With a movie, at time of writing, out in less than a week, as well as a host of inclusions in additional series’ like Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, it seems like Iron Man is everywhere. The Crimson Avenger (though the first part of that descriptor ain’t entirely true right now) has almost become the poster child for the Marvel Universe the way Batman proudly represents DC, especially since casual fans still seem to be giving the cold shoulder to jingoists like Captain America and fantasy Norse playboys like Thor. Not that Iron Man representing the Marvel U is a bad thing, but it does start to raise the same issues Batman has in that his appearances become bland and the overall experience becomes incredibly thin since he’s everywhere now.
It also means his narratives come under closer scrutiny, since reviewers like me need to wonder if Iron Man is the best choice of story to rope in new readers who see the super-suit and rush off to the nearest comic store. Are fans getting the hero they deserve, or has mass-market appeal diluted Iron Man to the point of Tony Daniel levels of poor dialogue, flimsy characterisation and plot so far up its own ass that its in danger of choking on tonsils?
Following on the heels of Matt Fraction’s landmark run, the relaunched Iron Man starts with Tony Stark discovering that the Extremis virus (which you may remember from this excellent reboot/origin story), the basis behind his current Iron Man tech and a key element of his recent suit-building escapades, has been stolen by terrorists and is being utilised to create crazy armour-clad villains based off Arthurian legend. During the course of this brief narrative, Tony puts on as many different-coloured Iron Man suits as he can get away with in order to dismantle the terrorist operation, recover Extremis and quite possibly remove almost every bit of character development he gained throughout the recent Fraction storyline.
While Believe is by no means a bad story at all, the biggest gripe I have with it is that the previous 11 volumes worth of Matt Fraction’s story seems to mean almost diddly-bupkiss to the current story. The deep and tragic elements of Tony Stark, the broken man beneath the bravado, the strange yet comforting relationship with Pepper Potts, all that harrowing characterisation he evolved during World’s Most Wanted when he was literally fighting for his life…almost all of it’s gone. Tony’s gone full-playboy in this one, probably taking cues from the film universe version with none of the undertones of damage, and there’s scant evidence to suggest he and Pepper ever had a relationship. That’s like crafting an entry for the Guinness World Records Largest Pie Ever competition, only to have it eaten by Homer Simpson and a team of rabid beavers.
So in that respect, this makes Believe an absolutely excellent introductory volume for new readers – if you already know the origin story, but by now we can all probably sing it by rote. As much as the eschewing of Matt Fraction’s brilliant work irks me somewhat, I’ve got to admit Believe is pretty kickass. There’s a good balance of action and character moments (even if the former does reach some pretty ridiculous heights, like battling the aforementioned Arthurian supervillains), there’s not a hell of a lot of prior reading necessary to get what’s going on, and the artwork by Greg Land (despite what people may think of him) is pretty great. The narrative does stumble a little during a chapter that tries to blend a Skyrim dungeon with the Cult of Cthulhu, but overall succeeds at holding attention and kicking ass.
The dialogue – kinda flimsy. It’s not bad, but it’s not great. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Kieron Gillen, but even he manages to get some oomph into his scripting every now and then. This just feels kinda lifeless, like there’s some good speaking going on but nothing that really jumps out at me the way writers like Scott Snyder and Brian K. Vaughan do. It’s kinda hard to describe without going into depth of particular scenes, which’ll probably bore the few of you keen enough to read this review, so just take my word that Gillen’s dialogue is kinda lacking. But hey, you could do worse – you could have Tony Da…actually never mind, that riff’s getting a little overplayed now.
In the end, Iron Man: Believe is a good jumping-on point, a solid story with some good artwork and passable dialogue. If you’re reading this after seeing Iron Man 3 and thinking “Oh wow, I’d sure love to be reading more of that stuff right now!”, you could definitely do worse. If, however, you’re gunning for something with a bit more depth and flesh on its bones, I’d point you towards Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man run instead – if it hadn’t been retconned because more than five minutes without new readers have passed.
BEST QUOTE: “The thought does occur…”Lightbender” is a very silly name for such an awesome toy.” – Iron Man