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Marvel Comics

Matt Fraction says he feels a little like "someone who's just been handed the biggest, baddest and coolest toy in the toy box."

"And they've told me to just go crazy on the playground with it," he added.

If that makes it sound as if Fraction is little excited, it's because he is. The 32-year-old comics professional landed one of the biggest, most high-profile writing assignments at Marvel Comics.

He's getting the opportunity to write a book starring Iron Man, a superhero character that's currently featured in the No. 1 movie in the country.

A new monthly title about the armored hero, "Invincible Iron Man," debuts the same month as the film. The first issue came out this week and Fraction describes the book as "a fast-paced technological thriller."

"It's full of ideas and concepts without being too full of big ideas and concepts, or being too full of itself. It's got action, intrigue, action, romance, action, humor, action and more action.

"Have I mentioned that there's a lot of action in this book?" he said with a laugh.

Kidding aside, Fraction (whose real last name is Fritchman) said he's having fun writing the book, and described it as a "dream job."

"Iron Man is one of my favorite characters," he said from his Kansas City, Mo., home. "It's such a cool concept. An inventor who has his own robotic armored suit so he can do some good in the world? Cool."

Still, he said even he was surprised when he was chosen to write the book. To date, Fraction's comics work has mostly been on "quirky, little" titles featuring "quirky, little" characters.

For Marvel, he has been co-writing the kung-fu fantasy "The Immortal Iron Fist," as well as writing both "The Order" and "Punisher War Journal," which aren't exactly the biggest titles the comics giant publishes.

But he apparently impressed Marvel officials with an "annual" one-shot featuring Spider-Man characters (that issue was recently nominated for an Eisner Award, one of the comics industry's biggest honors).

"That was fun, and it was a really big thing for my career," Fraction said.

Emboldened by the success, he "pitched" an Iron Man idea to Marvel executives at a winter creators retreat. "Evidently, they liked what I said, because the next thing you know, I've got an Iron Man book I'm writing."

"Invincible Iron Man" is different from an existing Iron Man book titled "Iron Man: Director of SHIELD," which Fraction described as a "spy tale, like James Bond with even-better gadgets."

"It wasn't really Marvel's intention, but the character of Tony Stark has gotten a bad rap lately," he said. "It's our job to change that perception."

At the time of the interview, Fraction hadn't seen the "Iron Man" movie yet, though he was aware that there were some strong similarities between his comics title and the film.

For example, the main villain in Fraction's title is Ezekiel Stane, an evil technology buff who wants revenge for the death of his father, Obadiah. (The movie features a villain named Obadiah Stane, played by Jeff Bridges.)

Fraction created Ezekiel as a behind-the-scenes manipulator who pulling the strings for other villains in the critically acclaimed but short-lived comic book "The Order." Iron Man and his alter ego, Tony Stark, also appeared in that title, though as "bit players."

"There are a few themes and story threads from 'The Order' that will be addressed in 'Invincible Iron Man,' but this book really stands on his own," he said.

Fraction has an "exclusive" deal with Marvel, which prevents him from working at the company's main competitor, DC Comics. (Among DC's characters are Batman and Superman.)

"It feels a little strange to be calling myself a comics professional," he said. "This started as a neat little hobby at first, but has grown to ridiculous proportions. I'm fortunate, though — it helps me put food on the table for my family." (Fraction's wife, Kelly, gave birth to their first child — a son named Henry — last fall.)

His Marvel contract does allow him to work on independent titles. He also has a science-fiction spy thriller titled "Casanova," and he's doing research for a graphic novel about Abraham Lincoln.

While that last one may sound odd, Fraction already authored "The Five Fists of Science," a graphic novel that imagined Nikola Tesla and Mark Twain as action heroes.

"There are all sorts of crazy ideas that are trying like crazy to get out of my head," he said simply.

If you go ...

What: Matt Fraction in-store signing

Where: Black Cat Comics, 2265 S. Highland Drive

When: Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

How much: Free

Phone: 461-4228

Web: www.blackcat-comics.com

E-mail: [email protected]