Tuesday, March 8, 2011


As I have said innumerable times, I am an huge Iron Man fan despite Marvel's repeated attempts to make that impossible. Of the various runs I have read (and I have one of those DVDs that had like, 50 years or whatever of Iron Man comics, so I've read a lot) the only two that really still "play" in this day and age are Len Kaminski's run from the early 90's (what happened to him, anyways? How come he's not in the cards when they troll about for Iron Man one-shots right before the movies come out?) and Bob Layton and David Michelinie.

Layton and Michelinie have an interesting history with Iron Man. They came on after Bill Mantlo's Iron Man run in the 1970s and had what is typically considered the definitive run on the book. They managed to create a storytelling model that allowed Iron Man to be about more than "experiment goes wrong" and "Iron Man fights commies" expanded the supporting cast (which helped to extend their options insofar as plots--need a quick punch-up? How about one of the supporting casts being in trouble?) did the first "Iron Man hits the bottle" story (before this became an albatross) and, in the capstone to their run (well, they continued on after this, but in people's memory this is the cutoff point) was the battle between Iron Man and Doctor Doom in issue #150.

And then they moved on. They would return a few years later (he said, blanking on the exact number) for another run which, while not as consistently good, managed to re-establish a functional storytelling engine that worked with the changes that had taken place in the book thus far, created yet another defining Iron Man storyline (the Armor Wars) and capped it off with Iron Man vs Dr. Doom, Round 2 in issue #250.

There was supposed to be more--Layton was coming back for a sequel to the Armor Wars which would have been better than what we got (then again, so would a kick to the nuts) and Michelinie was busy on Amazing Spider-Man working with some guy named McFarlane no never went anywhere.

And then, things get a bit problematic. During the retro craze at Marvel around the turn of the century, Layton and Michelinie get brought back for Bad Blood, a mini series notable less for what happened in it (I think there was a new Spymaster and Justin Hammer died. I don't remember.) more for Tom Brevoort throwing them under a bus and calling their work "Your dad's Iron Man" (whatever the hell that means) in the name of playing up Joe Quesada's soon-to-debut run, which, you'll remember, featured Iron Man's armour coming to life because of the y2K bug.

No, really.

Anyways, Layton and Michelinie have been back a couple times, and as much as it pains me to say it, to largely diminishing returns. Iron Man: The End was competently done, but felt rushed--I kept feeling like there'd been about 20 pages lopped out of it somewhere along the way and the remains jammed into a one-shot. Then again, it was a slightly re-purposed version of a proposal nearly ten years old by the time it saw print so that alone might explain a lot.

Legacy of Doom, thankfully, fares a lot better, because it has a narrowly focused remit: Tell a good Iron Man vs. Doctor Doom fight over four issues, hearkening back to their previous two encounters. In addition, it function as a sort of "middle chapter" to Iron Man's #150 and #250 respectively, functioning as the "present day" installment in the "past/present/future" triad it forms with the other stories.

It . . .sort of works, I guess, even if the parts are ultimately better than the whole. Part of this is due to how Michelinie and Layton write the Doctor Doom/Iron Man relationship--Doom continually looks down his nose at Iron Man (who was supposed to be his bodyguard, remember) and generally only engages Iron Man's aid because "I might need some lackey work done." Iron Man, for his part, does a slow burn and looks kinda exasperated.

Anyways, let's actually look at the story, shall we? While melting down his own armours, because ith the Extremis armour, keeping the old suits around is a security risk, which is funny because while this is a plausible excuse, no matter how many times his old suits get wrecked or destroyed, damn if he doesn't have giant chambers full of armour lying around everywhere, implying that Tony Stark is extremely forgetful when it comes to leaving his wearable loose nukes lying around, or (more likely) Marvel just doesn't give a shit.

While he's looking over the black box recordings of his post Armor Wars armour, he find a record of something he hadn't recalled and this frames up the flashback wherein our story takes place. While in space (I always lamented that Iron Man's space armour from this time looked so very much like he's strapped a bunch of marital aids to himself) Doctor Doom shows up and tells Iron Man to get his ass over to Latveria, he needs him for something.

They pack up and head off to Mephisto's realm, ostensibly because Mephisto has figured out how to accelerate the end of days. Man, Spider-Man's marriage is powerful, I guess. This is a complicated bluff, of course--Iron Man was traded to Mephisto for Morgan LeFay, a shard of Excalibur, and a utility infielder from Latveria's AAA team who's ready for "the show." I'm glossing over most of this, but that's because it's incidental and just there to set up what happens later.

Menwhile, Iron Man is stuck in hell, and fights a demon posing as his father, who, in my favourite unintentionally hilarious bit in this issue, called Stark a "Fancy-Boy." I have no idea what that means exactly, but man oh man, I hate them fancy boys.

So all this gets sorted out by the end of issue 2 and Iron Man is out the frying pan and into the fire because Doctor Doom now has Excalibur, is dressing in black, can cut through Iron Man's armour with contemtous ease, and is of course, now Shift-Y against orcs. When this goes badly for Shellhead, Merlin shows up for a Third Act Exposition to suggest a course of action--Iron Man should try to find Excalibur's scabbard, because while Excalibur makes you invincible, the scabbard will make you invulnerable.

Naturally, Iron Man succeeds and gets a totally bitchin' suit of magic armour (seriously, it's easily the highlight of this series and is such an effective design, as it reads visually as "Iron Man" but with some magical flavour) Kind of a shame that the scabbard doesn't make Iron Man "invincible," but that may have been too obvious, I suppose.

This turns out to be a Bad Thing, because at that moment, Eye Guy from Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers shows up and begins killing people and we find out that Doctor Doom's plan was to reunite the sword and scabbard and stop Eye Guy from destroying the world. So thanks for totally assing things up, Stark

Yeah, uh, this part isn't so good. Eye Guy is not a particularly effective villain without Hulk to hit eyeball man in eye and the final conflict never really crystalises into something with the proper weight or stakes or . . .anything. The bit at the end where Merlin deletes his memory of Excalibur because Merlin knows that as time goes on he'll become a megalomaniacal asshole feels a bit perfunctory and exists more as a means to set up a story point in #250 than an organic part of the story.

That aside, there's still enough in Legacy of Doom to make reading it worthwhile.The Iron Man/Doom chemistry works great and drives the story past even the ropier plot points, Ron Lim and Bob Layton do a splendid job with the art, creating the clean, clear, shiny action that to my mind is what Iron Man always should be, and Michelenie does great in making Stark a more dimensional character. He's not a shallow asshole, aloof technocrat, or alleged futurist. Stark is fallible in this story, he gets in trouble and we're actually given the luxury of following him as he works out how to get back out of it and how rare is that in this day and age?

In short, these are four issues of solid, reliable, entertaining comics that don't try to pose as though they're above the audience, aren't full of feeble junk science culled from skimming that dog-eared copy of Popular Science, there's not an issue of people sitting around doing nothing save spouting cloned Whedon, there's nothing save a decent superhero comic that tries to hit the mark, doesn't quite, and somehow ends up still being worthwhile.

If you can find it cheap enough, why not give it a read?


Gloryfic said...

My biggest gripe with marvel has been its inevitable nature to avoid anything that has to do with continuity! When really wasn't that what set them apart in the market in the first place? I think it is only a creators due (and a readers right) to have the past story tellings be paid attention to. I mean why subscribe or fan a character in the first place when it can be changed by the pen of a writers whim. Whatever fits the story, right? Why bother with character continuity? Story continuity? What makes (or is supposed to at least) make Marvel Marvel is that the characters are ever existing. They are supposed to be real (As real as super beings can get). The mans man superhero if you will. The point being (If there is any left in this rant) is that the character is shaped and changed by the events of their life, just as we as people are. We can not (Well some people can- a.k.a jerks) pretend the past does not exist. That prior circumstance does not exists. In one way or another it affects us. It should effect how future stories are told. Hello a comic continuum! Build upon the past, don't shit on the future. IMHO.

(And yes I know that this kind of has nothing to do with Doom days, but I really went off of the first paragraph, about being a fan no matter how hard Marvel tries to make you do the opposite. Been there done that, got the Tee shirt! OY!) ;)

Kazekage said...

My gripe is more how inconsistent their approach to continuity is, namely they will cherry pick a few stories to buttress whatever story point they're making at the time whether or not it ultimately makes sense for the character. Which is how you get things like "Storm and the Black Panther are married because they met in some book 25+ years ago" rather than the real reason "They're both black." It's the double standard of "sometimes it counts and sometimes it doesn't" with no real rhyme or reason behind it which annoys me.

I'd be fine with this, of course, if it led to anything like decent or interesting stories. Unfortunately, that's not really happening either, is it?

Now, while really every bit of story in the now 75+ years of Marvel history can't possibly be reconciled, nor should it be, my beef is . . .isn't it enough to keep it consistent and let the bits that didn't make sense go WITHOUT dragging us along on some bleary dissertation about how everything we knew was wrong but we've got it all fixed now. Continuity got to be a dirty word mainly by this practice.

Generally, the best thing would be to hew to a kind of generalised, consistent image for the character. If they're married, don't unmarry them due to fiat. If they've never killed anyone, don't turn them into the Punisher. For any changes you do make, make the argument for them within the story. If you touch on the past, well footnote it, but don't make it such that I have to whip out five Essentials that are collectively 90 times the size of my local Yellow Pages to work out what the hell is so important that it must be revisited right now.

The past should be a resource, but there has to be a medium ground between hewing to it obsessively (aka DC comics) and ignoring it totally (Marvel circa 2003, f'rinstance) I'd settle for just a little consistency, myself. I have a pretty good handle on Iron Man, and despite about 4 years of Marvel trying and trying, I know he's not bloody Nazitron. :)

Majid Ali said...

bomabstic :)

Gloryfic said...

EXACTLY! I do not think that you have to be completely up on every single minute event that has or has not happened to who it is you are writing/reading, but my big thing is the character continuity! Like you said about Tony Stark being Nazitron, doesn't anybody pay attention to his bare bones basic character? That is one of my biggest frustrations with modern marvel. Look at Avengers Disassembled for instance, what was all this crap about Wanda not knowing her children existed? When it is referenced that she was completely aware of the fact and it shaped her character in quite a big way. Captain America is no Nancey boy (Yes I hate them too) he is not a meat and potatoes yes man. He is not a "simple soldier" he's a super soldier. He does not stand for government but the people and the dream. I hate it when they make him into the army's yes man bitch. Iron Man/ Tony Stark has been so completely and totally butchered, I doubt very much that I have to explain how seeing as how you are yourself a fellow Iron-knight ;). And that is what I can't stand. Character- as you said- inconsistency. That was the perfect word! Character and continuum consistency! I mean come on Marvel give us some credit! Sheesh! ;) Are you not profiting from the franchise? The Character themselves? The people (Not to sound like some French Revolutionary) the fans love the character, read the character for the character! Don't give me Fred when I want to read Jammie! Jeez-us! :P re-write their world as it's happening now, but let them be them. How they started and how they've been shaped, build upon that. Don't ignore who you are writing just because you've gotten the chance to write. Write the character they are supposed to be. Things do change, people do change, but our fundamental core and traits stay the same. We are who we are. The character should be as well. Loyal fans will get it and newer fans wont be surprised if they decide they like the character and want to read from the beginning. At least that is what I think when reading and writing. ;)

Kazekage said...

Well, a little consistency would be nice, but then they never have had that. Here's an example--in the 1990s, Iron Mad a story called "Crash and Burn" wherein he slugged a lot of guest-star characters who were pissed off that his former corporation (Stane International, which he'd bought back) has been doing awful things, and in response, because even the implication that Stark had done anything wrong appalled him so much, he rewrote his entire corporate structure to make it more open. That is, to my mind, how Tony Stark solves problems.

Of course, twenty issues later he's a manic depressive serial killer (because of nothing more than Marvel trying to replicate the Kyle Rayner gimmick by casting Young Stark as Kyle and Old Stark as Hal Jordan) because, well, no one knows, because it was stupid, no one had any justification for it then, and no one even remembers it now. If only they thought to ignore more of these things . . .

. . .we wouldn't get bilge like "Disassembled" which took a stupid John Byrne story that he left in the middle of (possibly knowing a stinker when he saw it) and somehow managed to make it even more stupid the next go-round.

As for Cap, well . . .I dunno. I tried to like Brubaker's run and it was going OK, but dear God what happened after Steve came back? The wheels came off the wagon completely, there, and that was before he had Zemo go straight heel again. :)

I just wish they could keep them generally consistent somehow, but when you have "top" writers who write everyone talking in the same sub-Whedon sub-Tarantino way, they already see no distinction between characters as it is, so how can they be expected to write them in the generally accepted character they'd been up to that point?

Gloryfic said...

That's why, for me, cannon stops at Disassembled (Even though it started going down hill with heroes reborn/return). Why? because of what it represented. Bendis decided it would be cool if...so he just did it and then the fan backlash was "Such a surprise!". I mean what the heck did he expect? He came in not caring. He wanted to do what he wanted to do. Marvel has become big corporation instead of the comic book next door. Yes it always was a "big corporation" but at least they made you feel as though you had a voice. Now it seems more like they're our comics and the numbers say you'll keep buying so we can do whatever we want.

Disassembled, and Reborn/Return for that matter, set a bar. Things started to go the way of popular television, when killing off a major player suddenly became the ratings gold mine! Every story had to be "The Story" by "The writer" that will Change everything you know!... About...you fill in the blanks. But what do I know? Do I even know anymore? Oy! :P

Kazekage said...

I thought Heroes Return was quite good myself. Reborn wasn't, but then who expected it to be. But Return managed to do exactly what always works--put top-flight creators on top-flight books with high-profile characters and tell stories consistent with their understanding of said character. If all you have is a bicycle, ride the bicycle. Don't try to smash and bend it out of a shape to try and make it a car.

Dissassembled fails because it works on a similar fallacy as seen on many TV shows, etc out in the ether now. It's actually become accepted practice, really: do whatever the audience doesn't expect Which is (mostly) good advice. But they miss a critical step in there: doing something just because it's not what the audience will expect is not a good enough reason in and of itself.

Neither is blithely taking your cues from Tarantino or Whedon, but that ship sailed long ago.

Gloryfic said...

It's concept. Marvel has great concepts but their follow through sucks. They can't commit to the "events" that they put out there. Return Whateve'. It was the fact that they had to return because Marvel was way to in over its head with reborn and Onslaught (That story arch made no sense!). But with all the "Return" stories you had the beginning of characters not acting like themselves. Hawkeye dissing Hank, and screwing Jan. Didn't anyone remember the Wackos? Captain not being good with children who had just lost their mother. Him not being able to handle losing his shield, etc. These characters came back full of contradictions. Key character traits were missing. Thus the beginning of the end and smack dab Disassembled!

Now I feel Marvel is all about the concept of the "Next big Thing". The follow through/ story telling is secondary, marketing is king.

Kazekage said...

Well, "Onslaught" made no sense because they kept changing their minds about what the hell it was supposed to be and thus is was a great big wet mess.

I must have missed when Hawkeye was banging the Wasp--either that was during Geoff Johns run (when I wasn't reading)or that bit right before Disassembled when Chuck Austen was writing them that was even more a great big wet mess than "Onslaught," really?

The rate things are going the "next big thing" is going to be a best seller that only makes it into the middle four figures. :)