Invincible Iron Man 3

invincible-iron-man-3

Today, Drew and Taylor are discussing Invincible Iron Man 3, originally released January 18th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Drew: Brian Michael Bendis is a polarizing figure in comics. I know plenty of people who consider him to be one of the best writers working today, but I know just as many who find his writing to be aimless and self-indulgent. I tend to think that he’s a very good writer with some very bad habits — I think he writes charming dialogue, but tends to write too much of it, for example — but I had been impressed at how well Bendis had curbed those habits in Invincible Iron Man, keeping scenes tight and efficient, and staying very close to the perspective of his protagonist, Riri Williams. That last piece really played to Bendis’ strengths, keeping the focus on his charming and well-written lead, avoiding the kind of wandering perspective that so often bogs his narratives down. Unfortunately, issue 3 loses some of that momentum, opening with a corporate power play between characters Riri has never met.

It’s not that I can’t understand how the goings on at Stark Headquarters might eventually affect Riri, but devoting eight pages of a 20-page issue to characters who aren’t Riri feels like a big change for this series, which has rarely deviated from her presence. Without Riri — indeed, without any characters familiar to this series before — this opening can’t help but lose the identity of this series. It’s no longer about Riri, but about the world she lives in. And again, I get that omniscient narrators are valuable for storytelling, which is why I haven’t begrudged the shorter scenes we’ve seen in previous issues of the world outside of Riri’s scope. But eight pages is a lot of time to not be spending with a protagonist we’re still getting to know.

Maybe the reason this scene bothers me so much is that its accompanied with the loss of the flashback structure that gave Riri’s actions in the present so much emotional weight. Bendis keeps those memories fresh in our minds, having Tony directly address Riri’s emotional health.

Do you have any friends?

It’s a smart way to catch those flashbacks up with Riri’s present day, but I can’t help but wonder if it would be more effective to see Riri withdrawing from the world, rather than having Tony tell us about it.

Losing the flashbacks also robs the series of one of its key structures, which had artfully broken up the narrative into shorter, punchier scenes. Without them, scenes are much longer, so there are simply fewer of them. Bendis manages to subvert this a bit in that second scene, where Riri and Tony’s conversation takes place across a montage of fight scenes. It adds some variety to an issue that could have otherwise been talking heads, though the action adds no meaning to the conversations. It’s a classic all-talking Bendis issue, though it’s wearing a bit of a disguise.

The final scene doesn’t tie the first two together, but introduces another character we haven’t seen in this series before: Pepper Pots. A relative newcomer to Iron Man (and even then, only a sporadic follower), I only know Pepper from the movies, so I don’t have the most context for what she’s doing here. I have enough to understand her history with Tony (even if I don’t get the specifics), but I don’t have nearly enough to understand why she’s zipping around the country in her own armored suit, looking out for young superheroes who might not know what they’re getting into. How does she know? How long has she been an authority on what superheroing is? What motivates her to be a superhero in the first place? I don’t doubt that this will be explained later, but as far as this scene goes, our lack of context makes Pepper an odd choice to deliver this message. Literally any Marvel hero might have felt more appropriate.

This is an issue that sets up a lot of conflicts and relationships for future issues — the kind of “putting the pieces in place” setup that we have to expect from time to time — but feels like a big step backwards for a series that had heretofore been so tightly focused on the experiences of its protagonist. I don’t know, Taylor, maybe I’m too quick to identify missteps as Bendisisms, but this issue felt familiarly unlike the series I was cautiously enjoying. Am I being too hard on it?

Taylor: I don’t think so. Like you said, we’re still getting to know Riri at this point and it only makes sense for every issue right now to be focusing on her. Had the eight page scene at Stark headquarters that you spoke about come later in the series, say, after the completion of the first story arc, it would be fine. Having it at the at the start of the third issue is a curious choice and one that’s hard to feel good about.

Going into the particulars of this scene, there are things here that make it problematic, as well. The primary role of this scene is to set up plot points for later issues, but the secondary role is to establish the role of women in this series. As the scene opens Mary Jane and Friday, the holographic AI for Stark Industries, are accosted by Mr. Lynch, the CEO of the company. The man is rude and demonstrates casual sexism to a degree that should probably get him sued, but he is soon put in his place when he meets the new owner of Stark Industries, Amanda Armstrong — famous singer and Tony Stark’s biological mother.

The telling off of a sexist man like Lynch by professional, capable women taking place in a series featuring a female lead would suggest a female friendly agenda, but Stefano Caselli’s artwork speaks otherwise. Throughout the issue Caselli has the chance to draw diverse body types, portraying a more accurate and positive image of women, but instead he draws all the female characters with hourglass figures. This goes not only for Mary Jane, but for Friday who doesn’t even really need a body because she’s an AI, and even for Amanda Armstrong who is elderly.

no-diversity

This pattern continues later in the issue when Riri reveals her new Iron-Man armor. Unlike her previous suit, which was big, bulky, and generally genderless, this suit is unquestionably built for a woman. The armor is needlessly hourglass shaped and has “feminine” contours and coloring that ostensibly have nothing to do with helping Riri fight crime. It makes sense that Riri’s new chassis would be more sleek and aerodynamic than her prototype but it’s unclear why the new suit looks like this for any other than it looks sexier. Since we’re talking about battle armor here, it seems a questionable move on Caselli’s part to draw the armor this way. Last I checked, real armor, regardless of who’s wearing it is big, bulky, and anything but attractive.

This latent objectification is troublesome and takes away from a series that seems to be positing itself around the idea that women are just as capable of doing great things as men. But haven’t we as a society come to accept that the traditional idea of beauty a) is a bunch of bullshit and b) not a marker of goodness or ability? That being the case, Caselli would do well to recognize that all women can do great things, not just those who meet the traditional standard of beauty.  Lastly, this is frustrating because Caselli is too good to let his art go to waste on stuff like this. Just look at the beautiful panel below. It’s a great shot and only accentuates that Caselli is a great artist. Now, if only he could capture beauty in all its forms.

eye-for-the-dynamic

The artwork wasn’t the only thing that had some problems in this issue. This issue lacks a natural plot structure and, as you said Drew, makes things feel very much like they are being put into place for later events. Disregarding those first eight pages — which have nothing to do with the rest of the issue — the main focus of this book is Riri and Tony trying to come up with an appropriate superhero name for her, since she doesn’t want a gendered pronoun in her name. They argue about this for the entire issue until AI Tony hits on the idea of “Ironheart” which Riri seems to like. Later, when she has the chance the introduce herself using this name, she does not.

iron-heart

Pepper even warns Riri that she shouldn’t use her real name, but she does anyway. Here is perfect chance for Riri to try out her new name but she opts out of doing it. Maybe she’s trying to connect with Pepper or maybe she’s still unsure or the “Ironheart” name, but it seems like a missed opportunity for both Riri and for Bendis. Had Riri used her real name the issue would have had a nice little arc about Riri finding her name. Instead, we’re left with this ending which isn’t satisfying, just like a lot of this issue.

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?

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4 comments on “Invincible Iron Man 3

  1. Man, between my disappointment in this issue and in Ultimates 2 3, I’m ready to declare third issues the new first issues on the list of issue numbers Drew doesn’t like.

    • Honestly, I’ve been finding first issues really strong at the moment, before annoying drops at the second issue. Happened with Hawkeye and Gamora. Even Starlord a bit. Annoying to praise a comic, then spend the second issue going ‘here’s the stuff that went wrong when it wasn’t trying to ace the first issue…’

  2. Yeah, 8 pages was far too long for that Stark scene (what is the company called again? It is still Stark Resilient, right?). There is something to be said about expanding the world Riri inhabits. Part of the fun is seeing what happens when Riri interacts not just with Tony, but Tony’s world. And that means Amanda Armstrong and FRIDAY. But you can’t say that it is in any way done as well as Pepper. It just goes on too long, which is especially painful as we don’t really learn anything meaningful about Mary Jane or FRIDAY in the scene, only Amanda. And only at the end.

    And it is a shame, because the Riri stuff is so good. As much as we say ‘another Bendis talkie’, I think it is important to note that nothing is wrong with an issue with lots of talking. Storytelling is full of stories that are basically one long conversation. Hell, the best issue of Hickman’s Avengers was simply two characters, sitting at opposite ends of a table, talking. The difficulty is that, unlike film, comics haven’t put as much effort into crafting their skill at conversation. Superheroes and giant action have ruled comics so long, that I think many artists simply haven’t developed their storytelling skills in this particular area as they have in many others. Bendis has many weaknesses, but his biggest is probably how reliant he is on an artist who knows the visual language of a talkie, as opposed to the more traditional, action packed comic styles. Because Invincible Iron Man is a great example of the value of Bendis having the right artist

    It is missing the flashbacks, but I don’t think it is really that necessary. Honestly, the true reason Riri has been so fantastic is, I believe, her facial expressions. The flashbacks allowed some great moments, but Riri can have great moments at any point, including now. I will happily trade flashbacks for those two panels of Riri Kubrick staring Tony, then clanging the faceplate down. Perfect visual storytelling.

    Which leads to the great montage. I disagree with Taylor approaching the naming of Ironheart as a ‘deciding who I want to be’ story. I treated it as a diagnosis. And from that stand point, the structure is perfect. The quest for Riri’s name is a metaphor for Tony’s own quest in learning who Riri was. He realises something is up, investigates during the fantastic montage (damn, I love that montage. Really well done. It isn’t just action, but a visual representation of Riri’s response to Tony’s questioning. Very fast, constant movement, except for the part where she is literally getting crushed as Tony threatens to say Natalie) and then has the conclusion, where Tony presents his diagnosis. Ironheart refers to both Riri’s strong heart, as a person who loves deeply and strongly, and the fact that Riri uses the costume as an iron cocoon of for her pain (cue the music)

    The stuff with Pepper is more about Riri entering Tony’s world. I’m a bit confused that Drew found Pepper so confusing. I know that he hasn’t read any stories of Pepper as Rescue*, but I think Pepper makes perfect sense here. Yeah, Drew is right that Pepper is not the sort to follow random superheroes around to give them a primer about being a superhero. But that isn’t what she is doing here. She is following a superhero who is clearly connected to Tony. Whether Riri is someone hijacking the Iron Man legacy (in which case, Pepper wants to properly vet Riri due to how much value Pepper values the Iron Man legacy) or something much more closely connected to Tony (like someone being mentored by a Tony AI), there is every reason Pepper should be there. In fact, I was thrilled that this was Bendis’ first use of Pepper in his run. Who could think of a better time to reintroduce her?

    And I do like how Bendis writes Pepper. Pepper refusing to speak to AI Tony, before suddenly feeling ashamed at herself for breaking that vow in five seconds is the perfect demonstration of her complex feelings of Tony. That no matter how infuriating Pepper finds Tony (especially during his self destructive periods, like, say Civil War II), the two of them truly love each other and belong together (to make things clear, I do not necessarily mean this romantically, though on occasion, they have been). No matter what Tony does, the old, familiar routines is what is natural to Pepper (just as it is natural for Pepper to be infuriated at the same time). As do I also love Riri’s reaction to Pepper. I love that Riri is reverent of the entire legacy and truly respects Pepper’s place in it. And I love that she is willing to give up her name. There is honestly hero worship is Riri’s interactions, and I love the idea that Riri has heroes outside the world of tech.

    My worry with Pepper, though, is I hope she isn’t too superheroey. So far, the advise she gives is the sort of stuff you’d expect her to know, by virtue of being so close to Tony. But I hope they don’t treat Pepper as an experienced mentor who knows how to be a superhero. Partly because there has never been the space for that – Pepper is a character that never disappeared since she became Rescue. She’s featured in every Iron Man run, and the times when she is absent is something treated as being important. But more importantly, what makes Rescue so great is that Pepper isn’t a full time superhero. It is almost a hobby, and one where Pepper intentionally takes a very different, limited approach. In the next couple of issues, I want a Pepper who barely knows more than Riri. Where both of them are trying to make things up as they go along. I want a Pepper who mentors Riri not through her knowledge and experience, but by showing Riri how she deals with situations where she lacks knowledge and experience.

    Though as I talk about Pepper, I think it is worth mentioning that she takes up a lot of pages. 4 pages is pretty decent for what is ultimately the coda of this issue, after the story is complete (with Tony naming/diagnosing Riri as Ironheart). Bendis could get away with this if he didn’t waste 8 pages on Stark Resilient shenanigans, but it ultimately means we spend only 8 pages on the actual story.

    On Taylor’s points about the hourglass figures, I’d like to take a sightly different approach. In some ways, Caselli is a slave to the characters he has. Mary Jane is famous for her figure, and FRIDAY was a character that was not designed by him, and was designed as a hot woman (and honestly, I think FRIDAY’s figure, as an AI, is more defendable than Mary Jane’s. FRIDAY isn’t a person, but something designed. And ask yourself what sort of woman Tony Stark of all people would design. Mary Jane could and should have a more ordinary woman’s figure, instead of the figure straight from a man’s raging id. But FRIDAY is designed as the Marvel’s universe raging male id). Though there is literally no excuse about Amanda Armstrong.
    But I kind of want to praise a part of the Ironheart suit. From a design standpoint, divorced from feminist criticism, I love how sleek the Ironheart suit looks. Iron Man suit’s have always been bulky, so I love the contrast. Ironheart’s unique silhouette makes her the most distinctive Iron man derivative ever. Silouette is honestly such an important part of a character’s design, that Ironheart’s unique one is truly great design.
    But from a feminist perspective, it is still worthy of praise. You are right that there is the hourglass, but proportionally, it is nowhere near the hourglass figure of the Rescue armour. Meanwhile, the Rescue armour has great big armoured breasts, while the Ironheart suit doesn’t. Yeah, it has an hourglass, but the relatively subtle hourglass gives it femininity (which I think is important. A young girl should be able to see Ironheart and realise that it is a woman in an Iron Man suit even with the mask on) while sparing the costume from the many obvious ways to sexualise Ironheart that Rescue is unfortunately saddled with. I love that.

    I still think this book is truly fantastic, and the best thing Bendis has done since… Citizen Daredevil (can’t remember the real name, but his Citizen Kane riff)? But this third issue suffers from the fact that it has a truly fantastic middle, bracketed by an overly long, poor intro and a coda that is a bit too large for the issue. Still, I am loving Ironheart

    *Primer on Rescue. Pepper, like Tony, has an arc reactor in her chest, that she got shortly after a terrorist attack by Zeke Stane. Shortly after the attack, Tony gifted her with some armour. But the key idea with Pepper is that she isn’t a superhero, at least, not in a traditional way. The most important thing about the Rescue suit is that Tony built it without a single weapon, because Pepper doesn’t want weapons (the Rescue suit still has powerful electromagnetics and repulsors that can be used in a fight, but that is a side effect). Pepper doesn’t fight supervillains, and instead she uses it as an emergency response tool. Saving crashing planes, going into burning buildings. We don’t get to see her use it too often, simply because Iron Man books are usually too busy with supervillains, but I like to imagine that whenever Pepper has free time, she flies around as Rescue, helping firefighters and similar things. Basically, a supervillain dedicated entirely to the Air Force One sequence in Iron Man Three.
    The only exceptions to the whole ‘solely search and rescue’ superhero often involve Tony/Stark Resilient. In Fraction’s run, where it gets introduced, she uses it a lot as a self defence tool and to deal with both attacks on Stark Resilient and on dealing with the Tony issues. And in Superior Iron Man, she uses the Rescue suit to take Superior Tony down. She relaxes the rules she has around the Rescue suit when things get personal.

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