Thursday, 20 January 2011

Iron Man #500 review


Blimey, it's ages since I've read an issue of Iron Man. We were buds once - check out my profile pic at the side of the page for proof. Touching. But I fell out of love with Tony Stark around the time of Marvel's Civil War event, and while I understand that his conniving, murdering ways have been waved away, I haven't felt like revisiting his comic.

But I can't resist an anniversary issue. Time to give the old soak another chance.

So here's Iron Man #500, a commendably chunky $4.99 issue of all-new story and art. Said story is set in two time periods. In the present, Tony Stark enlists Peter Parker's assistance after remembering that in between bouts of alcoholism and megalomania he created a doomsday weapon even worse than his several hundred other doomsday weapons. And decades in the future we see his son and granddaughter reenacting a Terminator movie as part of a band of doughty freedom fighters battling against said weapon's descendants. Oppressing one and all is the well-wrinkly Mandarin, whose long life is due to his personal power pack, Tony Stark.

Can Tony today do something to help Tony in the future, without having much idea of what the future will be?

Writer Matt Fraction uses the Spider-Man book's current emphasis on Peter Parker, genius, to motivate his guest spot. And once here, Peter reminds us that with great power etc, and comes up with a supposedly amazing idea that Tony would have to be asleep not to think up for himself. As Spidey, he teams up with Iron Man to fight a bunch of reprobates who have built a prototype of Tony's ultimate weapon thingie. Their worship of a particularly harmless old Marvel villain makes for some amusing moments. 

In 2052, son Howard (after Tony's dad) and granddaughter Ginny (after Pepper Potts) run around Sections (of New York?) which include something called Nodal Points. I dunno. It's a dystopian future - isn't it always? - with battlefields and big nasty robots based on Iron Man tech. People fight, some are killed, some survive, hopefully in a brighter future.

The battle sequences are standard future war frolics. I had more fun with the quieter Mandarin/Tony moments, relishing the inevitability of slave Tony's fightback against his oldest foe. I didn't enjoy having to see the ancient Mandarin with his harem ladies. Eek.

To be honest, I'd have preferred it had the whole book been set in the present, taking another angle on Tony's deadly device. The future sequences felt so familiar that I couldn't get excited - it's Sentinels vs Mutants by any other name, but without the interesting power sets and characters we care about. While the story ends on a note of hope, the overall feel of the book is a little gloomy for my anniversary tastes.

A lot of effort's been put into this issue. The stripwork is shared among a bevy of artists and colourists: Salvador Larroca & Frank D'Armata; Kano; Nathan Fox & Javier Rodriguez; Carmine Di Giandomenico & Matthew Wilson. My little moan is that Larroca's Peter Parker is unrecognisable at times. Happily, his Spidey is fantastic, and his Iron Man looks as fine as any Iron Man could in the modern, super-fussy suit (talk about a fool metal jacket). The rest of the artistic gang pull out all the stops to make the future sequences powerfully memorable. I'm particularly impressed by some terrific tones here.

I don't like the cover at all, design or image. I've only just clicked that Tony's meant to be flying, smashing through the big stone #500 in Larroca's visual, having assumed all day that he was crawling away from a particularly frightening big number. Then there are those flashing blue eyes that don't work with his colour scheme. And what's with that timid excuse for a logo at the bottom?

This issue also features a short prologue to, well, it says Iron Man 2.0, but I think it's War Machine. Anyway, I started reading it but I've never managed to work up any interest in Spare Iron Man, so moved on to the lettercol. Said mailbag has Sock It To Shell-Head at the top, which makes me happy. There's also one of those daffy cover galleries only Ant-Man could visit.

I'll probably try Iron Man again soon. Fraction's Stark seems to be trying to be a better man, so let's see what's up with him on a more ordinary day. If Mrs Arbogast is still around, I'm sold.

5 comments:

  1. Awww...! They actually used "Sock it to Shell-Head!" as the letters page title? It almost brings a tear to the eye.

    "Fool Metal Jacket," though...good one. :-))

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  2. I can't remember the last time I really dug Iron Man as a book, I was a fan of him way back but somewhere during the mid 90s something changed and I was never able to connect with him again. To be fair this is the same feeling I get with Captain America as well.
    I've never stopped reading or liking Thor for example so on reflection I wonder if the disconnect is due to the way both Cap and Iron Man were slowly corroded over the years into being too adult.
    I detest the 'Ultimisation' of Captain America but while these are brighter times for these characters there is still that same feeling these are characters still trying to recapture their classic feel.... I have tried a couple of Factions issues but the pacing was Glacier paced and the story dull, a far far cry from what I expect of an Iron Man issue.

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  3. Hmm, let's think. The last time I really connected with Captain America was during Mark Waid's stint. Thor ... when Dan Jurgens was writing. And Iron Man ... oh Lord, I stopped reading regularly after Michilenie left.

    I'm so old.

    But I'm open to reconnecting!

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  4. Hello Mart:- I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who read the cover in the way you describe. There's an incredibly significant difference between "falling backwards and resisting" and "crashing at speed towards us", isn't there?

    If it's of any use, the Matt Fraction "Iron Man" Omnibus is really rather good, and the first 5 issues, which are collected seperately, are the best issues I've read on the title since, oh, the classic Iron-Man's-repulsers-blow-up-a-foreign-diplomat-and-Tony-becomes-a-drunk run. (See how anything can be made to sound terrible if the wrong person is summarising?)

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  5. Thanks Colin, I'll give them a try!

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