In Part 1 of this review, I bored you to death with my personal history with Iron Man and went over the first story arc of the recently concluded “Invincible Iron Man”. We left off with Stark Enterprises torn asunder by Ezekiel Stane’s bastardized Stark tech. Also, Pepper Potts was gravely wounded and her life saved only by having a repulsor of her own installed. This was followed immediately by an interlude guest starring Spider-Man where, in addition to doing the usual superhero stuff together, Fraction explored the leftover drama from Civil War, where Stark essentially put a hit out on Spider-Man. It was a nice break from the fast-paced action of the first storyline. And the next story actually dealt with the fallout of another Marvel event: Secret Invasion. Norman Osborn had turned the tide against the Skrull invasion and in doing so earned himself a key position in the United Nations… unfortunately, it was the position occupied by Tony Stark.
So, Norman rebranded S.H.I.E.L.D. as H.A.M.M.E.R. and Tony Stark cleared out his cubicle and hit the bricks, but like most disgruntled employees he did some damage on his way out, although in this case it was an act of altruism. Instead of stealing a few reams of copier paper, Tony destroyed the registry of superhero secret identities so that Norman “The Green Goblin” Osborn couldn’t use it for evil. That always looks good in the eyes of future employers.
Now, when most people get fired they play video games in their underwear for a week or two, but Tony didn’t have that luxury. You see, the only backup of the information was stored in Tony’s noggin and it certainly wasn’t beneath Norman Osborn to get that information by any means necessary. A while back, Tony had injected himself with a weaponized nanite system called Extremis, essentially a 21st century Super Soldier Serum. Because of this, he could interface directly with his armor and in doing so become one with his armor. However, it also left him with his memory and personality stored as computer data. So in order to protect the superhero community he had put at risk, he realized he needed to wipe the ol’ hard drive upstairs even if it meant making himself a vegetable.
As you might imagine, Norman Osborn scrambled to get his hands on whatever was left of that sweet, sweet brain and get a little revenge in the process. So Tony is in an ugly situation. He has progressive brain damage, he’s got H.A.M.M.E.R.’s every resource going after his ass, and the costumed vigilante community at large is still none-too-pleased with him after that nasty business of the superhero civil war. He calls in some old favors, and some familiar faces come out of the woodwork. Black Widow, Maria Hill, and Pepper Potts (in her own suit of non-combat armor called Rescue) have a fun little Marvel Team-Up style “initially at odds” adventure. Bucky Barnes (at that time Captain America) helped out where he could. And eventually, when Stormin’ Norman finally gets his hands on what’s left of Stark and beats him mercilessly on live television, Tony’s estranged friend and Avenger’s co-founder Donald Blake shows up to take custody of the comatose Iron Man, having been granted power of attorney as part of Stark’s master plan.
See you in a few, geeks.
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Taking a break from our recent Marvel Now reviews, let’s take a look at one of the volumes that ended to make way for the new direction! I’ll be honest. I was gonna review the new Iron Man series, but I couldn’t make it through the first issue. So instead I’m going to take a few days and review the full run of the first Iron Man series I enjoyed start to finish.
Growing up on comics, Iron Man was a character about whom I couldn’t bring myself to care. Sure, I respected him as an Avenger and I loved the Silver Centurion armor, but there weren’t many stories that I found interesting. There was Demon in a Bottle, where Tony Stark struggled with alcoholism and lost his company only to quit drinking and take back his company. That one was sort of a push, huh? There was Armor Wars, where all of the armor-themed villains and Iron Man had it out… that’s pretty hard not to enjoy. And then there was Armor Wars II, where that more or less (but kinda less) happened again but with John Byrne and John Romita Jr. handling it. And really, that was it. They also brought in Fin Fang Foom, a partially clothed Chinese dragon who had first appeared in Marvel’s monster comics. But I wouldn’t appreciate how awesome that was until later on.
So, I went right on ignoring Iron Man comics while they introduced War Machine. I didn’t flinch when they turned Tony Stark into a teenager, or when they relaunched it as a Heroes Reborn series. Or as a Heroes Return series. I will say that I read Extremis, the Warren Ellis storyline that comprised the first few issues of what I believe was volume 4. It was definitely a well-written science fiction story, and it was without a doubt beautifully illustrated. But it didn’t feel like an Iron Man story to me, and furthermore I stopped reading the series as soon as that story was finished. And Tony Stark, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t exactly drag me back in. I found the character boring, and the amount of times the character had arbitrarily been reinvented told me that I wasn’t alone. They had messed Iron Man up pretty bad…
But then came the first Iron Man movie, and Robert Downey Jr. made him interesting. Thankfully, Marvel did another reboot just around that time and used an interpretation of Stark which was more in line with the film version. Matt Fraction was writing it, which was also exciting to me because of his and Ed Brubaker’s fantastic run on the Immortal Iron Fist which had made that character totally credible. If Iron Fist could be made relevant, imagine what could be done to a character with a bit more mainstream appeal. The art duties fell upon Salvador Larroca. I find his art to be sort of hit or miss. I enjoyed his mid-90s work with Marvel, but it was very cartoonish. In the 2000s, he took a turn toward photorealism, and made a much bigger name for himself in doing so. I think that he relies a bit too heavily on photoreference. I don’t think he’s the type of artist who outright lifts panels from photos and film (like Greg Land, the artist of the Marvel NOW Iron Man relaunch), but he definitely uses stock backgrounds from time to time and he bases his character designs on famous actors which can be distracting. Tony Stark is Josh Holloway, Sawyer from Lost. Pepper Potts is occasionally Nicole Kidman and later on we have characters based on Tommy Lee Jones and Bill Paxton’s rather distinctive faces.
While it takes you out of the story from time to time, Larroca still puts out a very good looking book and I have to give him credit for doing for four over years without missing an issue.
As the first storyline “The Five Nightmares” kicks off, Tony Stark is still the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., so he’s busy overseeing the security of the free world when Ezekiel Stane starts using bastardized Stark technology for terrorist action across the world. Now, it may seem as if Stane was used only because his now deceased father was being used in the concurrent Iron Man film, but they didn’t just put another name inside the Iron Monger armor. Ezekiel was a brilliant young engineer who also happened to be a sociopath. He wasn’t attempting a hostile takeover of Stark’s business. He, as they say, just wanted to watch the world burn. And he does a decent job of it, actually. He effectively ruins Tony Stark by destroying Stark Enterprises in a series of crippling terrorist attacks before he’s carted off to prison.
After stripping Iron Man of the family business, Fraction’s next storyline “World’s Most Wanted” goes after his day job as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
And we’re going to tackle that part next time, because it’s a doozy.
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