This week marks the debut of not one but two Iron Man titles. One is an ongoing series, and despite the fact that I’ve not been interested in the regular Iron Man series for some time now, the talent involved in this second title is more than enough to draw me in. The other new title is a limited series crafted by the Iron Man movie’s director and a Marvel artist who also served as an artistic/design consultant for the flick as well. One of these comics is a real delight, challenging and clever while maintaining a strong sense of drama, both external and internal. The other is more of a fleeting diversion, not so satisfying but not wholly disappointing either.
Invincible Iron Man #1
“The Five Nightmares, Part 1: Armageddon Days”
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Colors: Frank D’Armata & Stephane Peru
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Warren Simons
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.05 CAN
It’s a shame Marvel didn’t have this comic book in stores in time for Free Comic Book Day, because Fraction delivers a smart, action-packed and relevant story that should hook adult fans of Marvel’s big blockbuster success. If it wasn’t apparent before, Matt Fraction makes it clear that he is the heir apparent to the sort of sci-fi/poli-sci storytelling throne that Warren Ellis made popular. Fraction captures the sort of charm and confidence that make the Tony Stark character so compelling, but it also shows us some chinks in his figurative armor, bringing the impossibly brilliant, successful and daring figure down to earth.
Tony Stark is run ragged, as he endeavors to balance his business, his duties as director of S.H.I.E.L.D., his heroic missions as Iron Man and his personal life. When he learns of a horrific and mysterious suicide bombing in Africa, he soon becomes obsessed. He has a nagging suspicion that the technology involved has a connection to his armor, and what could have been a routine S.H.I.E.L.D. investigation soon becomes a personal matter that sends chills up Tony Stark’s spine. Meanwhile, Ezekiel Stane emerges from hiding, and if you thought he was dangerous before, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Salvador Larroca’s photorealistic artwork brings credibility to the real-world nightmare that is a suicide bombing, and the convincing visuals also make the Stane scenes all the more creepy. The Quesada cover, which is one of the two main, non-variant versions, is unfortunately exaggerated, delivering a misleading cue about what one can expect to find inside the comic book. The interior colors add texture to the linework, further reinforcing the realistic look, and at the same time, they add energy to the more wondrous, science-fiction elements as well. The issue is dedicated to the late Stephane Peru, an up-and-coming colorist who passed away recently. The strength of his work on this project, as well as the fact that he was given a role in what Marvel had to view as a key, high-profile new project, is a testament to his craft and how highly it must have been considered by those who know what makes a great colorist.
Wow… six covers. Talk about overkill. Of course, given the popularity of the movie, I suspect that this cash grab/variant-cover scheme will prove to be one of Marvel’s more successful ones in recent memory, much to my chagrin.
I’m thrilled to see that Fraction has brought his Ezekiel Stane character over from The Order. He’s much more imposing and threatening in this story, as the writer’s able to dedicate more time to develop his character and his villainous actions. The political elements of the plot are fascinating and bring a real sense of urgency to the story. I also enjoyed Fraction’s occasional commentary about social and cultural priorities; Tony’s aside about shuttle landings is right on point and rather disheartening when one considers it.
Ultimately, what makes the story so compelling is the personal effect it has on the title character. The narration, in Tony’s voice, not only fills new readers in on his background, but it also lets us inside his head and his heart. Fraction humanizes the ultimate alpha male. On the surface, he has everything. He’s a unique individual, but that means he also has unique fears and flaws. A lot of Marvel readers haven’t cared for the character of Tony Stark since Civil War; Fraction redeems him here. 8/10
Iron Man: Viva Las Vegas #1
Writer: Jon Favreau
Artist/Cover artist: Adi Granov
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99 US/$4.05 CAN
Actor/director Jon Favreau is new to the world of comics, so this story boasts a couple of flaws, but the Silver Age appeal of the central plot premise redeems it somewhat. It’s clear from the start, though, that the best thing this limited series has going for it is Adi Granov’s artwork. He’s pretty much been off the industry radar since he illustrated Warren Ellis’s story arc on Iron Man a couple of years ago, and this is a grand return.
Feeling terribly underappreciated after pulling off a spectacular, super-heroic rescue of hundreds of innocents at 30,000 feet, Tony Stark decides to take a vacation in Vegas, and he quickly finds some alluring, exotic company for his time in Sin City. Meanwhile, an ancient, giant statue of a golden dragon has been moved to Vegas and staged in front of Stark’s new casino, but what no one realizes is that it’s no ordinary statue.
Whereas Invincible Iron Man #1 fits into current Marvel continuity neatly and does an excellent job of bringing new readers up to speed on those circumstances, Favreau’s script doesn’t seem to belong in any Iron Man continuity of which I’m aware. Tony’s still drinking in this story and he’s in his modern armor, so it doesn’t jibe with regular Marvel continuity. And he’s got a secret identity, so it’s not set in the world of the movie (at least, not as it ended in the final cut). That also makes Marvel’s decision to issue a Skrull variant of this out-of-continuity, non-Secret Invasion tie-in comic rather puzzling.
Granov’s artwork is absolutely lovely, and it’s appropriately photorealistic, given that this title is designed to capitalize on a potential new audience as a result of the movie. The scenes featuring a swarm of lizards are really convincing, and they manage to establish both a convincing look and a surreal atmosphere at the same time. The artist’s cover image reminds me a bit of the style of Jim (Young Avengers) Cheung, a fellow “Young Gun,” as Marvel branded them and four other artists about three years back. The significant T&A factor in this comic book is distracting, but the artist can’t really bear the blame for it. The more gratuitous elements that Favreau includes in this story are in keeping with the tone of the movie at times, so I understand why they’ve been incorporated into this project.
I was quite disappointed to find that this comic book was a buck more expensive than most Marvel titles. It reads incredibly quickly, and one is left with the impression that one is paying for less content rather than more. The cardstock cover certainly doesn’t seem worth the extra cost alone. Of course, Marvel is slowly introducing these higher-priced special projects with high-profile talent (for example, Logan by Brian K. Vaughan and Eduardo Risso), and I worry that the publisher is paving the way for a price hike across the board.
This first issue is really little more than tease. Favreau lays the groundwork, sets the stage, but the real story is barely underway. Still, this is a successful tease. The promise of a big conflict between the title character and a Kirby-esque monster is enough to maintain a grasp on my interest, even if it is a tenuous one. 6/10