Today, Drew and Michael are discussing Invincible Iron Man 1, originally released October 7th, 2015.
Drew: Whether it’s being bitten by a radioactive spider or being shipped to Earth as an infant, most superhero origins are shockingly passive. We can emphasize the decisions these characters make once they have their powers, but industrial accidents and personal tragedies are the things that force them to make those decisions in the first place. In that way, Tony Stark is a bit of a man apart: he’s a superhero by sheer force of will. More importantly, his origin is necessarily active (even if “inventing” isn’t the most exciting action), putting action at the very heart of the Iron Man formula. So when Tony finishes his latest Iron Man armor in Invincible Iron Man 1, what does he do with it? He waits for the battery to charge.
I’d be hard pressed to come up with a turn of events more indicative of Brian Michael Bendis’s style than that one — he’s always been more focused on words than action. To his credit, the dialogue crackles with the kind of witty banter we associate with a Bendis joint.
My problem isn’t that this issue spends so much time talking rather than doing, but that it puts Tony in a position of being totally reactive. That’s somewhat a symptom of superheroing in general — Spider-Man only shows up once the bank robbery is underway — but it extends to every corner of this issue. Why does Tony even build new armor? Because some kid at MIT had reverse-engineered his last model. The most proactive thing Tony does in this issue is call ahead to the restaurant.
Again, that’s not inherently bad — you can learn a lot about a character by seeing how they react to things. The issue is that we can’t really trust Tony’s reactions. He dismisses Amara’s presumption that he’d try to impress her as “the old me,” but when we pick up with them again, that’s exactly what he’s trying to do.
Sure, he ultimately aborts the plan, but something tells me the “old” Tony would have done the same if his date had threatened to leave. For all of this dialogue, none of it can tell us with any certainty who Tony is, if he’s somehow different from how he’s been before, or what might be interesting about this take on the character.
Instead, we learn a lot about the rest of the cast. Amara is both brilliant and apparently immune to Tony’s charms, making her a fascinating character. Moreover, it’s obvious that her secret mutant cure is going to play some kind of role going forward. I’ll also posit Madame Masque as a more interesting character than Tony here. She only speaks six lines in the whole issue, but because she takes such decisive action throughout the issue, I’m absolutely hooked. Exactly what she’s after remains a mystery (goosed by a Pulp Fiction-style glowing briefcase), making her a villain that the hero can’t quite stand up to at this point.
It’s also worth noting that, while David Marquez is an ace when it comes to expression and body language, his art really comes alive in action sequences. Madame Masque gets a couple such sequences throughout the issue, making her a much more visually dynamic character than Tony is here.
That’s one hell of an action sequence, but our hero is on a quiet date on the other side of the planet.
(It’s worth noting that the gold filigree on her mask is much more detailed than anything on Tony’s new armor. I’m all for sleek minimalist design, but it seems like a waste of Marquez’s talents to have him drawing such a flat costume. Heck, maybe that intricate tracery is where Masque is getting her badassery from.)
All of which is to say, Tony is kind of the least interesting part of this issue — from dialogue to action to design. Heck, I might rather read the adventures of that MIT student who now has his very own Iron Man armor. There’s more than enough charm in the rest of the cast to keep me coming back, but its weird that Tony is kind of this black hole in the middle of all of this interesting stuff. Did you find yourself distracted by that at all, Michael, or am I asking too much of Tony Stark?
Michael: Drew, I am still very behind on Secret Wars so I wasn’t completely sure how the closing of that series impacted Invincible Iron Man 1 (what’s the deal with Tony’s parents not being his parents anymore?). Regardless, Bendis knows how to write a comic book that is friendly to newcomers – but given the circumstances I couldn’t help wondering who this “new Tony” was. Like Drew said, mostly everything that Tony does in this book is not very different from anything that “old Tony” might have done. Tony has upgraded from countless versions of his Iron Man armor – each arguably indicative of his personality shifts. The armor of this “New Tony” is extremely bland (and kind of makes him look like “Iron Boy”), but also doesn’t do much to make this “new” character interesting.
Tony’s choice in “partner-in-crime” of Friday seems to be equally uninteresting. Friday is pretty much a blend of Pepper Potts and JARVIS, but that marriage of great characters kind of turns into one dull one. As a character, Pepper has grown to become an independent and free-thinking woman; JARVIS served as an AI scolding uncle figure. The thought of Tony making a sleek and sexy AI that seems to exist for the sole reason of getting on his case is a therapy session that I’d rather not think about. If Tony is a supreme douche (which, we all know he is), then Friday is “just another broad who gets off on breaking my balls.” Not a fan. The new Tony Stark is the same self-hating mommy/daddy issue egomaniac that we’ve been seeing for years. This is not a problem in and of itself; Bendis claiming that this is anything outside of the ordinary is.
If I cast aside my judgements about the “New Tony” claim however, I did find myself enjoying the dialogue that Bendis supplied. That rooftop scene with Tony and Amara is excellently juxtaposed with the lies Tony spits and the truth that David Marquez shows us. You could argue that they’re cheap laughs but hey, sometimes I’m a cheap date. And as we all know, Bendis knows his Marvel – so he writes an extremely familiar Iron Man; which is the problem.
Besides the cool Madame Masque sequences and the Dr. Doom reveal at the end, Invincible Iron Man 1 is a pretty by-the-numbers Iron Man book. Bendis gives us the familiar half tortured, half indulgent Stark monologue about how he is always trying to push himself to the next big thing. But to reiterate what I’ve been saying for like the fifth time – you can’t argue that you’re going in a new direction when you’re telling the same old story. One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed about the modern-day Tony Stark is his sheer paranoia on a subconscious level. When Amara confesses that she’s discovered the mutant cure, Tony is freaked out that she hasn’t taken psychic-level precautions. I don’t think that this is something that will necessarily be addressed in this first arc of the new Invincible Iron Man, but it’s a lovely attention to detail by Bendis that impressed me.
My introduction to Iron Man comics was Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man – I’m a big fan of Tony’s liquid Extremis suit (so screw you Bendis for saying it’s creepy!). New Doom aside, I think that Madame Masque is an excellent choice for Bendis’ first Iron Man villain to tackle. Villains don’t get more personal than a crazy ex-girlfriend. Like Drew, I was impressed by the level of detail Marquez applied to Madame Masque’s mask, but the “purist” in me found it a little disappointing that we could see her facial expressions. I think the best part of a character like that is that they give no recognizable tell. To his credit however, Marquez still gives Masque a level of mystery by maintaining those white, soulless mask eyes.
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