Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Iron Man 10, originally released May 15th, 2013.
Drew: Steven Soderberg’s Ocean’s 11 had a lot going for it: lavish, exciting locations, an all-star cast playing colorful characters, and a crackerjack heist story that kept the audience guessing until the end, just to name a few. Of course, none of those things were particularly original — the film was a remake, after all — but it was unlike anything that was being made at the time. Two sequels and countless copycats later, those ideas don’t feel nearly as fresh, which unfortunately leaves Iron Man 10 (or should I call it “Stark’s 7”?) dead on arrival.
The issue opens with Tony flabbergasted after the film clip 451 showed him in issue 9. No worries, though, 451 is going to explain everything! You see, Tony’s mother, Maria, had apparently suffered numerous miscarriages, and Howard Stark wasn’t going to let that happen again. He seeks out every doctor, scientist, and shaman, but nobody has good news for him…except for some kind of sleazy casino worker. It turns out, this particular casino is run by aliens who like stealing technology from other planets. One such piece of technology is 451 himself, who is apparently willing to exchange baby-saving technology for his freedom. Stark assembles a crack squad of characters that probably have names to stage a heist at the casino to release 451. Their plan works (aside from that sleazy casino worker, who was unfortunately sniffed out as the inside man), and 451 and Howard became fast friends. Anyway, Tony’s still alive, so you can probably guess how the rest of the story went. Or you can read Iron Man 11, which seems like it’s going to spell it out for us.
Ugh. Last month, Patrick mentioned how writer Kieron Gillen seemed committed to ignoring our expectations, which a shitty Ocean’s knockoff certainly does. The problem is, I can actually see how this idea of a casino heist issue of Iron Man could have been great. Howard Stark absolutely has the cool confidence to be the center of a colorful team, but unfortunately, Gillen is entirely uninterested in that team. Here’s his totally obligatory introduction to those characters:
On the face of it, one panel per character doesn’t seem so bad when you’re trying to introduce a whole team, but this sequence comes over halfway through the issue, and many of these characters never have another line. All that makes me wonder why Gillen went with such a large cast in the first place. Their plan really isn’t well enough defined that all of these characters feel necessary. Indeed, two of these guys aren’t shown doing anything other than standing there. It just seems like this space might put to better use giving us more of an introduction to just a few of these characters.
This would all maybe be forgivable if Gillen was giving up that space for something more interesting, but he really isn’t. We get a similarly superficial montage of Howard’s search for a doctor, and we spend entirely too much time learning where the aliens get their technology. That last detail is particularly unfortunate, since it makes no fucking sense. For what purpose are they stealing technology? And why do they have a casino? If 451 is infinitely capable of building technology, why don’t they just let him barter for his freedom? Also, why does Stark have to steal from them? Couldn’t he just tip off the government that hey, aliens are running this casino and maybe we should seize it from them. Howard clearly has enough governmental connections (even Fury is name dropped) to make the plan happen, and they would have had more bodies to accomplish his goal.
More than anything, this issue just confuses the hell out of me. I’ll never understand the desire to make a character’s humble beginning less humble (did you know that DARTH VADER BUILT C-3PO?), but as an idea, Howard Stark selling his soul so that his son may live isn’t the worst retcon. I just have no idea why Gillen decided to couch it in a conceit he seems to have no interest in. It muddles a simple story, turning it into something entirely joyless and dumb. To me, that’s decidedly not what heist movies are for. What do you think, Patrick: is Gillen missing the point, or am I?
Patrick: Oh, who knows? Maybe I’m missing the point. This issue, much like the previous, defies all of my expectations for it. The issue starts after Tony gets the startling news – that’s unexpected. (Hey, why is that? Why not just start with the flashback?) Then it sets up a heist that’s resolved in the least-exciting bait and switch possible – that’s unexpected too. And finally, the issue ends without the audience having the whole story about whatever Tony saw in that film strip – also unexpected. At least, I think that’s what I read: there are a couple problems with clarity throughout this issue, so let’s make sure we’re all on the same page.
In the final pages, Tony’s doing his best Luke Skywalker impression – seemingly devastated by the news that his father conveyed in the film strip. Y’know: “That’s not true! That’s impossible!” We don’t get to see the contents of the strip, so we sort of have to assume that the flashback is dramatizing the events summarized therein. All fair assumptions so far? The moral of the story seems to be that Maria couldn’t bear a child to term, until they sought out the fertility science of robot 451. How is that upsetting? In what way does that alter Tony’s view of himself? Is this some kind of phenomenon I’m unaware of: people losing their sense of identity when they discover their conception or birth were science-aided? I mean, even if you qualify that: “alien science-aided” – how’s that rocking Tony’s world right now?
Drew, you mentioned how poorly characterized the members of the Stark 7 are. Most of them are victims of not really saying or doing anything, but there’s one in particular that is characterized in the dumbest, most repetitive way possible. I’m referring to “The Bear, Demolitions.”
She appears in five panels – would it shock you to discover that she mentions dog food and gin a second time? It’s the worst kind of half-hearted character work: mistaking a quirk for a personality. You know what it sounds like? If you ever find yourself reading fan-fiction of any kind (and let’s be honest, we all do at one point or another), the fan-writer will put words into the characters’ mouths that he or she has heard them say before. It’s easier to regurgitate what the character has already said than to determine a new thing the character would say. So later, when The Bear says “I’m gin and dog food rich either way” – not only is this a clumsy turn-of-phrase, but it sounds like Gillen mindlessly parroting himself from just a few pages back.
There’s just a lot of little shit like that that doesn’t make sense or just feels sloppy. I’m still not sure how the Grey’s knew there was a heist going on – because they saw people in the casino? Also, why would NO ONE stay behind to guard 451? The casino has regular security needs too, no? Those security guards certainly would have responded to the loud-ass explosion in the secret treasure vault. I guess they all went off-site to see what Rollo was going on about.
As a heist story, as a piece of secret history, and as an exploration of Iron Man, this issue was underwhelming, confusing and disappointing. Which, is something Pete Pfarr had been saying of Gillen’s run on the series all along.
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