It’s curious that Fraction called this book “Stark: Disassembled” because that’s what we’ve been watching in the previous books– the slow and sad deconstruction of Tony Stark. Piece by piece, we saw Tony’s recollection of his history wiped out. It may have been about protecting secrets but the end result was the de-evolution of Tony’s persona, as he and his suits became more and more simple and childlike. We weren’t reading about the death of a character but Fraction’s story was pretty close to that as Stark’s suicide gambit appeared to be leading towards an inevitable end. “Who’s Happy?” Stark asks Pepper Potts at one point, referring to her late husband but asking a questions that is so loaded with possible meanings.
I’m still unsure of what crimes Tony is guilty of other than being in the way of Norman Osborn’s ascent to power. Tony’s sins, on the other hand, have always been quite evident, as his hubris set him up to be the fall guy for almost everything that’s happened from the death of Captain America to the invasion of the Skrulls. Stark: Disassembled feels like it should be Stark’s penance for what’s happened. Lost inside his own mind, we find Stark digging in the dirt, trying to unravel some mystery. Bits and pieces of an extravagant life lie half buried in the dirt but all he can dig out are teeth and a familiar looking red and yellow chest plate. As a Freudian look into Tony’s subconscious, I still have no idea what the teeth are supposed to represent
On his spirit walk, Tony is accompanied by two people; an older couple named Howard and Maria. For half of the book, they function as Tony’s guides and protectors, hiding him away from mechanical sentries who are searching for him. They live in shacks and hide Tony under the floorboards. In Tony’s mind, they exist in a world where technology is horded by these sentries and their leader the Bureaucrat. But once he finds the shack, he refuses to leave it. It’s the shelter and protection that he knows he won’t have back in the real world.
Speaking of the “real world,” Tony’s friends and allies gather to help him as best they can. Being Tony Stark, of course he left a back door way out in his plans. He has given those plans to Maria Hill and Pepper Potts to carry out. Even if Osborn has called off his soldiers against Tony, he still has plenty of other enemies as Madame Masque, a former lover of his, goes behind Osborn’s back and send the aptly named Ghost after Stark. In one reality, Tony is fighting machines; in another he’s fighting a ghost.
For this book, it’s fascinating to get through it and realize that there’s no Iron Man in it. While there’s hints of the armor, no one is ever wearing any armor as Fraction has Tony quite fearful of technology. It takes Tony even most of his spirit journey to realize that he actually is Iron Man in a neat way of making Tony the hero and not the armor. We’ve seen plenty of other people where Tony’s armor or similar ones so one of the questions always around him is what makes him the hero? Now we’ve seen in Fraction’s story the lengths he will go to to protect his friends and allies. Even if Stark never wore another Iron Man armor again, he’s at least shown himself to be a true hero.
In the end, when Tony wakes up and sees the world around him, a world that he’s largely responsible for, Fraction gives Tony his own little reboot. This is not a Crisis on Infinite Earths or even Spider-Man: Brand New Day level reboot but Fraction does give Tony a small one and a slight bit of absolution from his sins. If there were questions you needed to think about before reading Stark: Disassembled, there’s one you’ve got to ask when the book is done; “does Tony Stark deserve the saving that he got?” He’s not judged guilty of his actions but he’s also not left completely off the hook either. Fraction leaves him as a man completely aware of his sins but now left having never actually committed them. It’s a paradox that Fraction has set up, judging Tony both guilty and not guilty of any supposed crimes and sins.
The non-judgemental ending means that Stark: Disassembled is an interesting character piece but also relatively inconsequential. Fraction has conveniently made Tony a hero again, without ignoring any of his possible transgressions but also making those transgressions practically something that someone else did. The past couple of years may as well have been a dream or happened to someone else. Tony is left in the end with the knowledge of what he did without having done it himself. Fraction has managed to tear down the character, leaving him back at being an almost blank slate in the end, knowledgeable about what he can do without ever having done it.