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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Review: Iron Man #8

Ah, Iron Man.  You are, at times, a deeply fascinating title, particularly when paired with an excellent writer.  At other times, you can be quite stunning to look at when paired with an equally excellent artist.  Like all comics, however, when one of those is not function as well as it could, the entire book tends to suffer.  Kieron Gillen is a writer who has tastes which are best suited for particular kinds of stories.  Perhaps this is why his run on Journey Into Mystery and his current run on Young Avengers are being met with great praise.  Despite these successes, Gillen's work on Iron Man has yet to, no pun intended, take off.  The series had a decent start, but has floundered lately during an almost insufferable three issue arc.  With this issue that arc comes to a close.  Time to see if Gillen can redeem his work on the title and help it remain a comic worth reading.

As mentioned, Iron Man #8 features the end of the three-part arc titled "The Godkiller."  Tony fights for his life against a massive robot in order to prove his innocence, while the somewhat mysterious robot 451 continues his devious plot.  Despite Tony's armor coming to his rescue, 451's plot unfolds in a way that causes Tony to take sympathy on the alien race who had been holding him prisoner.

In previous reviews, it has been mentioned that "The Godkiller" has been a rather bad arc.  While there are small nuggets of good ideas present in this story, overall it is mostly a mess.  The plot feels a tad out of place with the kind of stories one may be used to reading or seeing with Iron Man.  It is not necessarily a bad thing to experiment with new genres of storytelling for a character, but this arc has failed to capitalize on the more interesting aspects of the story.  To make matters worse, aspects of this arc have been far too bogged down in an attempt to shove every science fiction reference available while telling a mediocre story.  This issue attempts to fix some of the things which made the previous two issues close to unbearable, but it does not do so without making a few mistakes of its own.

Let's begin with the humor.  Humor is something which has come to be synonymous with Iron Man.  The wit of actor Robert Downey Jr. when playing the role of Tony Stark on film has added a certain debonair appeal to the character that the general public has come to expect.  Fortunately, humor is something Gillen is usually quite strong with.  Being a Brit, Gillen has a bit of a knack for subtle wit that can come across in his writing.  There are moments in this issue where the humor is used to great effect.  Tony's fight with the giant robot, given the name Death's Head in this issue, is perhaps the strongest part of the entire book.  As this is the first difficult opponent Tony has faced in this gladiator-style trial, the humor helps to relieve a bit of the absurdity of it all.  Despite facing difficult odds, Tony cries that this has all become unfair, citing that him having to fight a 30 foot robot must be breaking some kind of rule.  This moment is funny, the response of Death's Head is even better, with him essentially calling Tony a bigot for saying that a robot is not equal to him.  Unfortunately, this is the only bright spot in terms of funny in this issue.  The new A.I. Tony has created named P.E.P.P.E.R. has had a few funny lines here and there, but Gillen gives her a very odd one this week, with the program making mention that Tony went through a "furry" phase some time in the past.  While this punchline makes sense in terms of the set-up before it, it makes absolutely 0 sense in the context of Tony's character.  Tony a furry?  Really, Kieron Gillen?  Not all furries may be the oddballs CSI and parts of the Internet make them out to be, but this is a step too far.  This is a joke which falls flat and would ultimately cause the reader to be more confused than amused.

Perhaps the strongest part of this entire issue is the fight between Tony and Death's Head.  As previously mentioned, Gillen does put some strong, funny banter between the two characters as they fight.  Greg Land's art is also quite nice during these scenes.  While the entire concept of Tony's fighting for his freedom in an arena calls up images of John Carter or Attack of the Clones, it is not as over-played as the cover might suggest.  In fact, the fight perhaps pulls focus for maybe 25% of the story, but it is a very strong 25%.  In fact, it is arguable that this scene proves that Tony can be a formidable opponent outside of the Iron Man suit.  More importantly, he is still interesting without the suit.

When it comes to Iron Man, however, the suit does completely make the man and it is a bit of a relief to see Tony's armor come to the rescue at the climax of the fight with Death's Head.  The new space armor (which first appeared in this book, but has subsequently shown up in the new Guardians of the Galaxy series) is quite beautiful, and it is great to see the suit in action more in this issue.  There is also a very nice moment where Tony essentially walks into the entire suit of armor before it comes into place around him.  While Tony's armor doing such  a thing may not be brand new for the character, it is still a really cool thing to see.  Hopefully, now that "The Godkiller" has wrapped up, we will be able to see more use out of this new Iron Man suit.

It would seem that Kieron Gillen has a real thing for the Marvel characters known as the Celestials.  For those not in the know, the Celestials are essentially giant, robot gods who can be quite dangerous when threatened.  Gillen had previously made use of the Celestials in his recent run on Uncanny X-men, but nothing really came from them.  Now that Gillen has sent Tony Stark into space, however, he has been able to bring these characters back.  It would appear that these Voldi did not only worship the Phoenix Force as a god, but also the Celestials.  These gods, however, do not seem to want the role of deity, instead opting for the complete annihilation of the Voldi race.  This is a very short action scene, but it is a nicely drawn one.  That being said, however, it does not really make much sense why any of this happens.  Gillen makes it clear that the Celestials are feared by the Voldi, but, as this had not really been previously mentioned by any means, it comes off as more of a random development than a fluid one.  Perhaps a reader more knowledgeable of the cosmic Marvel universe was not surprised by this turn of events, but, to the newer reader, this seems like a completely odd move in the story.

So, let's briefly discuss the main antagonist of this issue: 451.  In the previous issue of this series, 451's devious nature came off as completely expected, and continues down that path with this issue.  What is 451's plan exactly?  It is not too terribly clear.  Gillen reveals that 451 is the entire reason that Iron Man even got arrested by the Voldi, but there is not much motivation given as to what the robot has planned next.  Like most good villains, it would seem that 451 is out to save the world in a way in which he feels is entirely right. Unfortunately for him, however, his methods are completely unethical.  So much so that Tony takes pity on the race which imprisoned him and makes a vow to stop 451 at all costs.  While 451 may have a few elements of a good villain, he ultimately comes off as rather boring and expected.  There is not much Gillen could do at this point to make the character more interesting, but it would have been nice if his turn to villainry were not so expected.  Hopefully the inevitable fight between Iron Man and 451 will be one that is much more fascinating than the villain himself.

As previously mentioned, Greg Land's art is quite nice in many parts of this book.  The fight with Death's Head and the more frequent use of the space armor are very pretty to look at.  While Land's art has some nice flairs, it ultimately does not do too much to make itself stand out.  Perhaps it is better that the art is just kind of....there.  Such artwork is much preferred to artwork so bad it detracts from the story over all.  That being said, there is just something about Land's art on some pages that feels extremely lazy.  Throughout the latter half of the issue, there are many places where Land simply drew one image, and then zoomed in on that same image in subsequent panels.  This is not a bad move necessarily, but it is a lazy one.  Having to be the artist on a book released every two weeks cannot be an easy task, but that does not excuse cutting corners like this.  It would be nice to see Gillen paired with a bit better artist, as he is on Young Avengers.  Perhaps then the book would not feel so mediocre all around.

On the whole "The Godkiller" is an incredibly forgettable arc.  It may be a bit of a stretch to say this story is a waste of time as it does make some very minor moves which are interesting.  Overall, however, the arc never rose above its boring premise.  Instead, this very short story bounced around at least three different plot shifts, making the original element which made this story intriguing (i.e. The Phoenix Force) somewhat irrelevant.  Despite improving slightly in its final issue, "The Godkiller" is strike one for Gillen's run on Iron Man.  The next arc is entitled "The Secret Origin of Tony Stark."  Such a title could prove for a much more interesting story and it will be neat to see if Gillen can balance telling Tony's roots with his hunt for 451.  Despite these small flairs of intrigue, however, this book is seemingly on the fast track to being one which is not even worth picking up...especially for $3.99.

Rating: B-

Summary: Iron Man #8 finishes "The Godkiller" in about as random a way as it began.  The story is interesting at parts, but does not rise above the mediocrity this title has sadly become known for.

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