Sunday, May 11, 2008

Comic Book Review: Invincible Iron Man #1

With the smash success of the movie Iron Man, you just knew that Marvel had plans to unleash an onslaught of Iron Man titles into the market. Despite the fact that Iron Man has never posted large sales numbers, Marvel feels that it is time for a second monthly Iron Man title.

Invincible Iron Man #1 is brought to us by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca. I dig Larroca’s art, so I’m sure that we will get a pretty looking issue. Matt Fraction is a solid, but not spectacular writer. And it seems that he flourishes more on gritty urban based characters than a jet-setting, hi-tech and flashy character like Tony Stark. So, needless to say, I have to admit that I find Matt Fraction as an odd choice by Marvel to head up the writing duties on Invincible Iron Man.

At any rate, I am a die-hard and long-time Iron Man fan. Therefore, you know that I am going to loyally purchase Invincible Iron Man no matter what. Still, I have serious reservations about what Fraction has in store for us. It pretty much seems that Fraction is going to piggy back on the Iron Man movie by choosing Ezekiel Stane as the main villain for this debut story arc.

Personally, I have not seen much in the previews for Invincible Iron Man #1 that lends me to believe that Fraction has much of an original story in store for us. But, maybe Fraction will prove me wrong. Let’s go ahead and do this review for Invincible Iron Man #1.

Creative Team
Writer
: Matt Fraction
Artist: Salvador Larroca

Art Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Story Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10

Synopsis: We begin in Tabora, Tanzania in Africa. We see a teenage girl happy that she just got her very own Stark cell phone that also has a camera. The girl never had either a phone or a camera before now. All her friends are excited to use the new Stark cell phone.

Unfortunately, a car with three young men arrives on the scene. The young men are suicide bombers. They start yelling in a language that isn’t even human. The three boys have arc reactors in their chests and palms like Tony Stark from the Iron Man movie. The boys then glow with all the energy from the arc reactors and then explode and kill everyone around them including the girl with her new Stark cell phone.

We cut to Iron Man in space fixing a satellite. We then cut to Tony back at his house getting ready to bed a hot French chick. There is a running inner monologue by Tony in this scene that continues throughout this issue. Tony says that he has five big nightmares. The first nightmare is that he starts drinking alcohol and falls off the wagon once again and flushes away six years of sobriety. Tony thinks about drinking a magnum of champagne down the line of this woman’s back. Tony is about to have some enjoyable hot sex with this girl when he is suddenly interrupted by Mariah Hill.

We cut to Tony at the Helicarrier. Dum Dum Dugan is alongside Maria so either Fraction screwed up continuity or this entire story arc takes place prior to Secret Invasion. Hill briefs Tony on the suicide bombing from earlier in this issue. The twist about this suicide bombing is that the explosion had a nuclear yield yet there was no fallout. That this type of bomb was too big for the regional terrorists group in that area.

Hill says that there is “chatter” that an AIM splinter group called Advanced Genocide Mechanics is at least aware of this suicide bombing. Maria then shows Tony one of the round arc reactors and says that this was found on the scene. Tony immediately states that he wants to talk to Rhodey on a secured line in his office.

Tony then asks when the raid on AGM is scheduled. Tony says that he wants to lead the raid. Maria Hill objects to putting Tony at risk since they don’t know what AGM is capable of doing. Tony rebuffs Hill stating that he is not asking for her permission to ground AGM into the dirt. Tony says that the raid won’t have to be rescheduled for him and that he can have Iron Man up in ready in time. Tony then mentions that he wanted to go to Houston to watch the space shuttle launch. That they never show it on TV anymore unless people die. (Random.)

We shift to Ezekiel Stane meeting with the Board of Directors of a big tobacco company. Stane goes through a heavy security screening process before the meeting which reveals that he has a pacemaker. (Awww, how cute. A heart condition just like Tony had prior to getting the Extremis Virus.)

Stane stands before the Board of Directors and talks about how they hired him to tweak their tobacco to produce a higher basal metabolic rate in the people that smoked it. That they wanted Stane to invent a cigarette that actually made the smoker lose weight. Stane says he succeeded in doing it. That this will keep big tobacco alive decades after it should have been driven into the ground.

Stane drones on about how he makes weapons for terrorists, but what the tobacco company does is completely evil. That Stane may deal with murders, but big tobacco executives addict kids and then murder them themselves. (Oh god. I hope Fraction doesn’t break his neck while he preaches to me from his soapbox. What is next? Railing against gun makers? Maybe bashing on alcohol companies? Maybe auto manufacturers and their deadly cars that spit out pollution?)

Stane says that he took the tobacco’s company and used it to create bio-upgrades from himself. Stane has upgraded his hypothalamus. That normal people use up to 70% if their caloric energy doing stuff like breathing, blinking and heart beating. However, Stane has his down to 9% which leaves him tons of surplus energy. Stane then reveals blaster tips at the end of his fingers. Stane kills the entire Board of Directors with his energy blasts. Stane then blasts out a window and jumps from the skyscraper and falls to the ground.

We cut back to the Helicarrier where Tony mentions his second nightmare. It is when the Iron Man armor becomes cheap and easily replicable. Because as it stands, there are two armors: Tony’s hi-tech Extremis armor and Rhodey’s War Machine armor which isn’t as good as Tony’s armor.

We see Tony talking with Rhodey on a secured line. Rhodey says that the suicide bombing blast looks armor related. Tony disagrees. Rhodey urges Tony to take another look at the data before he rules out that the blast was armor related. (Yes, because when it comes to science and technology, we all know that Rhodey is much smarter than Tony.)

Tony then goes to his lab. Tony says that his third nightmare spins out from his second nightmare. That someone other than Tony or Rhodey will pilot the Iron Man armor. Tony says that he is not thrilled with people with suits of armor that are similar to the Iron Man armor. That during the Armor Wars, Tony’s tech was sold to the underworld and being used to kill people.

Tony say that since becoming Director of SHIELD that he started a pet project that tracks everyone who has a suit of armor or who used to have a suit of armor. And that Tony is watching all of them. Tony notices that none of them have been to Africa. Therefore, Tony has to be dealing with a new player.

We cut to Stane in his limo with his girlfriend, Sasha. Sasha is amazed that Stane survived such a fall. Stane then eats some goo that is loaded with calories to build up his energy once again. Sasha tells Stane that the power yield from the suicide bombing in Africa were above specs. Stane is pleased. Sasha says that they are lining up more suicide bombing candidates and getting them modded up with the new tech.

We shift back to the Helicarrier where Tony Stark is ready to put on his Iron Man armor. Pepper Potts mentions how it is too bad that Maria Hill ruined Tony’s date with the Contessa. Tony replies that the Contessa was so hot and was wearing a thong made of jewels that cost more than his Lamborghini. Pepper openly wonders if the Contessa could even spell “Lamborghini.”

Tony then tells Pepper that he has begun to notice tiny little glitches with his armor. Nothing big enough to trigger any alarm bells. But something is definitely up. Pepper states that the Extremis virus hooks into his armor and the armor into the Stark dataspine. Pepper says that that is a lot of fronts to be attacked. Tony tells Pepper to monitor his data feedback in real time and look for patterns. Pepper is less than pleased that Tony would go into a full on raid before running diagnosis tests on his armor.

Pepper agrees to do what Tony asks. As Pepper walks away she says “cotton and spandex. Three for .99 cents at Target.” Pepper then spells the word “Lamborghini.” Tony armors up and blasts off. Tony thinks how his Extremis virus based armor is bleeding edge technology. That there is no tech support to call. No software patches to download. So he has to test a lot and fix on fail.

Tony leads the strike force on the AGM facility. Tony mentions his fourth nightmare. That the Iron Man becomes disposable. Tony thinks how without the Iron Man he doesn’t know what he would do with himself. Tony then quickly takes out the AGM soldiers. During the fight Tony makes a note to himself to work up other ammunition beyond bombs. Stuff like nerve agents and viral payloads.

Pepper than radios Tony and tells him that she discovered that a girl at the scene of the suicide bombing had just activated her Stark cell phone. That she had taken a picture just before the explosion. Pepper sends the picture to Tony. Tony is horrified. Tony then says that his fifth nightmare is that someone will make the Iron Man cheap, easy to use and disposable. And that someone wouldn’t be Tony. Tony says his biggest fear has come true. That the Iron Man 2.0 is here and he isn’t the one that made it.

Comments
The Good
: Invincible Iron Man #1 was a solid debut issue. I will admit that this issue was a better read than I was expecting. Fraction delivers a well paced issue as the story has a pleasant flow and smooth scene transitions. The reader gets treated to a good blend of drama and action. Invincible Iron Man #1 is also a properly plotted issue. Fraction wastes no time at all kicking off this debut story arc. Fraction moves the story along with a clear purpose in mind.

Fraction delivers a technically sound and well constructed debut issue. Invincible Iron Man #1 was a great way to kick off this initial story arc. Fraction lays a solid foundation for the story arc and does a good job introducing Ezekiel Stane as the big nasty villain. Fraction clearly sets forth the mission statement for this new title so that the reader clearly knows what is in store for them.

Fraction serves up some serviceable dialogue. It isn’t anything spectacular but it more than gets the job done. Fraction is clearly inspired by the Iron Man movie with the snappy banter that he has Tony and Pepper Potts engage in about underwear and how to spell “Lamborghini.”

I dig how Fraction uses Pepper in this issue. I definitely want to see more of her character. One of the most enjoyable aspects of Iron Man has been the great supporting cast. Whether it is Happy Hogan, Pepper Potts, Bethany Cabe or Rhodey, Tony Stark has always been surrounded by some loyal friends.

Ever since Marvel ripped Tony from Stark Enterprises and placed him into the world of politics first as the Secretary of Defense and now as the Director of SHIELD, the fantastic traditional supporting cast disappeared. It is certainly a wise move to re-insert Pepper back into the story playing the role of Tony’s Girl Friday that she has dutiful played for so many years.

I’m glad that Fraction is trying to impress upon the reader a bit more that Stark is not a military person. That Stark is not a politician. That Stark is a CEO of a corporation. And it makes sense that even as Director of SHIELD that he would still have his trusted aide by his side managing everything in his life. After all, even if the Board of Directors is running the day-to-day operations of Stark Enterprises, I believe that Tony is still the CEO. And it follows that Tony would need Pepper to coordinate his life so that he can run SHIELD and still maintain a pulse on what is going on with his corporation.

Obviously, I enjoyed the return of Tony’s playboy attitude. Marvel effectively neutered Tony’s character when they inserted him into the world of politics and morphed him into a colorless cog of the government. Ever since Tony became the Secretary of Defense, then the road to the Civil War and continuing now as the Director of SHIELD, Tony has lost any and all of his personality that made him the insanely cool character that I grew up with.

Fraction understands that Tony has a monstrous sexual appetite but has been portrayed about as celibate as a monk ever since the build up to Civil War. The more Tony acts like his traditional self the better. Maybe the overwhelming popularity of Downey, Jr.’s version of Tony Stark will spur Marvel to give us the real Tony Stark once again in the comic books.

The five nightmares that Fraction uses as the spin for this story was a brilliant move. The five nightmares serves as an ingenious way to fill newer reads in on Tony’s past and his personality. Fraction manages to use the five nightmares to highlight past major story arcs in Tony’s life like the “Demon in a Bottle” story arc and the “Armor Wars” story arc. This was a nice way to make Invincible Iron Man #1 new reader friendly and to give a great sense of Tony’s past and personality without boring long-time readers with dull flashback scenes.

I dig how Fraction plays off of Tony’s dislike for other armored heroes and villains. IT is kind of like Batman’s dislike of other super heroes operating in Gotham City. It makes perfect sense that Tony would be extremely territorial over armor technology. Tony has the ego and brilliant mind that would make him believe that he is the only person capable of handling armor technology.

Salvador Larroca provides the reader with some wonderful artwork. I am biased since I have always been a huge fan of Larroca’s style of art. Larroca draws a beautiful Iron Man armor. It is definitely better than anything we have gotten from the collection of artists on Iron Man: Director of Shield.

The Bad: Invincible Iron Man #1 was certainly not without its fair share of flaws. The fact is that this title is just not as good as what we get on Iron Man’s other monthly title crafted by the Knaufs. Invincible Iron Man #1 isn’t as good as what Jon Favreau gives us over on Iron Man: Viva Las Vegas.

Fraction delivers some average character work. Fraction does not give us a Tony that is as deep, complex and textured as what the Knaufs give us on Iron Man: Director of Shield. And Fraction’s Tony is not as cavalier and entertaining as Favreau’s Tony over on Iron Man: Viva Las Vegas. Fraction manages to give us a Tony that is an awkward mix of the two and definitely not as interesting as what we get on the other two Iron Man titles.

The entire plotline involving Ezekiel Stane feels stale, recycled and unoriginal. Fraction gives us a plotline that feels like a Frankensteined rehash of the original Obadiah Stane story arc and the Armor Wars story arc. I would much rather have seen Fraction try and deliver a plotline that was fresh and new. Invincible Iron Man #1 simply does not feel like a particularly creative direction for Iron Man. Whether you dig Iron Man: Director of SHIELD or not, at least you have to admit that the Knaufs are trying their hardest to give us new, fresh and creative stories on that title.

Fraction also needs to go back and do a little more research about the Extremis virus. Maybe Fraction should call up Warren Ellis in order to get a better feel for what Extremis is. Fraction has Tony worried that someone is hacking his Extremis virus technology. Fraction mentions that Tony’s Extremis virus hooks into his armor.

From what I have gathered, it appears that Fraction is wrong. The Extremis process involved injecting billions of microscopic nanotubes into Tony's brain. The nanotubes carry the Extremis programming information. At that point, Tony’s brain was reprogrammed. Evidently, the part of the brain which maintains an "integrity map" of the body and handles body functions and repairs, is re-programmed by the Extremis virus. Then Tony’s entire body re-grew itself, remaking itself per the Extremis instructions. After this point, the Extremis itself is no longer involved. The Extremis virus’ job is already complete.

The Extremis virus is not a “virus” in the classic sense. And the Extremis virus is not still active in Tony’s body serving as the source of his new powers. The Extremis virus has already done its job and the powers that Tony now has are Extremis based in that after the virus did its job he had new powers. Kind of like how being bombarded with cosmic rays gave the Fantastic Four their powers, but they don’t still have cosmic rays inside of them powering their abilities.

Therefore, you cannot “hack” into the Extremis virus. It has already done its job. And Tony’s armor does not hook into the Extremis virus. The armor simply hooks into Tony’s already evolved physical form due to the Extremis virus.

Another mild irritant that newer readers probably won’t pick up or even care about is Fraction continually having Tony refer to his armor as “The Iron Man.” I have never heard Tony refer to his suit of armor as “The Iron Man.” Tony always gave his armors technical names like Model XV, Mark I or Mark II. Or Tony would give them catchy casual names like “Stealth Armor,” “Hulkbuster Armor” or “War Machine Armor.” I have always viewed Tony’s current armor as his Extremis Armor. And I have always gotten the sense that Iron Man is the name of the super hero, not the armor.

After reading Invincible Iron Man #1 I got the general feeling that Fraction is using the Iron Man movie rather than the Iron Man comic book for his source material. Fraction simply doesn’t display an impressive feel for Tony’s character like the Knaufs do. Fraction doesn’t flash a good sense of Iron Man’s character in general. It seems that Fraction’s knowledge of Iron Man does not extend past the two biggest story arcs in Iron Man’s history (“Demon in a Bottle” and “Armor Wars”) which even casual Iron Man fans and non-Iron Man fans have knowledge of.

I got the impression that the Knaufs really researched Iron Man in attempt to figure out what makes Tony Stark tick. On the other hand, I get the feeling that Fraction’s research consisted of watching the Iron Man movie and reading the trade paperback volumes for “Demon in a Bottle” and “Armor Wars.”

When I first heard that Fraction would be writing Invincible Iron Man, I had my doubts. I don’t think that Fraction’s talents are best suited for a hi-tech Sci-Fi styled title like Iron Man. Fraction’s talents are more suited for street-based urban heroes. Fraction didn’t do anything on Invincible Iron Man #1 to change my opinion. I would have much preferred if Marvel had tapped another writer for Invincible Iron Man and left Fraction on Iron Fist. Fraction has done a fantastic job on Iron Fist and that title and character much better suits his talents than Iron Man does.

While I did like how Fraction handled Pepper Potts for the most part, I have to say that I do not want to see Fraction have Pepper romantically involved with Tony. We went down that road when Pepper first appeared in Iron Man’s title. She and Tony had some flirty relationship going on, but Pepper ended up marrying Happy Hogan. And Happy was one of Tony’s closest friends. I understand that since Happy is now dead, that Pepper is “available.” But, the thought of Tony banging his dead close friend and confidant’s wife is distasteful and creepy.

I found the first part of the scene with Stane addressing the Board of Directors of the tobacco company completely annoying. Listening to Stane say how selling weapons to terrorists is nowhere near as evil as what tobacco companies was not only painfully preachy and lame, it was also mind numbingly dumb. Honestly, tobacco companies don’t even rate a spot on my Top 10 list of things evil on this planet. Everyone knows that cigarette will kill you. If people choose to smoke them and kill themselves then it is their right. Just like if people choose to drink alcohol to excess and ruin their liver.

What is next? Fraction will preach about the evils of alcohol companies or gun makers? Maybe automakers since cars pollute the environment and kill people every day? This is how Fraction totally turned me off from Punisher: War Journal. Seriously, go whine to your wife or someone else who cares about your opinion concerning societal issues. All I want from a comic book writer on a title like Invincible Iron Man is to entertain me.

I only have two minor complaints with Larroca’s art in this issue. First, it seemed that Larroca was copying a lot of the promotional art from the Iron Man movie. I have a full run of Iron Man titles all the way back to Iron Man #1 (Vol. I) and to the best of my knowledge I have never seen Iron Man fly in the comic books like he does in the movies where he uses his gloves to help stabilize and direct himself.

Also, Larroca has to ditch the moustache on Tony. Tony has been sporting a goatee for a long time now and for good reason. Hey, it was cool that Tony had a moustache back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. But, in 2008? No, not cool at all. Plus, it doesn’t even jive with how Tony is drawn on Mighty Avengers and Iron Man: Director of SHIELD where he sports a goatee. It doesn’t jive with the movie version of Tony Stark either, which by the way is some of the best looking facial hair ever.

Overall: Invincible Iron Man #1 was a solid debut issue. This title will certainly appeal to readers who prefer a more traditional version of Tony in a more traditional straight-up super hero story than what we get with the Knaufs on Iron Man: Director of SHIELD. I also think that Invincible Iron Man #1 will appeal to newer readers who have never sampled Iron Man before. If you like action themed stories with plenty of hi-tech gadgets then you will enjoy what Fraction has in store for us with this title.

Fans of the Knaufs’ work on Iron Man: Director of SHIELD may not be as impressed with Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man. The Knaufs deliver the thinking man’s Iron Man. Fraction does not. Still, I’m sure that Invincible Iron Man will probably be more of a commercial hit than Iron Man: Director of SHIELD. Fraction did a great job making Invincible Iron Man a very accessible title.

Despite my criticisms, I would still recommend Invincible Iron Man #1. I think this title will appeal to your average comic book reader. And you get good value for your money. This title treats the reader to gorgeous artwork and solid writing. And that is better than many titles currently on the market.

6 comments:

IslandLiberal said...

I was really impressed by this.

I'm not sure I agree with your assessment of Fraction's range; a lot of his projects (particularly Image stuff like "Casanova" and the steampunk "The Five Fists of Science" show a lot of interest in technology); the comment about the space shuttle, by the by, is Fraction speaking through the character, as he's said he thinks that the public neglect of the space program these days floors him ("when did we stop dreaming of the stars?", or words to that effect). From Fraction's interviews I think this series is aiming to focus a lot on the technological aspect of the character, as well as the corporate stuff (I like Pepper as a more high-level executive character; reminds me a bit of Lana running LexCorp).

On the matter of Stane (who was the "big bad" of Fraction's The Order series; he succeeded in killing two members of the team and getting away scot free), Fraction's aim, as I understand it, is to contrast Tony with a sort of post-national, 21st century version of the character, operating under a different type of corporate model. The jury's still out on how that will work, but I think he's off to a good start (although, on an art note, Stane's tech, from what little we've seen of it so far, doesn't look near as cool as Iron Man's, which is something of a problem).

What's most interesting to consider when evaluating this book is that it's clearly meant as a gateway for people who've seen the movie (the extent to which movies bring in new readers is often limited, but it's always worth trying). Looking through it again and trying to decide if someone could walk in from the theatre, pick up a copy of this, and understand what was going on, I would say, broadly, yes; the whole 'Director of SHIELD' thing is the only stumbling point, but that's addressed in-text (and SHIELD was in the movie), so it's a minor one.

The Matrix Has You said...

Problem with releasing a "616" universe Iron Man title to people who don't know what is going on in the 616 universe: they won't know what is going on.

Sure, you can spin things one way or another to aid a new reader into the mix but if you look at what's been going on in Marvel lately, Iron Man in the movie and Iron Man in the comic can't really be all that much related... unless I've been out of Iron Man so long I can't surmise what has been going on without actually reading him.

Rokk Krinn said...

Islandliberal: Maybe Fraction will prove me wrong with his range. He will have to do better than this issue to do so.

I definitely like the idea of a more corporate take on Iron Man. I much prefer him in that setting compared to the world of politics.

The Stane plotline just feels too much of a re-tread to get my interest. Again, maybe Fraction will pull off something cool that will make me change my opinion. I'll keep an open mind.

I totally agree that this issue is designed to be a "gateway" comic book for people who liked the Iron Man movie and then decided to get the comic book.

But, that is also part of the problem with this issue. Fraction's knowledge of Iron Man, the Extremis Virus and his general continuity seems limited to the Iron Man movie, Armor Wars and Demon in a Bottle. And that is about it.

I just get the feeling that Fraction did not put in enough research. Nor do I get the impression that he really gets Tony's character or the Iron Man mythos. Again, Fraction could still prove me wrong my cranking out stronger reads that this one.

In general, I don't find this title to be anywhere as well written and complex or as creative and original as what the Knaufs give us on Iron Man: Director of SHIELD.

Anthony Lynch said...

Heres Fractions rundown on the issue.
You might find it interesting:-
COMMENTARY TRACK: "Invincible Iron Man" #1 with Matt Fraction

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Felicia said...

I have to disagree in regard to the artwork.

I really really don't like Larroca's art in this issue. He used way too much photo-referencing and it's distracting and makes Tony look like a different guy in every panel. And I don't think I've ever seen any artist draw Tony's face looking that...fat?! Maybe it's more the colorist's fault. And I have to say whoever did the color needs to seriously tone down the saturation and the greasy highlight on Tony's face (it's making me nauseous. Please make it stop.)

Okay that's my rant on the artwork. I don't have much to say about the story (I was so distraught over the art that I barely pay any attention to the story.) It is nice that Fraction referenced older Iron Man story and at least made an effort to show Iron Man has a history (I'm looking at you, Extremis)