Review by Ian Keogh
Iron Man’s involvement in Fatal Frontier begins when missiles fired from the moon are aimed at Los Angeles. When he investigates he discovers a surprising cold war relic and a moon subtly altered by several major incidents over the years when immense power was unleashed.
The story occurs over an extended period, during which a city is built on the moon in order to mine a recently appeared mineral, and Tony Stark as Iron Man is appointed as what’s in effect the sheriff of an otherwise lawless frontier town. This in the company of someone with a considerable vested interest, and while appeasing a number of Earth powers who consider they also have a vested interest, but in reality prioritise exploitation.
Fatal Frontier was conceived as an online comic in which panels are layered over backgrounds to provide the occasional very limited form of movement as the reader clicks through, the effect being a primitive form of animation. As such the visuals suffer slightly from being reduced to single images on a page, where occasionally other storytelling options would have been a better choice. The greater effect, though is on Al Ewing’s story, which was paced to unfurl online with appropriate images, but is extremely stilted and decompressed as a graphic novel. This is particularly true of an extended battle with Doctor Doom, which was probably fast paced and thrilling in its original form, but really drags on nigh interminably when read here.
That said, Ewing, and his early collaborator Keiron Gillen, have put a lot of thought into the background. The Phlogistone, for instance, the substance at the heart of the plot, causes a moral degeneration after prolonged exposure, the sixth chapter reconfigures the fifth very nicely, and after an over-extended opening section Ewing plays well with the Iron Man technology and its possibilities. Once near the end it’s also apparent that he’s been foreshadowing events well, and the contemplative conclusion is a step away from predictability.
The needs of the online project demanded that artists Carmine Di Giandomenico, Lan Medina and Neil Edwards keep their layouts relatively simple and their pages clear. They all sublimate their natural style for the project, but, as noted, don’t always look at their best due to the printed version being compromised.
We’re presented with a version of Stark who’s increasingly amoral and self-deceptive, but can it all be blamed on the exposure to Phlogistone? It would be a hint as to the direction his personality took in other Iron Man material. Should you buy it? It’s a decent enough Iron Man story, but to date only issued in an expensive hardcover edition. Second hand is probably best.