Before he can take off, a storm breaks involving Maya Hansen, co-inventor of the Extremis process which runs Tony's Iron Man suits, and twisted science cabal Advanced Idea Mechanics. Soon Tony's in a thoroughly clever disguise at an underworld auction, and fighting AIM for the return of the Extremis tech. The issue ends with Tony vowing to get the sinister genie of uncontrolled Extremis back in the bottle.
This relaunch - part of the Marvel Now! promotion - gets off to a terrific start, thanks to Kieron Gillen's smart, witty script. The Tony Stark who narrates this issue is a fascinating figure, one whose curiosity about what's out there has led him to finally begin examining himself. After years blurred by his drink problem, and then lost to crisis after crisis, he at last has time to breathe, step back and wonder about the big picture. He's still the playboy, spending time with a very keen Blonde and infuriating Pepper with what she sees as boyish whims and an incipient midlife crisis - but the minute a problem hits, the flightiness is gone. Throughout, Gillen displays his usual knack for believable dialogue, whether he's revealing character through conversation or filling in backstory with an elegant hand.
Compelling as the Extremis strand is, it's the Blonde's chat with Pepper at Mary Jane Watson's New York nitespot that's my favourite part of the issue. Given that she's never named here, the longtime comic fan's reaction is to wonder if this is someone we might know, a disguised figure from Tony's past with an agenda. Madame Masque, say. Or Fin Fang Foom. I hope and suspect, though, that her angle is just what she tells Pepper it is - it'd make for a refreshing change. I do hope we see the Blonde again soon.
Greg Land illustrates 'Demons and Genies', the first chapter of the five-part Believe storyline, and as ever, rouses mixed feelings. His Iron Man, garbed in cracking new armour, floating above the city, is wonderful; it's Tony as the 21st-century knight, wondering just what his Holy Grail might be. Land's layouts and compositional choices work a lot of the time, and individual images - such as an AIM thug surrounded by flames - are striking.
But civilian Tony and the Blonde, in the nightclub scene, are a little more problematic, due to an apparent over-reliance on photo-referencing ... the fixed grins from various angles and distances are unnerving. Yet Land's Pepper is great, there's real emotion in her body language, her eyes. It's as if the Land with the reputation for taking shortcuts is fighting the Land who drew the likes of Birds of Prey, and gave us more relaxed, livelier art. I know who I'd like to win.
The rest of the core creative team - inker Jay Leisten, colour house Guru eFX and letterer Joe Caramagna - do sterling work, with sharp lines, intense tones and nicely laid out words abounding.
Land's front page image, I like. It's just a shame we can't see more of it - the super-busy Marvel Now! cover dress, combined with the positioning of the rubbish new logo (and whoever okayed the slapdash '#1' by the hero's name should be soundly slapped), have the front cover looking like a back page ad. Oh, and I really, really hate those 'Augmented Reality' boxes that bring the story to a clunking halt when they appear - can't Marvel just list the relevant page and panel on the linked page explaining the process? To save you the bother of activating an app, the four instances here give us a reading of a piece of dialogue; two looks at the art process; and Gillen providing a bit of insight while we wonder why there's a shoe on the table in front of him.
I've complained about the $3.99 price point of these Marvel Now! books - and this is a 14-times-per-year shipper - but Gillen does make a big effort to give value for money*. Once the art problem is sorted (he said optimistically - I wish to encourage Land, not get him off the book), I'll be happier.
On balance, this is a jolly good start to the latest Iron Man era, one nodding to Tony's past while looking firmly into the future.
* Listeners to Gillen's excellent Decompressed podcast, in which he talks craft with fellow creators, will know that he's not actually big on decompression, going so far as to count story panels. Good man!