by Patrick Ehlers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
There’s no “i” in “team”.
Tony Stark is a selfish jerk. It’s one of the things we like best about him! But there’s no denying that his success as Iron Man is contingent on the hard, capable work of thousands of employees, and countless robots and A.I. systems. As writer Dan Slott and artist Valerio Schiti take the Iron reins, they pitch Iron Man as a team venture, while casually undermining the autonomy of every individual on the team. Aside, of course, from Tony Stark. Tony remains a singular genius, more of a puppeteer than a team leader.
The climax of the issue involves new Stark Unlimited acquisition Andy Bhang synchronizing Tony’s sentient micro bots with an idea Tony had in a flashback 25 years ago. Is Andy really contributing that idea or does it just belong to teenage Tony Stark? Or consider that the only reason anyone knows that they should be looking around inside Fin Fang Foom’s body is because Tony identified him as behaving differently. Rhodey even kinda gives him shit for pointing out that ol’ Foomy ain’t himself. And the resolution of FFF acting strangely is that he is being remote controlled by some mysterious technology.
And once that brain-controlling disc is destroyed, FFF stomps off in a huff, saying “Fin Fang Foom is no one’s puppet, pawn or plaything.”
Which is what all of this is about: how does one control others? By buying out their company? By insisting that they’re free to make their own decisions? By playing an undeniable beat? Y’can’t fool me, fellahs, the name of this series is Tony Stark: Iron Man, emphasizing the man before the idea. Tony may stand on stage with his whole team at the end of the issue, but Schiti gives us a quick flash into Tony’s imagination, and possibly his true feelings on all of this.
Is that a team of people behind him? Or just the (mostly-)flesh cogs in the Iron Man machine? There might not be an “i” in team, but there’s a big one in “Iron Man.” And it comes first.
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Yay, I missed Batman Inc.
That’s funny. Stark’s new company (or maybe just the new name for the old company) is Stark Unlimited. If we’re really meant to think this is a team Iron Man book, I would have liked to see a naming convention more in-line with that. Something like Iron Man Unlimited.
Wow, this was a lot better executed compared to the typical Slott book. Bhang as a PoV character, the reveal of Stark Unlimited, followed quickly by the holographic Tony reveal that really sells the vision of Tony that Slott is presenting. The Jocasta’s job joke, that gets us to rethin our assumptions and sells Stark Unlimited as not just high tech but innovative and progressive/future shaping. And a big action climax that shows both the tone of the superheroics and the science focus, while using Bhang as a way to show how the supporting cast will work. The execution is great.
And yet, surprisingly, Slott is having issues with the characters.
For example, why does Tony hire Bhang. If I, personally, was writing this book, Bhang would be the last person on earth that Tony would ever hire. In fact, it would be a personal flaw of Tony that he would never hire someone like Bhang. Why? Because Bhang was the guy who missed the paradigm shift. The guy who thought he was at the cutting edge but was instead embarassignly behind. Which is the very worst thing I think a futurist like Tony Stark can imagine being. In fact, I’d say that was Tony’s biggest nightmare. Being Bhang.
But Slott has a different interpretation, obviously. And yet, I struggle to find a real reason to hire Bhang. Bhang doesn’t seem to be successful, so there is no value from that. But more importantly, he doesn’t seem to be particularly innovative, or have that one overlooked feature that TOny has. If we compare it to TOny going recruiting in Fraction’s run, Fraction did a much better job at setting up why Tony approached them. Hell, one of the guys created an entire alternate economic system.
With Bhang, his one idea, IBS, is something Tony is already working on. And Bhang doesn’t seem to have enough success to justify recruitment. And considering the ultimate answer to the solution is something TOny did 25 years ago, Bhang isn’t justifying himself as someone who is actually pushing boundaries on the future. No new insight, nothing that could only come from him. There is very little to Bhang that suggests why TOny would want to recruit him. Instead, Bhang is defined as a character as perpetually 25 years behind, chasing after a future TOny has reached but he never can. If we use Warren Ellis’ definition that Tony Stark is the test pilot of the future, what in this issue suggests Bhang fits in Stark Unlimited (oh god, I’m happy to know what Tony’s company is actually called again, after spending all of Bendis’ run asking whether it was still called Stark Resilient)
I’m also a little worried about UJocasta, specifically that while the idea is great, the approach was lazy and predictable. I’d be more interested in Jocasta if we got to look into the interesting ideas of AI rights instead of just treating them like humans. Maybe instead of having Jocasta obsessed with the robots have the choice not to sacrifice themselves, Jocasta could insist on a way of ensuring continuity of programming and fast replacement of their lost bodies. AI ethics built around the fact that any particular virtual mind is meaningless to a virtual mind, but that the virtual mind itself and the ease of access to A physical body is valuable.
The execution of this issue is great, though I may need to reread before I render judgement on whether the solution to this issue functions well as an expression of technological/engineering problem solving instead of a more generic type of intelligence. But I was left with major issues with the characters. Which is the complete opposite opinion than I usually have with Slott