” There’s only two things I ever managed to believe in.
Firstly, myself. And even then only about 50% of the time. Secondly, the future. That there would be one, and we’d make it.
By default, optimists make the world, because pessimists never even try. I’ve believed that for as long as I’ve been me. No matter what.
And in my life, there’s been a lot of ‘what’. “
And with that soliloquy from Tony Stark, via writer Kieron Gillen, I’m on board with the revamped Marvel Now! Iron Man — and that was just the FIRST page. The rest of the comic just sealed the deal.
I’m a little behind on my comics reading lately, partly because I’ve been busy with getting this blog off the ground and other creatively-oriented plans, but also because I get my comics in one lump sum once a month via mail-order. So I’ve had to artfully dodge a lot of reviews concerning Marvel Now! books, simply to avoid spoilers and not to taint my experience with some pre-formed impression going in when I finally do get to crack them open.
I decided to give Iron Man a shot because I’d been really impressed with Kieron Gillen’s work on Uncanny X-Men since their Regenesis jumping on point last fall. I’m an old-school X-Man, having grown up on Chris Claremont’s extensive genre-definining run, and I bailed not long after he left. Going back into X-Men, Gillen had some mighty big shoes to fill with my expectations and he not only met them admirably, but exceeded them, so I’m going to be amiable to seeing what other aces he’s got up his sleeve.
I can’t say that Iron Man’s ever been a ‘favorite’ character, but I’ve always been a big Marvel fan, so just about all their icons have some degree of resonance with me. I’d followed Iron Man off and on after Secret Wars II a long, long time ago, and stuck around through ‘Armor Wars’ as a high point, but eventually drifted away from the character. The films have really rekindled my interest in Tony and his armored alter-ego: I can’t read a comic with Iron Man and not mentally assign Robert Downey Jr.’s voice to Tony’s dialogue.
To me, Tony Stark is a very complex and conflicted character, and not just in the very binary black-and-white that comics, especially superhero comics, often seem to favor. He’s a brilliant man who can, by his own admission, be painfully slow on the uptake. Stark’s got a great deal of pride and confidence, and regularly swooshes back and forth across the line to full-on arrogance, but deep down, he’s still trying to do the right thing. Tony’s just all too happy to take the accolades and the credit that come with that. He struggles with addiction, a very non-heroic trait, and as someone who often shows poor impulse control, I greatly respect that on a personal level. I think there’s some interesting parallels between Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne, beyond just the basic obvious — both Bruce and Tony are driven and obsessive, but Tony manages to deal with it in a more productive manner, while Bruce sometimes lets it get the better of him.
Having been away from comics for a while, when I came back and started to catch up with what had happened in the Marvel Universe as a whole, Iron Man really stood out as one of the few characters who had undergone some substantial shifts in his status quo. Not only revealing his secret identity to the world (looking back, that was so painfully contrived at times as to be a detriment), but in stepping up in a leadership role in the superhuman community. Tony always seemed content with just bankrolling the Avengers, and dealing with his various never-ending personal crises, so seeing him included in the same circle as Reed Richards or Charles Xavier was interesting and a natural evolution for the character. He served as an interesting counter-point to the much more modest Captain America, who often had command thrust upon him because no one else was willing to take the reins. Tony was all too eager to prove himself and feed his ego, and with some very mixed results. Between Civil War, his brief attempt to step into both Nick Fury and Steve Rogers’ shoes, and his involvement in the Illuminati, which ultimately led to the Skrull invasion and Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign, I don’t know that there’s another character in the Marvel Universe that’s been so influential, both behind-the-scenes and on the front lines, over the past several years — literally at the center of it all. Even with Avengers vs. X-Men, the Phoenix Five were the result of Tony’s attempt to fix a problem and restrain an uncontainable force.
And that makes moving Tony forward as a character a pretty tough assignment. You can’t just let him be a wallflower, but you also have to give him a sense of identity and purpose outside of the Avengers and his relationship to all the other main players. With Iron Man #1, Keiron Gillen appears to be on the right path, by starting out with an arc that focuses on examining who Tony Stark really is and what, in the aftermath of all these back-to-back-to-back sweeping event storylines, he now stands for.
Without getting too spoliery, Tony once again finds himself dealing with technology gone awry, only this time he’s not the guilty party, as the Extremis virus gets an upgrade and he’s left to clean up a friend’s mess. AIM plays a major part in the debacle, and with all the melding of AIM and Hydra that’s gone on over in the Avengers titles in the recent past, I’m intrigued to seem them in solo machinations. Gillen provides an interesting juxtaposition in which we get to see Tony from both an external angle, how others perceive him and how he chooses to portray himself, and his at times conflicting inner monologue via first-person captions. It works beautifully and it really builds upon one of the comics medium’s best strengths, that you can have two simultaneous storytelling elements with both words and visuals that can both compliment and contrast one another.
While there’s a great deal of characterization going on, there’s also plenty of action that propels the plot forward. It’s clearly the opening chapter of a longer arc, but unlike some other writers and Marvel Now! restarts, Gillen circumvents decompression, gave me a complete storytelling unit that happens to be continued in the next issue, and I feel truly delivered more than my money’s worth.
I had no problem trusting Kieron Gillen as writer, but I have to admit being a bit skeptical about Greg Land. I’m not intimately familiar with his work, but I do know his reputation and his sometimes ‘questionable’ reference materials, and I didn’t have a lot of confidence that he’d be a good fit for ol’ Shellhead. I thought his work with Gillen on Uncanny X-Men was mostly good, if not really super-exciting, but I have to admit here on Iron Man, Land really impressed me.
A big part of it is some very tight and precise inks by Jay Leisten and phenomenal colors and digital effects by Guru eFX, but it almost seems to me that Land is aware of the impression (and criticism) people may have of his work based on what they’ve read elsewhere, and really turned it up a notch or two to break free of that stereotype. Even after just one issue I think this is going to be one of the breakaway creative units in the Marvel Now! art and writing reshuffle.
Absolutely pleased with this first outing: Iron Man #1 is what a first issue relaunch should be, and I give Gillen extra credit for working in subtle, naturalistic recaps and reminders for newer readers, such as the above sequence. This is why I’ll always favor Marvel over DC as a fan, because Marvel’s not willing to pull the plug on the tub and stuff a perfectly good baby down the drain with the bathwater just to grab some new sales. The history of these characters is a huge part of the appeal, and while jumping into a pre-populated pool can be daunting, this is exactly how you pull it off — a few glances over the shoulder at the past while you confidently move forward into new territory with a energetic creative team that doesn’t feel the need to establish themselves by tearing down the previous framework to establish their vision.
All art in this post from Iron Man #1, by Greg Land, Jay Leisten, and Guru eFX. Copyright 2012 Marvel Entertainment.
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