Let's start with a confession that won't be news to long term readers. Iron Man was my first American superhero, occasionally tucked in the back of weekly Transformers comics. Years later I renewed my connection with the Golden Avenger and found I loved his stories.
When they were good.
|Some damn shiny Iron Man stories!|
Great storylines like Armor Wars and Demon In A Bottle; in fact most of the Micheline/Layton run. Or Kurt Busiek's Heroes Return run and Joe Quesada's The Mask in the Iron Man storyline. Sadly after Joe Q moved on the comic had a long slump in quality, similar to the sad days of The Crossing and teen Tony. It wasn't until Warren Ellis and Adi Granov came along with Extremis that Iron Man regained it's spark. The Civil War that came soon after was spellbinding, followed by the intricate and compelling work from the Knaufs on Iron Man, Director Of SHIELD.
Then came Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca, with the run that finished last month. Superb work that ranks alongside the Micheline/Layton stories for pace and characterisation. So going into Marvel Now, I knew I'd be one of the harshest critics for Kieron Gillen and Greg Land's new beginning with ol' Shellhead.
That said, I have enjoyed the majority of Gillen's computer games journalism and comic work thus far (from the sublime Phonogram, to his run on Uncanny X-Men and the much missed SWORD series, right through to his truly excellent work with Kid Loki) and I'd say his Young Avengers is one of the Marvel Now titles I'm most looking forward to.
Sadly, Iron Man #1 is closer to his muddled work on Generation Hope (which now seems to have been consigned to obscurity by Avengers Vs X-Men).
It's a slow start, with Stark suited up and flying over a modern urban sprawl, beautifully lit up at night by the sunset and the city lights. The visual certainly reflects the technological beauty of our protagonist but it's juxtaposed with a maudlin voiceover from Tony himself. As a solo title, Tony's monologues have always been his stock in trade and should be the perfect place to establish the writer's own characterisation on the hero. Instead it's revealed to be a clumsy effort by Tony to talk to a pretty blonde at his table, as we cut to a bar in New York.
In the same transition, we push from two pages of satisfying work from Greg Land, to four pages of frankly horrible line art. The thing that really stands out is how plastic and wooden the people look, like disturbing real dolls. The amount of top front row teeth on display is laughably distracting and does little to convey a wealthy playboy. Instead the result is terrifyingly creepy. Land's work isn't bad when he's drawing Tony in the armour, but the rest of the time it's serviceable at best and unsettling at it's worst.
|I just couldn't bring myself to show you the awful wooden faces and plastic teeth!|
Staying in the bar, things slip further into shambolic dialogue as Tony briefly addresses his status as a recovering alcoholic before lurching into verbal sparring with Pepper and a bunch of exposition reestablishing Tony's current business status with regards to Resilient, the company he established during Fraction's run.
It's here that Pepper brands Tony as a man having a midlife crisis, and that's certainly how this book feels. After a high of seven years of mostly great storytelling, this is sadly pedestrian. The meat of the story comes from a brief reappearance by Maya Hansen before seemingly being unceremoniously killed by what I assume is an Extremis-enhanced AIM agent. Hopefully Hansen herself was also similarly upgraded and will survive to return at a later date, otherwise it's a disgraceful quick exit for a pivotal character.
|Please let issue #2 be better!|
The rest of the story is shamelessly built on the Extremis storyline. In the past Gillen's writing has always including a hook to bring you back for more with some exciting foreshadowing of what's to come. Sadly here, all we get here is the lead that there are four more people using Extremis enhanciles in the world. It adds little to Ellis and Granov's work - trading entirely on past glories - with Tony even obliquely referencing the Armor Wars and Demon In A Bottle as he vows to liberate Hansen's work from the hands of these madmen.
It's pains me to say, but this comic is disappointing and it's the first comic I've read from Kieron Gillen that doesn't leave me wanting more. It reads like a filler issue, rather than a bold launch of a new ongoing title that in turn is part of a larger brand relaunch. Hopefully issue #2 (out in just two weeks time), wil start to fulfil Gillen's promise of depicting Tony as a technological visionary bright knight rather than the introspective midlife crisis on display here.
Ben Fardon reluctantly refers to the classic storyline as Armor Wars and not Armour Wars, in deference to it's American authors.