Thursday, September 15, 2005

Mommy, mommy, they're killing Iron Man

Iron Man #4

Normally, I don't do knocking reviews. Much to my surprise, I've found it's more enjoyable writing about good comics than bad ones. But this one is exceptional in just about every way.

Iron Man, a long running technology-based book, has stumbled on for many years. Apparently the least of Marvel's concerns, a series of uninterested writers have produced at best average scripts. This is true even going back to the 1970's. A few, like David Michelinie, have showed its potential, but most haven't.

If I'm honest, I've been buying out of nostalgia and because I've got too damn many of them to stop now.

So then Marvel, as part of its Disassembled storyline which reformed the Avengers and killed (or whatever) Thor, decided to put Warren Ellis, a great writer whose style is eminently suited to Iron Man, on the title. Which got me thinking that finally Marvel had woken up to this one.

And then...and then the issues started slipping. Issue #3 came out sometime in the New Year. It's been over six months. Now, apparently, this is the "fault" of Adi Granov, the artist who neglected to notice he was agreeing to draw a monthly comic when his schedule only allowed for four a year. But it's not his fault, of course. If Granov couldn't or wouldn't produce the art, then Tom Brevoort, the editor, should have handed the job to someone who could. If Brevoort isn't capable of doing this then he should be removed.

And presiding over this fiasco is Joe Quesada, editor in chief. If a book slips one month, there's been a foul up, but that's comics. Two months is the editor's fault. Six months is the E-i-C.

You have to wonder if this is an Iron Man problem. Does Marvel want to kill this book? Would they have let Amazing Spider-Man or Uncanny X-Men slip by six months? Doesn't seem likely, does it?

Anyway, here's the much anticipated Iron Man. Tony has had a car held over his head for the last half a year. Off we go:

Villain (forgotten his name): You're going to burst inside that suit when this hits you. They're going to have to pour you out.
Iron Man: Oh well.
Iron Man (thinking): No no no. Don't you dare.
Villain: Oww. You bastard...doesn't matter. Not important. I have all the time in the world now. Leave the little things behind.
Iron Man (thinking): Come on, come on. Give me the secondary systems.
Boy in car: Mommy, Mommy. The fires are coming this way...
Woman in car: I know the doors won't open (sic). Oh god, oh god!
Iron Man (trapped underneath car): I don't feel very successful...Iron Man to all points: I'm going to be immobilized in about a minute and a half ...cough... Could use some ...cough... help. Well, that's a help.

That is the first seven pages of the comic I waited half a year for. To summarise: villain hits Iron Man with car.

I'm a decompression fan, but this is just taking the piss. Now the delay wasn't Warren Ellis' fault, but you might have hoped Marvel, by way of an apology, would attempt to make this a bit special.

And look at this:

Woman (forgotten her name): Okay, it's just us. Tony sent you?
Iron Man (having taken mask off): Yeah.
Woman: Tony?
Iron Man: Not so loud...please.
Woman: You're Iron Man?
Iron Man: What does it look like?

Four issues ago, Tony Stark gave a news conference where he announced to the world that he was no longer going to be Iron Man. This is an old friend of Stark's. Is there any sense in which the above dialogue could happen? Since Tom Brevoort doesn't seem to see a problem, let me rewrite it.

Woman (forgotten her name): Okay, it's just us. Tony sent you?
Iron Man (having taken mask off): Yeah.
Woman: Tony?
Iron Man: Not so loud...please.
Woman: So you're back to being Iron Man?
Iron Man: What does it look like?

There you are, Tom, that wasn't difficult, was it? Plot unchanged, continuity ensured, and audience not treated like blithering idiots. Ellis appears not to have read any Iron Man since Captain Britain Weekly folded into Super Spider-Man, but you know your stuff. This isn't about continuity, it's about credibility.

And then Stark is trapped in his armour - didn't he fix it so it came off with a ping? It's apparently too heavy - but he spent months perfecting it and Marvel made a big thing about that. He's decided to become a cyborg using extremis (can't remember what that was) so that his control systems will become part of his body. He's seriously injured and his enemy is approaching Washington, so is he going to ring the Avengers? Hell, no: This fight is mine to the finish. Remind me again why you fund the Avengers, Tony? So they can sit on their arses in Stark Towers sipping cappuchinos while you experiment on death's door with insane technological procedures? I swear Ellis can't have spent more than ten minutes on this plot. And that's without mentioning a lumbering anti-KKK diatribe which makes Reggie Hudlin look like George Orwell.

Ellis is off this book in two issues. Pound to a penny this cyborg extremis stuff will be written out in five more.

Marvel obviously doesn't give two hoots about Iron Man. It can't be bothered to put it out regularly, and when it comes out it's like the writer had more important things on his mind. So I'm dropping it.


Blogger Vic said...

I think if there's a problem here, (not counting the obvious problem with the six month wait) it's a problem of shared universes. Ellis is writing a New-Scientist-heavy piece of scientific fiction featuring a Tony Stark who is essentially the sixties version with 21st century political, social and ethical concerns. The trouble is that forty years have passed since the sixties and, during that time, Stark has had an awful lot of continuity happen to him.

With the first issue, it was pretty clear that Ellis wanted to deal with a core concept of the character that fitted with his interests in the sci-fi genre, while Quesada wanted 40-year-old Iron Man in the Avengers and rocking around the MU with minimal changes. What we end up with is an uneasy compromise that works pretty well if you don't have a problem with the new series of Iron Man doing a bit of a LOSH and starting off fresh. Except only starting off fresh with the secret identity. The rest is about the same.

Unfortunately, LOSH can start off fresh without too much hassle because it's a zillion years in the future and divorced from the rest of the shared universe. The All-New Iron Man isn't and is being held back fairly brutally by his own all-old self roaming free in Avengers and the like.

I've got no problem with reading an Iron Man book based on a new iteration of the character with a revised, simplified history, but I can see a lot of hardcore MU readers going beserk trying to work out what is 'true' and what isn't now.

12:42 pm  
Anonymous Iron Lungfish said...

Vic: What the hell? Ellis is writing Iron Man with a slightly different character focus. This happens all the time in all sorts of books - the Spiderman Dan Slott writes in She-Hulk is a much funnier Spiderman than the angsty whiner of the main Spider-books, for example. This isn't a "continuity" issue; it's a characterization issue - a conscious choice of individual writers to decide what aspects of a character and their stories to focus on.

Continuity dictates issues like "Is Stark Industries falling apart, is James Rhodes running the company, is Tony still drinking," etc. It doesn't dictate issues like "Should we do a story where Tony Stark tries to use his technology to make the world a fundamentally better place, or a story where Iron Man fights the Living Laser?

The only problem with Iron Man right now (aside from its monotonous, lookalike covers) is its pacing problems (there's no reason this story should've lasted longer than four issues) and scheduling disasters. I've loved the art but if they can't get a guy who can put the damn thing out on time they should replace him.

6:13 pm  
Blogger Vic said...

What the hell right back at you.

Okay, first things first - I like this book, I'm enjoying it, my only problem is the slowness but while it's actually in my hands, I've got no problems. This is Devil's Advocate territory.

Did the secret identity thing change again recently? Was Stark injured in Afghanistan before now? These are two significant changes that - if they're down to Ellis - have been made in service to characterisation. I can see a lot of people - not including me, before you go off with your what-the-hell - having a problem with that simply because they might not know where 'their' Stark ends and this 'new' Stark begins. That's a shared universe issue, and it's one of the downfalls of trying to tell a character-based story in a genre that has become highly continuity-based over the past couple of decades, and where the readers have developed a sense of 'ownership' of both the characters and their continuity.

11:55 pm  
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