Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Iron Man #1 review

Tony Stark has put together a checklist of things to do. Stark Resilient is prospering with Pepper Potts in charge and he has plenty of smart people in the lab. So why not take some time and find out just what it is he believes in? Just how does a man of science see the universe when he's regularly mixing with self-proclaimed gods?

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!

7 comments:

  1. I got a chance to surprisingly read this and honestly, I am not feeling it. I don't know why, it just doesn't wow me or exccite me. It was good but I am probably not continuing to read this if I get the chance.

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    1. Were you reading Fraction? I wasn't - this is my first Iron Man in, probably, a decade, so maybe that's a factor in our perspectives.

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    2. I've only read one volume of Fraction's work and it was okay. I was kind of hoping to be convinced to try reading Iron Man with a new writer and a new direction, but I'm not really impressed.

      While I'm only buying Fantastic Four (well actually the first 3 issues since I needed for FF), FF, and Indestrucible Hulk; I'm going to try to read the rest of the Marvel Now stuff if I get the chance when I see them in stores.

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  2. Hmmm... good to see a different opinion... I've read a interview with Gillen at the CBR about this comic and the first thought that popped to my head was "there's a huge gap between intention and execution here". The static scary smile on Tony Stark (which may be Land's fault... but i think something in the script may also have caused it) made his questioning seems not really important as a) it does not affect his face at all, so that thing doesn't have a real deep meaning to him, the point being Tony stark does not know his own emotions. These questions would be not about fundamentals, but only superficial, and Tony is playing Philosophy b) he is only lying about it to catch the blondie trough pit . As his existential question was not about his own behavior being already too dark (like Waid's Daredevil), is very strange to see an adult man be happy-go-lucky about a crisis which could be inside a Bergman movie...
    Gillen is very skilled, and i still think this may work, i just think that something isn't working here yet.

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    1. Hi Thomaz, while I'm trying not to attack Land for the self-inflicted weaknesses in his work, I'm happy to place blame for the disparity between dialogue and expressions firmly at his feet.

      Mind, I like your reading more - it makes the comic seem that much cleverer.

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    2. Hy Martin. I tried hard not to blame Land exclusively for the flaws in the storytelling too... He sure does an amazing job in some panels but that Cheshire Stark was creepy. Plus, I know more about Gillen's work than Land's (and Gillen is often brilliant), and as putting the blame in Land immediately would be my instinctive reaction, I tried to be more moderate... but, yeah, i too think he is to blame on that mechanical tone of the dialogues.
      And for the 'extra-reading' in my comment... well, since that disparity between Gillen's words and Land's draws I guess for some panels there were two stories being told. One single hesitation in Tony's smile would have brought Gillen's point to the surface. One condescending look of the Blonde and we would see she was smart. Instead, the characters had to confess to Pepper their real intentions to guarantee we could get what was going on.
      Still... I got big hopes for this book and I guess writer and artist may learn how to work with each other reducing this 'gap' between their works. And even this issue 1 has many strengths and some good moments. The 'shaving gag' was quite funny, the fight scenes were interesting,and the end really work as a narrative hook.
      Ps: I've very impolitely forgotten in my previous reply to say how I enjoyed reading your post. It is always good to read an insightful review of a comic. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us ^^

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    3. 'Cheshire Stark' - nice one! And cheers for the kind words, Thomaz.

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