Thursday, June 25, 2009

IRON MAN WEEK #5--Not Quite as Invincible as Advertised

Last time, we finally completed out long recounting of the often torturous publication history of Iron Man, and it's from that point we start off today, considering, as we do, the new "core" Iron Man book, Invincible Iron Man.

Matt Fraction is a writer with quite the high pedigree. Coming off collaborating with Ed Brubaker on Immortal Iron Fist, and having cut his teeth on the little read but highly regarded book The Order, he seemed to be due for high-visibility assignments.

And so, it was announced in 2008 that he would not only be taking over the writing on Uncanny X-Men and, perhaps more prestigious in light of the movie, Invincible Iron Man.

And didn't Iron Man need some help, at least in comics. Bad as the Extremis nonsense had damaged his character, being hijacked as the public face (and, if you're to believe the people who wrote Civil War) of government-run superheroing. This set the seal on Iron Man as manque for Bush-era politics, or, to put it another way, made him come off as a right prick.

So, Iron Man was ripe for a new start, preferably one that actually got him in the business of being Iron Man again and doing superhero things rather than furrowing his brow at monitors and acting prickish and Fraction, it seemed, was the right guy to do it. Added to that, Marvel had retained the services of Salvador Larocca, a talented artist used to doing good work under less than idea circumstances, so it was widely felt that even if the book was shite, it'd look good.

Alas, this was not to be. It took less than 5 issues for the whole thing to be revealed as an incredibly half-baked, ill-conceived mess, and Fraction became much less "promising new writer" and more "disappointment delivery system."

Initially, by soft-pedaling the Civil War nonsense and focusing Iron Man not being a jackass kind of worked. The first few issues take up Star's conflict with Ezekiel Stane, son of Obadiah Stane, who had been taking and modifying Stark's technology to create suicide bombers. Moreover, Stane the Younger has modified his own body to generate powers comparable to Iron Man's.

The stage was set for an interesting conflict and the concretising of the metaphor--was Iron Man obsolete? Both in terms of his technology and worldview? Was Stane--and people like him--part of a new generation of super-criminals who, if not play rougher (there's that pesky realism, again) play a different and more involved game than the traditional "Spy vs. Spy" style shenanigans of of hero and villain.

That would have been an interesting story, but that's not what we got.

What we got was Stane shouting a bunch of cool sounding buzzwords at Stark and never really making much of an impression as a villain. Meanwhile, Iron Man behaved completely passively for most of the storyline until he twigged it all out in the last issue (the comic equivalent of Five Minutes to the End Syndrome) and set up a fistfight between himself and Stane that he won, and which I'm sure was supposed to be positively dripping with symbolic weight, but came off more as perfunctory and more than a little stupid.

Oh yes, and Pepper Potts got a cool glowy heart thing because . . .uh . . .well, that's what happened in the movie. More on that later.

Worse yet, it wasn't even visually impressive, as Larocca had changed his style to some uninspired attempt a photo realism that, when combined by the absolutely ugly colouring made everyone's face look ruddy and burnished as though they'd all been shellacked. Reading it is like a brutally ugly journey into the Uncanny Valley and the worst kind of Greg Land inspired crap art I have ever seen, doubly so because Larocca can do so much better than this and, for some reason, chooses not to.

But the proverbial "fix" is in--time and again in Invincible, Fraction raises interesting questions and fails to do anything with them. Or resolve his plots with anything like the appropriate cathartic moment. Or write Tony Stark as anything like a compelling characters. Or very little good at all, actually.

Unfortunately, things only get worse from here. After an utterly pointless detour with Spider-Man, we leap ahead a little and, in the wake of the latest crossover, Tony Stark has Screwed Up Big Time. His technology's been ruined, and the Extremis armour doesn't work anymore (good riddance) oh, and a guy who once tried to sacrifice people to actual goblins is in charge of everything.

This took a bit of work to figure out, as none of it is laid out in the proper detail in the book's recap page, nor is it laid out in any of the book's many enervating dialogue scenes. However, consulting Wikipedia (which costs nothing for me, and therefore sort of negates the need to buy the book at all) leads me to conclude that Tony Stark has some vital information in his brain, and to make sure it's completely lost he's . . .lobotomised himself. Or something. Meanwhile, with the Extremis armour useless, he has to refurbish older Iron Man suits (of which there are a lot, despite the fact that frequently, Iron Man features Stark destroying his old or purloined technology to keep it from falling into the wrong hands) all of which fall apart so he can use another one next issue and somehow, Norman Osborn finds an Iron Man suit (Despite many stories of the past explicitly showing Iron Man's willingness to destroy his technology rather than see it fall into the wrong hands--I mean Armour Wars is basically about that very thing, and it just came out in trade again you could just read the damn thing) and Stark builds Pepper Potts an Iron Man suit of her own, which has no weapons and has boobs (because obviously, giving a complete neophyte something as sophisticated and potentially destructive as Iron Man armour is exactly what the Armour Wars was . . .y'know what? Screw it.)

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is when I quit the book. Got tired of it, got pissed at it, got tired of being pissed at it. Tired of Fraction half-assing his way through things, tired of Larocca's ghastly art, tired of the book constantly reacting to crossover bullshit they couldn't bother to coherently explain, tired of Pepper Potts and the effort to convince me that Pepper Potts is anything but useless, and most of all, unwilling to pay $4 for a book so slapdash that even the paid ads disappointed me on some deeply felt but undefinable level.

In short, I would rather I had not read this book.


Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

You know, that's becoming a recurring theme for a lot of readers: the price of comics has finally become so high that inertia and general fandom just aren't enough anymore... With a little luck, this will finally break us out of the Battered Wife cycle and force the Big Two to put a little more effort into their publications.

Kazekage said...

It's done that for me--my comics intake (that i don't read on the stands and put back) is almost nil. I can only hope, because lord knows, given the backlash against people making fun of the massive suckitude of GAY FOR JUSTICE, apparently we aren't allowed to call out bad comics for what they are anymore.

I eagerly await these killjoys demanding Chris Sims leave Tarot ALONE, already.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I was a bit thrown by both the backlash and the backlash to the backlash; GAY FOR JUSTICE was bad, but a hardly Jeph Loeb-level atrocity; and Robinson doesn't seem to have the kind of star power that draws in the blind apologists, but a lot of people dug their heels in before the pinata even broke.

Oh God, now that you've said that Jim Balent's going to go on Youtube with bleached hair and eyeshadow and shriek that Tarot is a human going through a hard time and we should leave her alone...

Kazekage said...

Well, Robinson had earned so much goodwill with stuff like Golden Age and Starman, and thus, people expected more of him than Identity Crisis 2: The Krunkening, which GAY FOR JUSTICE has really ended up becoming, hasn't it?

. . .you mean he hasn't already? ;)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Even with the best will in the world, though... "Golden Age" and "Starman" are at least ten years old. And he hadn't done much in the interrim to maintain that support, so maybe we should've known better...

It's just a matter of time now. :)

Kazekage said...

And having re-read it recently, "Golden Age" is uh, well . . .it hasn't held up, really. And there are plenty of warning signs there to point the way to GAY FOR JUSTICE, in retrospect. :)

Actually, I like to imagine Balent as Youtube sensation FRED. I laugh and laugh imagining this. :)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

"Starman" still works... but then, "Starman" is all about leaving the past behind.

And now so am I. :)

Kazekage said...

Very true. Oh, if only that trope had caught on, eh?

There are frightening similarities, I must admit. :)