Today, Shelby and guest writer Pete Pfarr are discussing Iron Man 11, originally released June 5th, 2013.
Shelby: What makes us the people we are? Is it our environment, our peers, our experiences that shape us, or is our “personness” innate, something coded into our very genes? It’s pretty safe to say that who we are is influenced by both internal and external factors; we’re such complicated creatures that there’s no way to point to one factor, internally or externally, and claim that’s what made us. Unless you’re Tony Stark of course: unsurprisingly, he has a robot to thank/blame for everything that makes him the man he is.
As 451 and Tony continue to head to parts unknown, our exceedingly polite robot host continues with Tony’s life history. 451 told the Starks he could save their son, but in exchange he wanted to make a few “enhancements” to the baby. You see, galactic forces were noticing the burgeoning human race, and it was making them nervous. In order to save humanity, 451 needed to plant a ringer, someone of extraordinary genius who could prepare humanity to defend themselves. For the sake of their baby the Starks agree, and before long the blessed day approaches. Unfortunately, the Greys have found 451; Howard and his robot friend dispatch the scouts, but 451 knows that the only way to keep the baby safe is by completely eliminating the threat.
So Tony was engineered practically from conception to be Iron Man. I can’t decide if it would be empowering or suffocating to know that you were the way you were only because you bad been very specifically built that way. On the one hand, it could imbue your life with new purpose: you are important, you have a role to play in something much bigger than you. On the other hand, if it were me, there’s a part of me that would really resent being so manipulated. There’s no question Tony (and the world) has benefitted from 451’s work, but is that worth never having a chance to truly be yourself, to be who you were meant to be? Since all this occured when Tony was negative months old, it’s an easy argument to make that this WAS what he was meant to be, but I would always wonder if I had been robbed of the opportunity to be my own person.
Now, I have not been a long-time Iron Man reader. In fact, I have read exactly three issues of the title: these last three issues, to be specific. We picked this book up because Kieron Gillen promised Earth-shattering revelations at C2E2. As he put it, he saw the “attention” Dan Slott was getting for Superior Spider-Man and wanted in on it. I can already see how Gillen is headed down that road; origins are sacrosanct, and to mess with a character’s origin is to take your life into your own hands. Personally, I think it’s a little funny that Tony Stark was an alcoholic because a robot messed with him when he was a baby, but I understand how that might not sit well with long-time readers. I’m curious to see where Gillen takes this, to see how far this is going to go. This issue wasn’t terrible, but it’s mostly that curiosity in the changes he’s going to make than actual interest in the story that keeps me engaged.
Even though I thought this issue was fine, I did have some problems with it. This is going to sound a little weird, but I feel like I’m doing a lot of reading when I read this title, especially this last issue. I don’t mean that everything seemed like needless exposition; 451 explaining the situation to the Starks makes perfect sense in the context of the story. There’s just so much text.
451 speaks in these huge blocks of text; visually it’s a little overwhelming. His speech balloons take up so much real estate on the page. Even as charming as I find the sonogram of baby Tony with all 451’s notes, there is a lot of reading and not a lot of images to look at. Actually, I’m not going to complain about that one too much, as I’m not a fan of Dale Eaglesham’s style. There’s something about the way he draws the men’s faces that doesn’t feel right. Howard Stark seems to always have the same slightly concerned facial expression; the emotions on the characters don’t always feel sincere.
I was concerned that this Gillen was going to drastically change Iron Man simply for the sake of doing it, that he wouldn’t have a solid, in-story reason for the changes he was going to bring about. While I’m still not totally convinced that isn’t what’s happening here, he is bringing some intriguing ideas about identity and purpose to the table, and I am intrigued to see where he’s going to take this. With that, I’m going to turn this over to my friend Pete. How’s it going, friend? You’ve been reading this title longer than I, what do you think about the changes Gillen is making to our favorite genius playboy billionaire?
Pete: For lack of a better term, there is a certain “template” for the arrangement of a song for which I’m a complete sucker. I absolutely love tunes that are minimalist for multiple verse / chorus cycles, and maybe even a bridge, before exploding into a surprise climax at the end. Snow Patrol’s “Open Your Eyes” and Jimmy Eat World’s “Invented” are great examples of this. With these songs, I actually enjoy the patience and “work” required to get to the payoff because it makes said payoff so much more potent. The only difference between these songs and The Secret Origin of Tony Stark is my confidence in whether or not the time put in now will be worth it in the end.
And with that, I’ll say that you’ve identified exactly what is worrying me about this revisionist arc, Shelby. At this point we have no way of knowing whether this gigantic shakeup is going to pay off or if Kieron Gillen is, as you said, just making these changes for the sake of doing it. I’d like to think that we’re going to get to the end of this thing and feel embarrassed for ever doubting Gillen, but for now there is no way to know or tell. As a result, an issue like this is, with all of the exposition but so little action and no fun twists of its own, kind of boring. Such is the nature of consuming fiction episodically, I suppose.
Shelby, you also touched on the implications of Tony being created from birth to be the savior of not only Earth, but also the entire universe. As I thought of this, I was reminded of the way the Metatron (as portrayed by Alan Rickman) empathizes with the burden of Jesus in the movie Dogma: “I had to tell this little boy that He was God’s only Son, and that it meant a life of persecution and eventual crucifixion at the hands of the very people He came to enlighten and redeem. He begged me to take it back, as if I could.” Is it possible that Gillen is reworking Iron Man into a retelling of the story of Jesus? If so, I really hope it works out better for Tony than it did for the Beatles. At any rate, you asked if it would be empowering or suffocating. I’m going to have to go with suffocating, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t make for a good story or interesting character.
I don’t necessarily agree that the nurture half of Tony’s nature vs. nurture is being completely negated here. Sure, 451 has set everything in motion from the beginning with a specific purpose in mind, but that doesn’t mean that Tony’s decades of experiences and adventures since haven’t shaped who he is. He still had to work his ass off to achieve his empire and he still had to face and defeat that bottle-residing demon. This new information doesn’t destroy what has already been established, but I agree that it seems aggressively invasive.
Gillen is taking a huge risk here by tampering with such fundamental aspects of Iron Man. He seems confident that he will be able to deliver and make this all worth it in the end. Otherwise, we’re just subjecting ourselves to needless, confusing, and frustration backstory.
Pete Pfarr is an accountant and skeptic. He likes sleeping, drumming, steering dragon boats, playing video games, and going to minor-league hockey games with his wife, Cortnie. Some of his best friends are robots.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?