Seeing as I don’t have any slightly-decent New 52 releases out until June 7 with Red Lanterns and Batman: Faces of Death, I figured it was time for something a little different. It’s either this, or talking about the blatant sexism in the new Catwoman trade – frankly, I’d rather take out my own molars with a pair of Swiss Army tweezers.
Plenty of people have asked me what I consider to be my favourite stories in the world of comicbookia, and I’ve found it hard to really nail down anything coherent in that regard. I could go on about how much I loved the game-changing nature of The Death of Captain America or the time-travel shenanigans in The Flash: Rebirth, and talk for hours about a plethora of titles I consider to be awesome. But seeing as people only have a very limited amount of patience when they’re talking to me – which is halved when I start talking about comic books – I figured it’s probably a decent enough idea to write down five tomes I consider to be of immense value to my comic book tastes. That way, instead of me boring you for twenty minutes talking about the action sequences in Civil War, you can read bits and pieces of each one whenever you happen to be near a computer. Or, y’know, not read them at all and have sex with women instead.
So for the next little while (read: until Red Lanterns comes out) I’ll be taking a fond trip down memory lane with my personal Top 5 comic books up to this point. I should point out that several titles are exempt from this list – namely, Watchmen, The Sandman and The Walking Dead. This isn’t because I don’t like them – far from it, they’re all exceptionally good works – it’s just that I want to do more comprehensive reviews for them (as I already have done for the latter) outside of the fan-love I’m going to spurt out for these particular five. Particularly with Watchmen, which I’ve got something a bit different planned for, I’d prefer to analyse them on their own merits rather than how much I adore them because I’m an easily-impressionable fanboy who likes any shiny object that comes across his desk that doesn’t have a giant red S on it.
Finally, before we get into Number 5, I should also note that these five books will be exempt from grading at the end; because I find myself particularly enamored with them, I find it’d be difficult for me to be objective in critiquing large parts of them. Consider this more a series of reading recommendations rather than straight-out reviews. If you’re already bored by this, feel free to navigate the browser here instead. Much better reads there.
So unless you’ve been stuck underneath a Tijuana-sized boulder for the last four years you’d know Iron Man is one of the primary constituents of invincible super-team The Avengers as well as being one of Marvel’s flagship characters. Before 2009 I’d only seen the movie, and hadn’t delved much into the lore and stories behind the Crimson Avenger, so I was pretty much a neophyte when I randomly picked up a copy of Warren Ellis’s Iron Man: Extremis at Comic-Con 2009. I enjoyed the story – and anyone wanting to watch Iron Man 3 should probably read it beforehand – and so continued on to the first Iron Man installment my friends recommended other than Ellis – that being Matt Fraction’s groundbreaking run on The Invincible Iron Man.
The story picks up after the Marvel Civil War, with Stark being in control of SHIELD and most of the lawful good heroes giving him a wide berth for his actions. The first story arc deals with Stark’s fear of obsolescence in the face of newly-emerging foe Obadiah Stane’s next generation terrorism that then spirals into the realisation of that obsolescence when Secret Invasion makes Stark’s tech useless and renders his company moot. I won’t go too much farther than that, but suffice it to say that this is the point – when Stark is at his lowest – that story really hits the road.
Part of the engrossing aspect of Fraction’s narrative not only lies in the subtle amounts of foreshadowing and payoffs peppered throughout the story but also with the characterisation of Stark that deconstructs both his “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist” ways and his identity as one of the world’s leading superheroes. Having Iron Man himself on-panel is merely an added bonus, because the main draw for me in the later stories was the appearances and struggles of Stark as his own character. You really get a feeling of Tony being a vulnerable, relatable character despite the fact that he owns a crimson suit of power armour and this comes to a head during the second arc World’s Most Wanted, which (aside from Batman RIP) is the most grueling superhero identity story I’ve ever read and features Tony at probably his lowest point since before he quit drinking back in Demon in a Bottle.
Of course it’s practically a given that he’ll rise again – I mean this is Marvel, not a Robert Kirkman story – but the journey towards that rise is slow, methodical and captivating. This is a problem that Stark’s money and superhero status can’t fix straight away, and the rebuilding effort from the ground up that follows his lowest point just shows not only what can really be achieved by focussing on the man behind the mask but also portrays the fascinating strength of will of the human spirit. That might sound a bit schmaltzy, but if you read it you’ll see what I mean. The title itself even adds to the deal – throughout the narrative, Iron Man is far from Invincible, and ironic nature of its inclusion in the title just adds another layer – however slight – of narrative complexity.
The art is handled throughout by Salvador Larroca, and while I was dubious about his efforts early on – when Stark looked more like an Italian porn star – I was soon relieved to see the art definitely evolves to a zenith of flesh tones and believable proportions on both the lads and the ladies. Pepper Potts is drawn realistically, rather than a woman with balloons in her chest, and during Tony’s low point he definitely loses a lot of his pretty-boy good looks. The art does get a bit yellow with facial tones every now and then, but on the whole looks pretty damn good. The artwork relating to Iron Man’s armour is sublime, and is the best interpretation of it that I’ve seen since Steve McNiven’s go during Civil War.
The dialogue retains a lot of the wit presented in the 2008 film, and is written in a way that presents excellent interplay between the major characters involved. It takes a bit of inspiration from the Nolan school of writing in doing more showing rather than telling, which is used to great effect during the climax of the fourth story in a heartbreaking scene juxtaposed against a kind of funny one. As always whenever Maria Hill is involved there’s a good amount of snarky banter, and Fraction really paints a good wordy portrait of Stark as a character and what most of his compatriots really think of him.
The story is currently mostly collected in two massive hardcovers (collecting arcs 1-6) and which will probably be concluded shortly with the end of Fraction’s run fast approaching. It’s a storyline I find straddles the line between pulp superhero adventure and introspective character exploration, and has a great balance between the two that ensures plenty of action scenes and quiet dialogue moments respectively.
Plus, the dialogue gets twice as good if you imagine Robert Downey Jr reading it out loud.
TOP FIVE ENTRY NO. 5 – THE INVINCIBLE IRON MAN
BEST QUOTE: “Who wants to ride in a stupid helicopter, anyway? I am Iron Man.” – Tony Stark