Matt Fraction knows what he’s doing. The cover for Invincible Iron Man #515 makes it very clear that War Machine is going to die. There he is, right there, broken and shattered in Tony Stark’s arms.
And on the inside comes more of the same, with every line an irony echo of Jim Rhodes’ ultimate fate. We know he’s going to die, the villains know he’s going to die, but War Machine remains in the dark until the very end. It’s a well-done issue, and not just because it gives us another fight scene. Invincible Iron Man has started to ramp up the fighting recently, as Fraction begins to enter an end-game to wrap all his ideas up, and the series has only improved from finally letting the tension out. Sometimes the book can be so suck in character moments that Fraction forgets entirely to give the readers ‘comic-book moments’ where things explode or get punched. #515 suffers from no such problem. While War Machine fights against a mounting number of classic Iron Man villains, the rest of the cast all struggle with their various problems and fight to be by his side.
Tony Stark has been shut down by a US Government which – once again – doesn’t trust him. His suit can’t be activated unless they let him activate it, and he’s recently been really struggling with his alcoholism. Fraction has never been afraid to really stamp down on Tony’s neck and make him suffer, and this issue manages to do that while still showcasing the strengths of the character. Pepper Potts hasn’t been quite as interesting, but Fraction still manages to give her a couple of pages to be average in. Bethany McCabe, upsettingly doesn’t get to do much talking at all.
But who cares about those three? This is an issue for War Machine. Now, it’s fair to say he doesn’t put up the greatest fight of his life against his enemies – he comes across as extremely cocky and arrogant during the battle, to the extent where you start to root for them a little bit. But the pacing of the fight is absolutely nailed by Fraction, where he can bring all his myriad plot points into one splash page which sends War Machine off to Heaven. Oh, he dies, folks. Make no doubt about that. War Machine is gone.
The final few pages then set up a new status quo which makes next month’s issue seem very far away indeed. We’ve seen Tony Stark on the run for years now. It looks like he’s finally going to turn around and hurtle head-first into trouble. Fraction has been telling a story which needs a powerful finale in order for everything else to fit into place and define the run as a classic. With the momentum he has now, that’s looking more and more like a guarantee.