he faces off against his greatest legacy. As we remember from last issue, Strange told Stark that he had to decide to wake up. I won't go into detail, but Stark's legacy is pretty rough. It's harder to raise the stakes in a dream world, but what Fraction puts Stark through makes for a really strong scene. Is Tony Stark defined by his past or can he actually be redeemed? You'll have to read to find out, but overall this is a pretty fitting conclusion for this arc.
We all knew, based on future solicits and the upcoming movie, that Tony Stark was coming back. However, Fraction throws a twist into all of this. It's not too much of a twist as it's fairly logical in a few ways, but it's still not as simple as Stark coming back and everything's a-okay. I've already seen some people complain on the Internet (what else is new). The complaint is that it is a bit of a cheap way out, but I don't think they're looking at it on a deeper, big-picture level. Without spoiling, I think this sets up such an interesting dynamic for Tony. I'm anxious to see how Fraction handles this idea because there is a lot of potential here as Tony's story moves forward. He could really take it in a number of different directions and that makes me excited for future issues.
Last issue, I was a bit critical of Salvador Larroca's art. It was a bit inconsistent and stilted. I'm happy to see him bounce back in issue 24. The cover is fantastic, the action inside is well done, there's some scenes that are amazing, and he handles the different worlds of the dream, reality, and Strange's magic very well. I love the way Larroca draws Ghost, so I'm stoked to see his gorgeous Iron Man armor next issue.
Overall, I thought this issue was a great ending to the Stark: Disassembled arc and to this entire study of Iron Man that began with World's Most Wanted. There is that debatable end, but I happen to think it can play out in an interesting manner going forward. While the new era begins in the next issue, I'm glad that there won't exactly be a brand new start. I definitely recommend this book to those who are considering issue 25 for their pull list and/or interested in going back and reading the past two arcs.