Hiya. I like Iron Man and I read his comics. Therefore! I'm gonna review the first arc of Kieron Gillen's Marvel NOW! Iron Man series, “Believe”, drawn by Greg Land.
I say “review”, but what I'm actually gonna do is just go through it, issue-by-issue, and jot some bullet points down. I'll frame each issue with a brief summary and have some final thoughts at the end. No fuss, no muss! Maybe.
Issue # 1: “Demons and Genies”
Tony gets a call from a dead friend- Extremis is on the move, Extremis is loose! Cue Iron Man Obsessive Quest To Recover Stolen Tech #6001!!!
*So first things first, let's talk about Iron Man's new "Marvel NOW!" armor, which debuted here or hereabouts. Doesn't seem to have an official name, per se, but it is easily distinguishable from Iron Man's other main armors by its unique color scheme of black and gold. I think black almost always looks good on a superhero costume/get-up, whether it be Spider-Man or Batman or Iron Man, so this is a pretty striking model.
At first glance, I was kinda down on it, because it looked to me like someone just came up with a lazy spray-paint of Tony's Bleeding Edge armor. Upon closer inspection though, it is an all-new design, albeit one that does incorporate elements from his Bleeding Edge, Extremis, and even movie armors. At the end of the day, it gets my approval.
*While we're on the appearances of things, I'll take a moment to address Greg Land's art as a whole for this arc. It's serviceable and he does manage some dynamic images, but there's still the apparently-unavoidable “porn-face” expressions to get by when dealing with him. And he's only seemingly able to draw about one kind of female face- all women between the ages of 15 and 40 are supermodels.
On that note, I was disappointed with Land's interpretation of Pepper Potts-
Admittedly, ever since the first movie came out in 2008, many artists have tried to draw her more like Gwyneth Paltrow, but this isn't even that. This is just some random redheaded woman who could easily be Jean Grey or Mary Jane Watson or whomhaveyou.
Now when I think of Pepper Potts, I usually think of freckles-
What's a little odd/ironic is Land's design of Alex Draguno, a character who appears next issue. She has freckles! I probably would have identified HER as Pepper Potts if I had seen that headshot without the context!
*I find it a little off-putting that Tony makes a joke to Pepper about his one-night-stand-to-be possibly being Spymaster in disguise. Spymaster went on a rampage through Tony's new company, Stark Resilient, in Matt Fraction's Iron Man run, stabbing one of Tony's employees almost to death and threatening Bethany Cabe and Ms. Arbogast. This Spymaster then committed “suicide-by-cop” after being apprehended. Taking “comic book time” into account, this probably happened only a few months ago. Too soon, Tony.
*The catalyst for this story kicking off is the murder of Maya Hansen, who developed Extremis. While I can't say I ever warmed to her as a character that much, I also feel she probably deserved better than to be offed so cavalierly. She was a major supporting character in the Knaufs' Iron Man run before being ditched when Matt Fraction took over. Plus, given how important Extremis was to Tony for a long time, all the problems and enemies he'd encountered because of it, and how obsessed Maya was with developing it, you'd think he'd have kept better tabs on her. Instead, she was apparently kidnapped, forced to develop more Extremis kits for mostly-bad people, and then murdered without Tony ever suspecting until it was too late. At least when the Mandarin kidnapped her the last time, he had the good sense to fake her death first so Tony wouldn't even consider looking.
*Heh, the fact that Tony sneaks into an A.I.M. auction for their appropriated Extremis kits and manages to avoid being identified by simply shaving his mustache off is pretty amusing. As is Tony's mention that he has “a biochemist friend who swears by a solution that can regrow it in a few hours”.
*Tony takes on three A.I.M. flunkies enhanced by Extremis. Okay, I'm willing to take at face-value that ever since Warren Ellis' Extremis arc and all subsequent battles with Extremis enhanciles, Tony's come up with much more efficient ways of fighting them. As well as the fact that having been enhanced by Extremis once himself, Tony's applied the technology and lessons learned to his current armor, thus making it more than a match for these guys. But man...it took Tony almost that entire initial Warren Ellis arc to track down and kill Mallen, the original Extremis enhancile. Here, he takes down all three Extremis guys down at ONCE with...a taser.
You can easily follow the reasoning of this, but honestly...I dunno, to me it kinda feels like a dramatic disconnect in hindsight, I guess.
Issue # 2: “A Gentleman's Wager”
Summary: They're Knights of the Round Table! They steal Extremis and fight Iron Man whene'er they're able!
*We're introduced to a new organization called “The Circle” here, which has set up shop in Symkaria. They're a group of armored mercenaries who have code names based on King Arthur and his knights. This issue is narrated by “Lancelot”, who is in fact the previously-mentioned Alex Draguno. The rest of the people involved with The Circle come off as pretentious pricks, but Alex is someone I wouldn't mind reading more of. She's got the “rival ace” thing going on that I'm usually a fan of in most fictional settings, where she could be Tony's enemy or his ally, depending on the situation.
*Tony heads to The Circle's main HQ because they acquired one of the Extremis kits that was in the wind. “Arthur”, head of The Circle, wants to test their new Extremis-enhanced Knights against Iron Man and proposes a tourney as a way to do so. “Merlin”, the designer of their suits, was humiliated by Tony Stark years ago and wants some payback. And Lancelot just wants to fight Iron Man. All Tony wants is to destroy what remains of the Extremis they acquired, which they place in the arena as a gesture of good faith, under the protection of a force field.
Once he beats two of the Knights one-on-one and fights with Lancelot to a standstill, Tony simply destroys the remaining Extremis tech by using a UV laser that can pass through force fields. I think it's always funny and satisfying when the hero owns some pretentious jerkasses by not playing by their rules.
Issue # 3: “It Makes Us Stronger”
Summary: Tony fights three classic villains. Wait...two. Wait...okay, maybe one. Also, he eats some grilled cheese.
*That's one of the least-convincing sandwiches I've ever seen drawn.
*Some cocaine kingpin who bought the Extremis kit for his dying daughter pits Living Laser, Firebrand, and Vibro against Iron Man.
I like the Living Laser, but I feel like he's one of those villains whose power level fluctuates absurdly between appearances. Sometimes he's powerful enough to give Iron Man a very bad day on his own, and sometimes he's just some chump. When he's a chump, he's usually part of a larger group of villains, like in this issue or when he was part of the Hood's gang (or as my buddy Derek calls them, “The Mega Hip-Hop Masters of Evil”). Here, he's chump enough to be taken down by a single repulsor blast from Iron Man, who notes that the Living Laser is “no Titanium Man”. Ah well. I guess he'll never be as cool again as he was under Romita Jr.'s pencils in “Armor Wars II”. His design here is pretty ugly and generic- it's a carry-over from Fraction and Larocca's run.
Firebrand is a new female version that debuted in Fraction and Larocca's run. I didn't actually read that bit. All I remember is that one of the old Firebrands, the dumpy-wearing-a-metal-baby-harness lookin' one from Busiek's run, showed up in Rick Remender's Secret Avengers run recently. This is really kind of an epidemic with Iron Man villains sometimes. Someone makes a replacement because the old one wasn't memorable enough, or is dead. Then a subsequent someone ignores said-replacement and returns to the original or makes ANOTHER replacement and it eventually gets pretty muddled. Crimson Dynamo and Titanium Man are pretty heavy sufferers of this trend. Anyway, she gets chumped out even more than Laser did, sooooo...whatever.
And finally, we have Vibro. Not too familiar with him, but he could be the original one. He showed up in Fraction's run too, but the last I personally read of him, he was part of the Hand-resurrected army of dead D-List supervillains that were pitted against SHIELD in Mark Millar's first Wolverine run. I'm not sure if anyone ever bothered to explain when or how he died and when or how he was resurrected. But he gets punked by Iron Man too, who gasses him and Firebrand within seconds of the fight starting.
I can definitely understand why some people might criticize Iron Man's rogues gallery. All too often, many are used as cannon fodder for their employer, whether it is the Mandarin, Justin Hammer, or this random cocaine merchant. And like I mentioned, sometimes you aren't even sure of which incarnation of the villain you are dealing with. There are multiple unrelated-to-each other Firebrands, Whiplashes, Titanium Mans, Crimson Dynamos, Spymasters, Blizzards, and Ghosts. I think some of these villains need to be nailed-down and given more of a “venerable” status in Iron Man's rogues gallery. When Spider-Man fights Electro, I just KNOW it's Max Dillon. When Iron Man fights Titanium Man...well, I can't always be sure.
Issue # 4: “Fear of the Void”
Summary: Tony kills a bunch of Lovecraftian Extremis girls. Film at eleven.
*Not much to say about this issue. Tony debuts his new “heavy” armor, which acts as a cross between War Machine and Hulkbuster. It's neat.
*Tony finds another batch of newly-created Extremis enhanciles, this time in the form of a bunch of young women whose minds have been overwritten and who have basically been turned into mindless attack dogs. Tony manages to disable them and executes all but one of them, who didn't attack him.
Now, some might have a problem with Tony mercy-killing the lot of them, but I found it pretty in-step with how Tony's always been portrayed. He has a realistic grasp of things and leaving a dozen Extremis-enhanced berserkers alive is just asking for trouble. He keeps one alive, because she seemed completely non-responsive. However, the ending is somewhat ominous on that front...
Issue # 5: “Men of the World”
Summary: The final stolen Extremis kit is in the hands of a retcon! Is Tony gonna let that stand? HELL NAW BRAH.
*So we're introduced to “Eli” here (no last name given), an old pal of Tony Stark from backindaday, and who is somewhat evocative of Jeff Bridges' portrayal of Obadiah Stane. He stole the last Extremis kit from whomever purchased it, which he believes absolves him of second-hand guilt or responsibility over Maya Hansen's death and allows him to use it as he pleases. Man, if I had a nickel for every time a writer played the “old friend/mentor/business colleague of Tony who is now evil/dubious” card...
*Tony is shown Stark Resilient's newest achievement...an improved version of their last phone. Of course, he has to bring up to Pepper that Stark Resilient was supposed to provide a way to give free energy to the world, but they conveniently haven't figured that out yet. This was one of Fraction's plots, and even back when he introduced it, I knew it was dead weight. Because Marvel exists in the “real” world (hahaha), and a company that comes up with a way to provide free energy to everyone WOULD NEVER EXIST in the real world.
Still, I suppose it was nice to address it, and a “realistic” way of handling it. But it does draw one's attention to the fact that if Tony Stark, Reed Richards, Hank Pym, or any of these guys were really as smart as they've been painted, they should be able to solve most of the real world's problems just so. It's one of the little bits I enjoyed about Superman: Red Son, where Lex Luthor becomes President of the US and within months, fixes all the country's financial problems and quadruples the living standard of every US citizen. I feel like that's how it really should be, if these kinds of comic super-geniuses really were worth their salt. But of course, that wouldn't work well for a serialized, inter-connected comic universe, I guess.
*I was wondering if Tony was going to be shot up with Extremis again by the end of this arc, but it never happens. As far as I know (and I didn't read the last dozen or so issues of Fraction's run), Tony had Extremis purged from his system there. So I guess this is really the end of this little leftover from Warren Ellis' run on Iron Man, which has really lasted longer than I would have expected. Extremis was a nice change for awhile, making Tony Stark a sort of superhuman outside his armor, but I think it's nice to be solidly back to a Tony who is just “a man in a tin can” for the foreseeable future. And although these new batches that Maya was forced to create were all destroyed, there's nothing to stop someone from reverse-engineering Extremis from one of Eli's crew or anyone else who had been treated with it in this arc. So I think Extremis is best locked in the cupboard for awhile now.
*Tony leaves for space at the end of the arc, in his new space armor, preparing for some space adventures. It's funny; he left for space at the end of the Fraction run too, but I guess that was just the little “vacation” that Pepper mentions in the first issue of this arc. This is his space journey for REALZ now. It's a nice change of scenery for Iron Man, and Death's Head pops up, so no complaints here!
In the end, I enjoyed reading this arc, despite my niggles. It does a solid job of providing a jumping-on point or “soft-rebooting” Iron Man. The plot...well...the plot is a little overplayed for Iron Man, but at least there's a wrinkle in it, where it isn't really Tony's own tech that he's recovering or destroying this time. Greg Land's art...well...you can either take or leave it. While there were a few moments where I had to double-take to understand what was happening (like when one of the Extremis women kills her creator), it still does its job competently-enough. Personally, I think his style is pretty ugly and his people are kinda fake and plastic-looking...but I dunno, maybe someone else thinks that looks “real-er”.
So if you want a nice hopping-on point for Iron Man, I can give this a thumb-up. And even more well-read Iron Man fans will probably get some enjoyment out of this story. Hopefully, Kieron Gillen has no place to go...but up.