Iron Mongering: Iron Man 2 (2010)

I hadn’t heard a lot of great things about Iron Man 2. Between friends and the Totally Rad Show guys, the reviews weren’t the greatest. I think those people are crazy. Sure Iron Man 2 had some problems, but overall, it gave me the things I found the original wanting: a really good final battle (the Iron Man vs. the drones was probably cooler than the final battle with Whiplash), a better actor portraying Rhodey and more action in general.

Some people complained that the movie was too long and maybe felt like there were too many characters which took away from the Tony Stark/Robert Downey Jr. goodness, but I disagree. It felt like a very well paced and balanced movie to me.

I’m not going to get too much into the plot because I’m sure some people haven’t seen it yet, but I will talk about a few things that I really, really liked. First off, Don Cheadle annihilates Terrence Howard’s performance. He should have been in the role from the beginning. Second, even though Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow wasn’t the kind of role I expected it to be, I like they worked her in and her fighting style was awesome to watch. I could definitely go for a movie with just her. Third, the comparison between Howard Stark (Tony’s dad, played perfectly by Mad Men’s John Slattery) and Walt Disney is perfect. It obviously wasn’t directly stated, but between Slattery sporting a Walt-like suit and telling the people at home about his idea for the future and Stark Expo aping the World’s Fair (a showcase for many of Disney’s creations that are still in the parks today), it’s on the screen. Plus, the way Howard helped Tony later in life was awesome.

The movie’s not perfect, though. There was one plot hole early on that I actually forgot in all the awesomeness towards the end, but I did think it was odd that Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash would allow Tony and Rhodey to communicate towards the end of the movie. Rourke was fantastic by the way. I however did not like two of the performances in particular that of the Sams Jackson and Rockwell. Jackson seemed to be playing his role as a buddy of Stark’s which just doesn’t wash for me. And for Rockwell, I’m kind of shocked at how much everyone liked his character, or liked to hate him. Yeah, he was annoying and douchey, but it came off as a bad Dana Carvey impression of that character to me. Hopefully if he shows back up in Iron Man 3, he’ll be a little less over-the-top.

All in all, I had a fantastic time watching Iron Man 2 (I love that they called it Iron Man 2, by the way, and not something with a colon). It had everything I wanted and actually topped my medium-sized expectations. Plus, for me at least, the first Iron Man movie seemed amazing at the time, but on repeated viewings I found it wanting. Maybe that will be the case with IM2, or maybe knowing that the sequel picks up on the potential of the first one and continues on will actually make me enjoy the original more.

Iron Mongering: Invincible Iron Man Vol. 1

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN VOL. 1: THE FIVE NIGHTMARES (Marvel)
Written by Matt Fraction, drawn by Salvador Larroca
Collects Invincible Iron Man #1-7
It’s been a while since I’ve read a new Iron Man trade and I’ve been hearing a lot of good stuff about Invincible Iron Man, but thanks to Ben letting me borrow I can now no longer say either of those things. I was at Wizard when this book first kicked off. I was pretty excited to read a good Iron Man comic (this was after or around the movie and during the post-Civil War comics that ruined Iron Man for a lot of people including me), but I don’t think I even got through the first issue. I wanted a brand new Iron Man comic that was doing something new and here I was given a villain who is the son of old Iron Man villain Obidiah Stane. Yawn, no thanks. So, I didn’t read anymore, but I wish I had.

The book is pretty good, but not great by any means. It felt similar to Warren Ellis’ attempt to reboot the character with his Extremis arc, with the idea that Tony Stark needs to be ahead of the curve and not falling into a technological rut. Frankly, this shouldn’t be something that needs to be said, it should just always be done, so I’m not giving it a ton of credit for doing the thing that an Iron Man book should.

I will give the book credit for coming up with what turned out to be a pretty good villain. Zeke Stane has taken his father’s anger towards Iron Man/Tony Star and used it to fuel his genius which he aims like a gun at taking them down using Stark’s own tech. There’s a huge dearth of good new heroes and villains being created in comics right now either because reader’s just want to read the same old characters knocking each other out or because writers are too devoted to the old and not wanting to create new. Stane seems like a pretty good addition that we’ll probably see again soon.

The seventh issue in the book has Spider-Man following Iron Man around while Iron Man ties up some loose ends from the main arc. It’s an okay story, but felt kind of pointless to me. I’m all in favor for doing one-off issues, but this one didn’t seem like it added much to the story as a whole or offer any unique takes that made me smile. Plus, Fraction doesn’t write a great Spidey.

Finally, am I the only one who liked Larroca’s art way better in the 90s? He had that rad, cartoony style and now, well, now I’m not quite sure what he does. It’s not bad, in fact it’s very crisp, but it reminds me too much of McNiven but with more celebrities popping up. Anyway, click here, here and here for what Larroca used to look like.

Iron Mongering: The Armor Wars

A couple weekends back, Em wanted to watch Iron Man again, so we did and it was great once again. I do wish the end fight would have been a little bit more awesome and well-balanced instead of so clearly one-sided on Iron Monger’s side. Anyway, it got me thinking that, over a year ago, I decided to check out various Iron Man stories and talk about whether a newbie would be able to jump right in and enjoy it or not. Well, with the news that Mickey Rourke is playing an armored version of Whiplash and pictures even surfacing, I think Armor Wars might actually be a good place for people looking to get a jump on the potential story behind Iron Man 2.

As the folks over at Slash Film have pointed out, the first two press photos from Iron Man 2 seem to be connected, with Tony Stark looking at what looks like a model of the arc reactor that Whiplash is wearing. I’m going to go one step further and guess that there might be some Armor Wars elements in the film. You see, the plot behind Armor Wars is that Tony Stark discovers that all these different armored villains (and even some heroes) have been using his Iron Man technology to commit crimes. This pisses Tony off and he goes rogue, taking out heroes and villains in a single minded attempt to neutralize their armors.

So, maybe in that first picture we’re seeing Tony discovering Whiplash ripped off his armor tech and he’s pissed. Sure, it’s an awful lot of guessing, but that’s what blog are for right?

Okay, so back to the trade. It’s written by David Michelinie, pencilled by Mark Bright and one issue by Barry Windsor-Smith and inked and co-plotted by Bob Layton. The book collects Iron Man #224-232. I’ve already gone through the basics of the story, but the devil’s in the details as Tony Stark goes a little crazy trying to neutralize the armors, he even attacks a superhero, and member of the Avengers, Stingray to do so. What I really like about the story is how nicely it fits into the overall Marvel universe. It mostly has Iron Man characters and villains, but it crosses over into other arenas when necessary, like when SHIELD gets involved or when the Avengers (the West Coast Avengers to be exact) show up to ask Iron Man what the heck is going on.

But, that being said, I don’t think this would be a difficult book for someone whose only experience with Iron Man is the movie. You’ve got Rhodey and Tony and SHIELD, elements you’d be familiar with and the villains and other heroes get explained pretty well in the book itself, but if you’re ever confused, I’d suggest hitting up Wikipedia, like when a dude called The Captain shows up looking kinda sorta like Captain America (it really is him, I promise).

So, in addition to being a compelling story, I think Armor Wars makes a lot of sense as a first look as far as comics go for new fans. It’s also a good book for current comic fans to check out if they thought Tony’s actions over the past few years seem to have come out of nowhere. This book put a few things in Civil War into context for me, though I still think no character has been screwed over and mishandled quite as much as Iron Man, though I keep hearing good things about Invincible Iron Man, I just haven’t been able to scrape the trades together.

One other thing I wanted to mention, and it’s really more of an oddity, is the size of the trade I read. I got it along with an original Guardians of the Galaxy trade in a Swap from Sequential Swap (seriously, you should all join this rad service) and both of them are kind of a funny size. You can see a scan of the cover itself, which I believe is different than the current trade cover, below followed by a scan of a regular sized comic overtop of the trade. As you can see, the trade is a little shorter and a little longer than your average comic, so they had to shrink and maybe stretch the pages when they reprinted them. Or maybe they’re just shrunk. I didn’t really notice anything while reading it, I just thought it was odd. Checking the date, this trade was created in 1990, back when there weren’t a lot of trades being produced, just the big, big stories like Armor Wars… and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Iron Mongering: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. & Secret Invasion War Machine

2009-02-03
9:09:57 pm

In my ever-expanding quest to read more Iron Man comics I decided to give a few recent trades a shot, which brought be to Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Secret Invasion: War Machine. I wanted to read all of the post-Civil War Iron Man books, but couldn’t find them in the library, so this will do.

IRON MAN: DIRECTOR OF S.H.I.E.L.D.

Written by Daniel and Charles Knauf, drawn by Roberto de la Torre

As some of you may know, I was involved in the weekly Civil War Room review column on wizarduniverse.com lead by former Wizard staffer Rickey Purdin. I enlisted thinking it would be a seven week commitment (that’s how long it was supposed to take to come out right?). Well, it turned into an over year long commitment in which I read 99% of the Civil War related comics (thank you vacation). Anyway, because of all this, I feel pretty confident in saying that Iron Man was not a well handled character at the time, at least in my opinion.

So, with that in mind, I was pretty apt to skip Iron Man’s post-Civil War comic which saw him in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. an organization most well known for being lead by one of the coolest characters in the known universe, Nick Fury. But, alas, that didn’t keep me away forever.

This trade is a pretty interesting one. The writers Knauf spin an intriguing yarn with plenty of espionage and superheroics all the same. I really like how Tony has built Iron Man-like armor for his S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. That’s a cool touch that really makes sense. Also, I like how Dum Dum Dugan doesn’t like Tony’s way of running S.H.I.E.L.D. (like a business instead of a military organization). There’s some pretty cool moments between the two of them as their relationship grows over the issues.

The book, which collects Iron Man #15-18, also features the return of the handless Mandarin who gets the alien power rings surgically inserted into his spine. I really wish I had the next few volumes to read between this and Secret Invasion to see how that played out. Some day I guess…

All in all, good stuff. Maybe not an easy entry point for new readers, but it’s a good read for the initiated and also reprints two older stories, one starring Nick Fury, the other Iron Man. There’s also reprints of some Marvel Spotlight: Civil War stuff and Marvel Handbook stuff, so that’s a good deal.

SECRET INVASION: WAR MACHINE

Written by Chris Gage and drawn by Sean Chen

This book collects the repurposed Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. issues (#33-35) which were dubbed War Machine: Weapon of S.H.I.E.L.D. while Iron Man was stuck in the Savage Land for six months.

I actually really dug this story. It’s one of the cooler Secret Invasion tie-ins, far as I’m concerned. What you get is Jim Rhodes, a.k.a. War Machine, getting a distress call from Tony telling him that StarkTech had been compromised by the Skrulls, but luckily Rhodey (who’s apparently a cyborg who looks an awful lot like Cyborg now) doesn’t have StarkTech inside him, so he’s cool. Tony also leads him to a satellite that’s shielded from everyone that also transforms into a giant robot that Rhodey can control.

The story also has a pretty good tussle with the Winter Guard, some cool Super Skrulls that actually get identified (why couldn’t they tell us who made up ALL the Skrulls?!) and a character by the name of Suzi Endo who is apparently known, but not by me. I wish this book would have come with some kind of intro or a Handbook entry on some of the characters to let me know what’s up with them, but I got the gist of it. I haven’t read the new War Machine book, but this definitely makes me want to, especially if it has a satellite that transforms into a giant robot!!!

Iron Mongering Part 4: The Many Armors of Iron Man

2008-11-11
2:54:44 pm

As I’ve mentioned in previous Iron Mongering posts, I really want to see a Michelinie and Layton Essential, Visionaries or even an Omnibus or two. Many Armors is nothing like that. Instead it’s a grab bag of issues by different creators introducing various Iron Man armors (a space armor, the stealth, etc.). Sounds like it could be fun right? Well, it really isn’t unfortunately.

My biggest problem with the book (which collects Iron Man #47, 142-144, 152, 153, 200, 218) is that, like with Demon in a Bottle there is no indication as to what’s been going on with Iron Man around the time these issues came out, so you’re just thrown in and have to figure it out on your own. And while the stories themselves may be kind of interesting, I really felt like I was missing a lot.

Generally I don’t like trades like this with various issues from various teams about various stories, but the ones that I think did it best was the Green Arrow/Black Canary For Better Or For Worse which did the above, but also included little prose paragraphs before each story to explain what had happened in the years between the stories. Maybe if MAOIM did that for a later edition it would be a more enjoyable book, but as it is, it really isn’t. It does REALLY make me want to see some Michelinie and Layton trades collecting their epic runs. I’ve got my fingers crossed. Maybe in time for the Iron Man sequel.

Oh, which reminds me, reading the first issue in this trade, which retold Iron Man’s origin spurred me on to watching the Iron Man DVD, so, that’s a least a point in the plus column. That movie’s rad.

Iron Mongering Part 3: Michelinie and Layton Pot Luck

2008-06-04
3:00:47 am

As those of you who have stumbled across this here blog probably realized, last week was absolutely dead in my little corner of the internet. That’s because we were working on finishing the next issue of ToyFare (or “closing” as we call it) before Wizard World Philly which was last weekend. I had a pretty good time, you may have read some of my toy-related stories on the main page or even seen some pics of me hosting the First Annual ToyFare Hall of Fame Awards or on the TTT panel which was a lot of fun (huge thanks to anyone who found their way here because of that panel and thanks to Ben and Justin for hyping it). So that leads me to what will hopefully be the first of a few posts this week, another installment of Iron Mongering.

Instead of just picking up another trade, I decided to read some books I had in my “to read” pile (a pile that, I’m sure like most of yours, keeps getting bigger and bigger). A few years ago a buddy of mine by the name of James Walker was getting rid of a bunch of his comics and I grabbed a small stack of his Iron Man comics, which I sat down and read tonight. And awayyyyyy we go:

Iron Man #218-220, 223, 228 (1987)

Written by David Michelinie and Bob Layton

Drawn by Bob Layton, Mark D. Bright

Featuring Iron Man, Rhodey, The Ghost, Spymaster, The Captain

Okay, so even though these aren’t consecutive issues, I really dug reading through this hodgepodge of issues from Michelinie’s second run on Iron Man. I’m not sure what came before #218, but I feel like I was able to grasp what was going on pretty well. And I think this is a one-off story anyway, but basically Iron Man has to use his deep sea armor to grab a cannister full of some WWI biological weapon that sank on the Titanic.

As with the Demon in a Bottle trade, I really enjoyed these issues. The art by Layton and Bright still looks crisp even after being around in single issue form for 11 years. Michelinie’s stories still have their very literary feel and he easily catches readers up to what’s happening in each issue with no more than three panels, so kudos to him for that.

Which brings us to #219, which not only debuts a brand new villain but also strips Tony of his Magnum-like haircut and replaces it with a weird Jerry curl. How ’80s. This issue sees the first appearance of techno corporate espionage villain The Ghost who can either become invisible or become intangible, both of which make him a powerful and dangerous foe for Iron Man and Tony, which leads into #220 another great issue that pits longtime IM villain Spymaster against new kid on the block the Ghost while Tony stands there, seemingly helpless. Of course, Stark’s not really helpless as he uses Rhodey’s gun to keep Spymaster from shooting a strange spinning disc blade in the Ghost’s head. Which is great because SPOILER the Ghost ends up killing Spymaster by rematerializing him in the middle of a wall. Ouch. Even though I’ve seen this kind of move before, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it kill anyone, which was a pretty big surprise.

Unfortunately, I don’t have #221, which finishes the story, so I don’t know how things were left between the Ghost, who really wanted to pop a cap in Tony’s ass and the Man of Iron. So, moving on…

In #223, a character I’ve never heard of called Force leaves Justin Hammer behind and goes to Tony Stark for help getting out of his armor, which Tony as Iron Man gladly does. The dude inside of Force offers to give Tony everything he knows about Hammer’s operation, but instead Tony sends him to jail where Beetle, Whiplash and Blizzard (all three in trenchcoats and hats, you know how much I like that!) show up to kill him. I found this pretty interesting because I’ve basically thought of Iron Man as a huge jerk since I had to read every Civil War tie-in during WizardUniverse.com’s old Civil War Room column. Here I got to see Tony doing exactly what he thought was the right thing and it completely backfired in his face. Not sure what happens after that cause I don’t have the next issue, but #228 was pretty rad too

Haha, okay, I actually started writing this after reading everything but #228, so then I got to this part and I realized that #228 (which is the issue where Tony gives Steve Rogers, now going by The Captain, his new shield) is part 4 of Armor Wars II, so I’m going to hold off on this one until I can get the rest of the issues.

These few issues of Michelinie’s Iron Man that I’ve read bring me back to my earlier days of collecting comics. I used to pick up random books in the cheap racks of cons back in the day and if I liked them I’d go a little crazy and buy every issue in that particular series (which is why I’m about 7 issues away from owning every post-Crisis, pre-JLA Justice League book that came out). Now, I’m not feeling like I need to buy every Iron Man comic in existence, but I am feeling that old urge to pick up all of his and Layton’s issues. Before I go too crazy, I’m definitely gonna check and see what’s available in trade. All I know for sure are Demon in a Bottle and Armor Wars (which I want to read now more than ever). I’ll keep you posted on how that works out for me.

Iron Mongering Part 2: Extremis

2008-05-25
3:44:12 pm

Next up on the Iron Man review front, we have Warren Ellis and Adi Granov’s Extremis storyline which kicked off the fourth Iron Man ongoing series. Ellis took the opportunity to update Tony’s origin so that he was blown up in Afghanistan instead of Vietnam. There’s probably some other changes, but I’m not really sure. And, awwwwwwway we go:

Iron Man: Extremis (2005-2006)

Written by Warren Ellis

Drawn by Adi Granov

Featuring Iron Man, Mallen, Maya Hansen and Sal Kennedy

Unlike Demon in a Bottle, I’ve actually read Extremis before and liked it. When I read it originally, I had only read Heroes Reborn Iron Man (I’ll get to that in another post) and a few issues of the third volume. So, I remembered most of the beats and still enjoyed it, but definitely not as much as Demon in a Bottle. On a sunnier note, though, there are a number of scenes in this book that they seemed to take inspiration from in the film, which is a fun little game to play.

Speaking of influence on the movie, they couldn’t have picked a better artist to help design the movie armor than Adi Granov. His work on this book really jumps off the page. Sure there’s a few panels that seem a little static, but for the majority of the panels, Granov really brings Iron Man AND Tony Stark to life. While still on the topic of creators, I’ve read a number of different Ellis books, liked some, didn’t like others, so his name alone wasn’t the big draw for me.

Okay, so on to the story. We open in an abandoned slaughterhouse where two kids inject a third (Mallen) with what turns out to be Extremis (more on that later). It turns out that a doctor at Futurepharm allowed Extremis to get swiped, so he shoots himself in the head, leaving Dr. Hansen to deal with the authorities.

Meanwhile, Tony Stark tinkers away in his garage laboratory (an image of Stark that I really like to see, he is a super-genius after all) and then gets interviewed by a documentary maker, in a very similar fashion than the ambush by the sexy blond reporter lady in the movie. It’s a pretty great scene because it gives you a really good idea about who the man underneath the armor really is: one who feels responsible for creating weapons of destruction and wants to make right by the world. This goes on for a while, then we get a

snapshot of Mallen who looks like he’s covered in a cocoon of tar.

Then back to Tony who’s looking at his Iron Man armor, saying, “Hard to believe I used to be able to fit this into a briefcase.” He then goes on for a few pages, briefly recapping his origin and explaining why he’s Iron Man. It’s a bit on the nose, especially after reading through the scene with Tony and the documentary maker. Anyway, Iron Man launches into the sky and flies around, remembering meeting Dr. Hansen who then calls him. Weird, huh? She tells him about Extremis and he tells her he’ll be there ASAP.

On the way there, Tony has a video conference with his board of directors who are trying to convince him to step down from CEO to Chief Technologist, which he’s having none of, mostly because they want to get back into the weapons-making business and Tony won’t allow it. Also, they discuss a brand new Stark cell phone that sounds a lot like the iPhone. I remember when this project was first announced that Ellis said that, now that cell phones can do all this crazy stuff, that Iron Man needs an upgrade. It’s kinda awesome that Ellis was able to call the next step in cell phone technology.

So, Tony shows up at Futurepharm, talks to Maya, uses a satellite USB drive to upload the entire contents of the dead doctor’s hard drive to one of his computer techs and then heads off with Maya to meet up with Sal Kennedy to talk tech and the future while Mallen finally realizes what his powers can do and goes on a pretty awesome rampage. The juxtaposition of the scientists discussion of science and its place (along with theirs) in the world and what it means to be a genius against the misuse of science (Extremis) is a nice one, but it goes on for a bit too long, possibly. In my opinion, this whole six issue story could have been told in about four with little-to-no difference in quality.

Maya and Tony finally find out about the rampage and head back to Futurepharm on the plane, which gives Maya time to explain what the heck Extremis actually is. I’ll let her explain it to you (though in a condensed version): “Extremis is a super-soldier solution. It’s a bio-electronics package [that] hacks the body’s repair center [rewriting it]. In the first stage, the body becomes and open wound. The normal human blueprint is being replaced with the Extremis blueprint. For the next two or three days, the subject remains unconscious within a cocoon of scabs.” Get it? No? I’m not sure I do either, but I do like this brief call-out to the fact that this is all supposedly taking place in the Marvel Universe. It’s about the only one we get, but it’s a pretty good one. Basically, Extremis makes you awesome in just about every way, but how does it make you breath fire? Um…moving on.

Tony and Maya land, Tony heads to his hangar and talks to himself some more while Mallen remembers his redneck past, espcially the part where the fascist government (fascist because they didn’t want these guys running guns, the jerks!). Makes sense right? Why not. Well, it turns out that the psycho, probably redneck (that’s just what I’m picking up from this brief bit of dialog) apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as THIS seems to be the reason Mallen’s such a d-bag. Well, his reminiscing gets interrupted by Iron Man, who slices the van that Mallen’s being driven in in half. So, yeah, they fight and it’s cool. There’s even a scene that they seemingly borrowed for the movie where the bad guy holds up a car full of people to smash Iron Man with, but IM blasts them with his chest beam and then catches the car. The fight’s pretty brutal, with Mallen winning, but then running away, leaving Iron Man under a car.

All of which leads us to the big deal aspect of this whole story. A broken and bloody Iron Man gets taken back to Futurepharm where he reveals his ID to Maya and asks her to inject him with Extremis because he wants a better, thinner, quicker operating system to run the Iron Man suit. Maya, of course, initially refuses, but Tony reminds her that he’ll probably die without it, so she agrees. Tony makes his own alterations to Extremis (no fire breathing necessary) and then injects it, which leads to the re-telling of his origin. This time in Afghanistan, as I mentioned above. The Iron Man movie seems to have, again, used this origin as a blueprint for it’s action packed escape sequences and Granov seems to revel in making the clunky gray armor look both realistic and kind of terrifying.

After this flashback, Tony comes out of the scab cocoon and reveals that he programmed Extremis to hide the under sheath of his armor in his bones and that he can now also see through satellites, oh and open briefcases from a distance and put his armor on without touching anything. Again, I’m not all too sure how all this works. If Extremis is supposed to make a human as good as it can be, how does that relate to circuitry and technology? I’m not sure and it’s very possible that I completely missed something here, but I still buy it. Why not? These are comics after all and few heroes need an upgrade more than Iron Man (skate boots anyone?).

So, now we’re treated to an issue’s worth of fighting between Mallen and the brand new Iron Man (who doesn’t actually look all that different than he did in the first issue). It’s a great fight scene, one that, again gives us a look at who Tony really is. He admits to killing a number of people when he escaped in the original armor, something that I didn’t know. Iron Man even tells Mallen why he’s so scared of him: “You’re my nightmare: the version of me that couldn’t see the future.” This reads to me as Tony admitting his dilemma. He’s terrified of what technology can (and probably will) do to the world, but it’s the only thing he’s good at. He’s also cursed or blessed with the ability to see how things will play out, he’s always looking at the big picture, which means that he’s working on a level that most people probably can not understand (which explains his actions during Civil War).

In the end, Iron Man ends up killing Mallen and revealing that Maya helped release Extremis. THE END.

Like I said before, I would have been happy with this being a four issue series (maybe five). Unlike Demon in a Bottle, in which so many crazy things are going on, many of which don’t pertain to the main story on the surface (but, of course, ended up playing out later on), Extremis seems a little too focused. There isn’t a lot else going on besides the main story. And that’s not bad, it’s just not as interesting to me as a denser story.

I do wish that Extremis was better explained. Calling it a technological super soldier serum doesn’t really explain how Tony was able to use it with the armor or how Mallen was able to breath fire. Like I said above, though, I can dig it. But it does take away from the story, that such a big element isn’t made very clear, especially when there aren’t many subplots to get wrapped up in.

Also, I would have liked to see Iron Man find another way to stop Mallen besides killing him. I can understand him killing some people while escaping for his life, but one of the most brilliant men on the planet (possibly the universe?) SHOULD have been able to figure out a better way to stop him than cutting his head off. It also takes a potentially great arch-enemy for Iron Man of the table (well, until someone resurrects him).

Overall, Extremis is a pretty good read, looks beautiful, has some great fight scenes, establishes Tony Stark as a character and re-establishes his origin, but it doesn’t have the same sense of shared universe and history that Demon in a Bottle had. It also reads very much like a mini-series instead of the beginning of an ongoing. If it WAS a mini, I don’t think most of these things would bother me as much.

Iron Mongering Part 1: Demon in a Bottle

2008-05-13
1:37:41 am

Like everyone else in the world, I really dug the Iron Man flick, but it got me thinking: What are some great Iron Man stories out there? Everyone’s always talking about Armor Wars and Demon in a Bottle, but I’ve run into some trouble getting into comics from back then, what with the huge text blocks and “I’m saying what I’m doing” dialog. So, I went up to Wizard’s comic library (a truly magical place) and grabbed a big stack of trades, old and newer, and will post my thoughts as I read through them. Huge spoilers ahead. Sorry about the smaller images below, I’m still trying to work this whole thing out.

First up, Demon in a Bottle (1979)

Collects: Iron Man #120-128

Written By: David Michelinie

Drawn By: John Romita Jr., Bob Layton & Carmine Infantino

Featuring: Iron Man, Namor, James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Bethany Cabe, Jarvis, Captain America, The Avengers, Justin Hammer, a slew of villains and booze

First, a quick bit of background on my comic-reading past. I grew up a DC guy, so most of my Iron Man knowledge stemmed from the short-lived ’90s animated series, whatever random Marvel books I’d pick up from time to time and what I read in Wizard. Like everyone else, I’ve heard a lot about Demon in a Bottle, but never really took the chance to read it until now because I kind of figured I knew everything that happened and didn’t think I’d like it.

Well, I was wrong. Though the trade is a bit difficult to jump into (there’s characters I’m not familiar with and the book starts with the last 5 pages of issue #120), it didn’t bother me all that much because it reminded me of what it was like when I first started reading comics. I had no idea what was going on and loved trying to figure it out.

Keeping that in mind (and knowing that not everyone likes to read comics the way I do), I wanted to offer a little background info that might help new readers. Up to this point Bethany Cabe (first appearing a few issues earlier in IM #117) was a lady that Tony Stark was eying after his break-up with Madame Masque. At the time this book opens, he’s got no idea that she’s really a bodyguard for hire. Also, at this point in his history, the world doesn’t know that Tony Stark is Iron Man, they think Iron Man is Stark’s bodyguard. That should be about enough to get you through the trade until the big origin recap.

Like I mentioned, the book opens with the end of #120, showing us a battle between Iron Man and Namor. The ensuing fight with Roxxon Oil over a Vibranium-filled island is an interesting one, beautifully and crisply drawn by JRJR, but it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the rest of the story. This brings up another aspect of the book I liked, it reminded me how comics used to be written. Nowadays we’re so used to six-issue arcs with set beginnings and endings that it can throw us off when we’re offered a glimpse of an older story like this. Michelinie wasn’t worrying about six issues here, he had a whole tapestry of stories and subplots weaving in and out of each other that probably started years earlier and went on for plenty after. Sure, the Namor section of the story isn’t necessary, but it does lead to Tony’s recollection of his origin and the eventual reveal that someone is messing with his armor.

Many armors of Iron Man

I really thought that I would get bored with a 12-page recap of Iron Man’s origin, especially having just seen basically the same story on screen a week before, but Michelinie’s text boxes read like a novel and guest artist Infantino’s art on this issue really captures the drama and action of his origin. In the end, the story still feels fresh after almost 30 years.

As a bonus (for me at least), the origin story included two of my favorite visuals in fiction: a splash page that encapsulates a character’s costumes/history and a character wearing a trench coat even though it’s the most conspicuous fashion choice of all time (especially if you’re a dude walking around in a suit of armor).

Iron Man in a trench coat

Okay, so after ol’ Shell Head remembers how he became a man of armor (while flying his way home) something crazy happens: his suit malfunctions, sending him flying erratically through the skies, even through the offices at Marvel. As staffers huddle in fear one calls out “Gee, Jim [Shooter, EIC at the time], I uh, realize guest stars help sales–but in editorial meetings?!” There’s even a little sign on the wall that reads “Kill All Inkers” signed by Stan. It’s a great little in-joke for fans, the kind of thing I imagine Marvel did all the time back in the day.

Tony regains control and heads back to his lab where he tests out his armor in a pretty amazing sequence mixing elements of Kirby and Steranko drawn by JRJR, who absolutely kills his issues.

Finding nothing wrong, Tony heads to a casino with Bethany Cabe only to be interrupted by Blizzard (who comes in wearing a trench coat and a wide brim hat), Melter and Whiplash. Tony suits up and makes short work of the villains only to be chastised by Bethany for not guarding Stark.

Upon returning home, Tony gets a request for Iron Man to represent Stark International at a ceremony and meet with ambassador Kotznin to which Tony agrees. He then has a drink, tries to design some sciency stuff, gets fed up and suits up as Iron Man to patrol the area.

Later that night at the ceremony, everything seems to be going fine until the mystery villain works his technical mojo, causing Iron Man to blast a hole straight through the ambassador’s chest. Man, what a great scene. I remember this being referenced back when I read Avengers, but had no idea it was coming up and was blown away (like the ambassador, heh). Even today the murder of an innocent man at the hands of a hero strikes a chord. These are men and women who have sworn to help humanity often at the detriment of themselves and, when something like this happens, even if it’s not their fault, you just know that it leaves a hole inside of them that will take years to heal. Michelinie wasn’t pulling any punches and will continue to lay it on pretty thick for our armored hero, but never shows him completely beaten because this is the kind of guy who’s gonna keep fighting until his dying breath.

All of this leads into my personal favorite issue of this story, #125. The issue opens on a shadow-covered Iron Man, again drawn beautifully JRJR, contemplating all that’s just happened. He’s able to convince the cops to let him go as long as Stark brings the armor to them for safe keeping by telling him that the armor malfunctioned. Afterwards, Tony goes on a bit of a bender, looking a lot like the famous cover that this collection gets its name from. We then see Tony showing up at Avengers Mansion where he asks Captain America to give him some fight training, which is a great scene because Cap’s got no idea that Tony and Iron Man are one in the same. We’re treated to another fantastic montage scene (one that was referred to a year ago when Cap and Iron Man were having their troubles during Civil War). What I love about this scene, besides the art, is that it just makes sense. I’m a big fan of the idea that these characters don’t automatically know how to handle themselves. Even after being a superhero for years, Tony’s always relied on his suit to help him, but what he’s got coming up, an assault on the man he only knows as Hammer, will require his prowess, not Iron Man’s.

He also knows how to get help from his friends in the superhero community. Tony sets up a meeting with Scott Lang, the new Ant-Man, who then uses his shrinking abilities to visit Whiplash in jail and get more information on Hammer. I don’t mean to keep gushing about this issue, but I love the sense of this being a shared universe that you get just by reading this one comic. Not only do you have the Avengers seeing the news of Iron Man’s accidental murder, but Tony training with Cap and getting help from Scott. These are the kinds of stories that make reading comics in a shared universe fun.

im125cvr.jpg

I also love stories in which the hero has to operate in his civilian identity, but is still a badass. Ed Brubaker did a great job with this in his first year on Daredevil, starting with Matt Murdoch in prison and then sending him to Europe. In this issue we’re treated to Tony Stark playing James Bond and not just in the bedroom. Tony follows up on the info he got from Scott and heads to Monaco with his buddy James Rhodes at his side and flying his plane.

Tony and Rhodey go on to run across some hoods that they, at first, easily dispatch, but end up with Rhodey unconscious on a beach and Tony in the clutches of Justin Hammer, the man who’s been screwing with Tony this whole time. But who is this guy? Well…no one, kinda. I mean, he’s a pretty big deal rich dude, but he’s the kind of villain that’s been waiting in the wings for his moment to attack. Kind of like what’s happening with Morrison’s current Batman run (maybe).

So, now that Tony’s in his enemy’s clutches, what happens next? Tony pulls some more James Bond-like maneuvers (electrocuting his guard and using a grappling hook belt he got from Scott Lang) to get his armor back, just in time for Hammer to unleash a legion of super-villains like the Constrictor, the Beetle, Porcupine, Discus, Stiletto, Leap-Frog, Man-Killer and more. Iron Man rumbles pretty mercilessly, but awesomely, with the villains, then goes after Hammer himself (did I mention they’re on a big boat-like island?), who’s escaped, leaving Tony to return home, get skunky drunk, snap at Jarvis and receive Jarvis’ resignation the next day.

All of which leads us to the issue you’ve seen the cover of a hundred times, but (if you’re like me) never actually read. Yup, the famous “Demon in a Bottle” Tony-looks-like-hell cover.

I gotta say, this is my least favorite of the issues. Not because it’s a poorly written or drawn, but because it just seems a little too cut and dry. Sure, plenty of writers have gone back to this aspect of Tony’s personality, but this issue really seems to steam through his ordeal with booze. Even the emotional and heartbreaking scene with a drunken Iron Man crashing through his office window, things just go by too fast for me. It turns out that Bethany had a husband who was addicted to drugs and doesn’t want to see the same thing happen to Tony, so she helps him through his withdrawal (again, drawn in agonizing detail by JRJR). Our hero also patches things up with Jarvis, finding out that the faithful butler’s mother is sick and to help offset the costs, Jarvis sold his shares (there’s a subplot running throughout the whole story that S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to buy a controlling interest in his company). Tony tells his long-time friend that he’ll pay for everything and goes on to deal with the rest of his life, including a battle with self-control over a bottle of booze that he wins. End of story.

Okay, I don’t want to end on such a downer note. Again, I really liked this book and think that, given an even bigger trade that shows more of Tony’s battle with his new found bottle demons, I wouldn’t feel the way I do. Jeez, this was a really long post. Too long? Let me know.