Shiny Shelf

Iron Man #1

By Lance Parkin on 12 November 2004

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

The latest relaunch of Iron Man clunks, and clunks badly. There’s an almost painful mismatch between the idea and the execution, the intent and the result.

It’s a comic about a man in a flying robot suit, the ultimate weapon, manned by the head of a corporation. It’s rooted in the present, in Gulf War Two era, post-Enron, post Farenheit 9-11. What a fantastic idea for a relevant, politically-literate and spectacular comic, one that can mix big politics with big visuals. It’s always been a comic about the ‘military industrial complex’, themes that have never been so relevant.

And the art is done using CG to merge traditional line art with a more photo-realistic look. Truly the best of both worlds, then, all the spontaneity of line art, all the grandeur and ‘realism’ of a painting.

So … we get head shots. A lot of head shots. Seventy-eight panels where there’s only one person and their speech bubble in the frame. A lot of people explaining the plot to themselves, out loud.

And that would be fine if it was saying something profound. Reading this comic, I’ve learnt that … landmines are bad and can hurt kids, so people who make weapons can be thought of as morally dubious.

Er …

Tony Stark, who was injured by a landmine himself, sits back and lets an investigative journalist tell him that landmines injure people. The argument is strictly straw man, not Iron Man. It’s not rooted in enough context or fact to make it a satisfying survey of the problem, enough polemic or passion to make it entertaining or enough personal conflict to make it emotionally engaging and dramatic.

A number of recent Marvel revamps have clearly had one eye on the movie version. You can almost see Marvel editors handing them round a Hollywood pitch meeting and saying ‘how about this?’. This comic looks, until the last handful of pages, like low-budget TV, shot by a director with one camera who doesn’t realise it can move.

This is the equivalent of a Batman movie where, for half an hour in the middle, Vicky Vale sits down and explains to Bruce Wayne that guns kill people and make little orphans cry.

As with a number of recent Warren Ellis comics, the idea is brilliant, but the execution is terribly static and predictable, a lot of people standing around telling us what a great idea the story is, then a couple of money shots towards the end. Tony Stark seems bored, tired and distracted throughout, as well he might be. He actually starts doodling a better comic than we’re reading at one point, without any hint the author realises that’s what he’s doing.

One reviewer, rather hilariously, seems to think that ‘John Pillinger’, the investigative journalist, is based on Michael Moore. Just a clue – if a pop star called ‘Briony Spears’ shows up in a comic, she probably isn’t based on Kylie Minogue.

‘Iron Man written by John Pilger’ is an utterly brilliant, intriguing, barmy idea. This is not that comic. This is ‘Iron Man written by someone who’s heard of John Pilger’.

Now, it’s possible, as with ‘Ocean’ (the second issue of which is also out this week), that this is really a zero issue. Ocean could have started, without any alteration or loss whatsoever, with issue two. This could be the prologue to a great, dynamic, passionate, topical, politically-literate, action-packed comic torn from today’s headlines.

Someone let me know if that happens, OK?

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By Lance Parkin

Lance Parkin writes lots of things, including a biography of Alan Moore that's due out late next year. Find out more at his website.

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