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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review: Iron Man #10

Out of the many titles relaunched for Marvel NOW, perhaps Iron Man has been the one with the most uneven footing.  It has been mentioned numerous times on this site that the comic has had a lot of trouble of balancing the humor of writer Kieron Gillen with the more outlandish Iron Man stories he wishes to tell.  Though it is no secret that this reviewer hated "The Godkiller" story arc with a passion, "The Secret Origin of Tony Stark" had a prologue in the previous issue which surprised with how well-written it really was.  Now this "Secret Origin" begins in earnest as we finally get a peek at the surprises in store for Tony Stark.  The most important question right now, though, is if the comic has already taken two steps backward from the one step forward in the previous issue.  Read on to see how everything turned out!

As mentioned, Iron Man #10 begins the next story arc, "The Secret Origin of Tony Stark."  After watching a film strip where Tony's father Howard informed his son that he was somehow in cahoots with recent robot villain 451, Tony understandably has some questions.  What follows is a flashback to the past which tells the story of some aliens in Las Vegas and a couple desperate to have a child.

Perhaps what is most striking about this issue is the choice in setting.  With so much of this comic taking place in outer space for the past several issues, it was a bit jarring to be back on Earth for Iron Man, even more so considering that it is Earth during what is presumably the 1950's/60's.  What makes this setting so great, however, is the way that Kieron Gillen is able to take advantage of the time period to introduce an alien race very rarely seen in the Marvel Universe: The Greys.  For those not steeped in alien lore, Greys are the very stereotypical aliens one thinks of with, obviously, grey skin and large black eyes.  These aliens are the epitome of a time in American pop culture where aliens were both something to be feared and something to be entertained by.  Gillen's use of these aliens is a nice contrast to the much more giant and heavily detailed aliens which usually populate the Marvel Universe and it really helps to flesh out the time period the majority of this issue is set in.  It only makes sense that the Greys would be around more during this time period as that is when they were more seen in science fiction.  By having these Greys not only serve as Las Vegas mob characters, but also casino owners makes for a very nice spin on a nostalgic species.  Much of Gillen's humor is brought out in the scenes with one of the Greys named Rollo as he attempts to help Howard Stark.  These turn of events with the Greys may not be entirely original, but they are quite entertaining to read nevertheless.  A moment where Rollo says his species is doing something on Earth which could get them in trouble with the "bigger boys" causes one to have a sudden urge to see a 1950's version of some of Marvel's more well known alien races.  This setting of 1950's Vegas and the use of the Greys is really what makes this issue fun to read, although it would have been even better if the art could have been more of a satire of the period as well.

The story which leads into the use of this Las Vegas setting and the appearance of the Greys, however, is one which may be a bit controversial for fans.  Apparently, back when Maria Stark was pregnant with Tony, she was having a few problems.  After being informed by a doctor that there was no way Maria would be able to carry the baby to term, Howard Stark forces his wife around the world to try and find a way to cure their issue.  Pleas from his wife that it will be okay, that the couple can just adopt are met with deaf ears from Howard.  Though Howard never seems desperate in his speech, the way he is drawn in several panels (almost always holding some sort of alcoholic beverage) hint at Howard's desperation for his son to finally be born.  The man does, after all, want to pass down a legacy to a rightful heir.  Once these medical problems are established, it becomes pretty clear as to why Howard Stark and 451 come to a partnership that effects present day Tony.  While this makes for an interesting storytelling move, it remains to be seen whether or not this turn of events will sit well with fans.  In interviews, Gillen has stated that this arc, in part, comes from a desire from Marvel for Iron Man to feature an origin story on the 50th Anniversary of the character.  This way of giving Marvel what they want is certainly better than a simple re-hash of Tony's origin, but many fans may be outraged that a character like Tony Stark was seemingly conceived with the aid of an alien robot.  In fact, it even sounds a little silly having to write it out.  As this is only the first chapter of "Secret Origin," perhaps there are more secrets down the line which could help make this story worthwhile.  At this point, however, the set-up of events puts Gillen at an interesting precipice.

After finding out from Rollo how to get access to a strange alien robot (451 as we know him), we are launched into the issue's second montage of sorts: Howard Stark puts a team together to break into the Area 52 Casino.  This actually makes for one of the more intriguing aspects of the issue as we get to see, once again, a 1950's who's who of the Marvel Universe.  Captain America or Reed Richards may be people Tony would turn to today, but this is not the case with Howard.  Two of the members in particular of Howard's team are worth noting: "Dum Dum" Dugan and then Lieutenant "Thunderbolt" Ross.  Nick Fury is also brought up as a possible member, but Howard claims that he is suffering from illness and unable to participate.  Basically, this entire sequence comes off as an homage of sorts to Ocean's Eleven or any other heist movie.  What makes the choice of Dugan and Ross so interesting is, obviously, their ties to the Marvel Universe today.  Though he spends more time as the Red Hulk now, it is interesting that Thunderbolt Ross would have had a hand in Tony's birth as it was obviously not brought up during Ross' time on the Avengers.  Presumably everyone was sworn to secrecy, but it will be interesting to see if Tony comes into conflict with the Red Hulk over this once he is back on Earth.  While the whole heist aspect of this issue is interesting, if slightly cliche, it is a bit disappointing that it is also a very short sequence, making the formation of this group seem a bit of a waste.  Again, however, one can hope this aspect of the story is more fleshed out in the coming issues.

What is really put into question with this issue is the connection between 451 and Tony Stark.  Obviously, 451 had some sort of hand in Maria's ability to give birth to Tony, but it is still a bit vague as to why 451 is taking advantage of this connection now.  In fact, motivation is a bit of a mystery entirely with 451 as his actions have hitherto been quite unpredictable.  That being said, 451 is a deliciously fun villain to read, and has become all the more intriguing as his presence in the comic continues.  Gillen writes him in a way that comes off as a regular HAL 9000-type, but his more anthropomorphic status makes him all the more threatening.  451 is an interesting character, but that level of intrigue will go down if we do not get a clear explanation of what exactly he is up to...and soon.  If his motivations for being a part of Tony's life twice make sense, and are justified, then Gillen has a chance to make 451 a very memorable villain in Iron Man lore...which is really saying something for a hero with such a boring rogues gallery.

Kieron Gillen is an interesting writer to discuss.  His recent run on Uncanny X-men was quite nice, but not anything to run home screaming about.  With Iron Man, we have gotten a very mixed bag in terms of Gillen's writing.  The ambitious decision to have Tony spend quite a bit of time in space is one which has produced more less-than subtle homages to classic science fiction films than anything of true originality.  Humor and the ability to create interesting villains are perhaps Gillen's biggest strong suits, so one can hope that he will be able to fine-tune these abilities as his run on the title continues.  As mentioned in the previous review, "Secret Origin" already feels like an arc which is much more in line with the type of writing we have come to expect from Gillen, but it is also making for some of his more strong writing.  The story is not overly ambitious like "The Godkiller," and is written in a way that feels much more like one would expect an Iron Man in space story to function.  Gillen still has a lot to improve upon, but "Secret Origin" is looking to be a much better effort on his part.

When it comes to art, we are once again treated to the work of Dale Eaglesham.  While Eaglesham's art is indeed very similar to previous artist Greg Land, there is just something about Eaglesham's art which feels much more natural.  Land's art often seemed lazy if not out-right traced, so it is nice to see an artist who seems to actually be trying to produce something of good quality.  What really seems like a let down with this issue is that Eagelsham's art is very fluid with the flashback to the 1950's.  As this is such a stylized section in terms of the writing, it would have been very nice to see the art reflect that.  Perhaps even a different artist for these sections would have really made for a more satirical look at the period.  Despite these misgivings, these flashbacks actually showcase some of Eaglesham's better artwork, far outshining the art in the framing narrative of Tony and 451.

It is very difficult to judge how good "The Secret Origin of Tony Stark" is as an arc as we are, technically, only two issues in.  What is already a huge positive is that this arc feels much more natural for a writer like Kieron Gillen, and he seems much more comfortable here than he was in previous stories on this book.  There are a few things here and there with this issue which could easily cause the comic to derail once again, but these past two issues help to put a little faith Gillen's way that he will not screw this up.  Kieron Gillen and Dale Eaglesham are finally doing some quality work on Iron Man and it just may be a must-read by the time they are through.

Rating: A-

Summary: While Iron Man #10 begins a story which could potentially upset a number of fans, Kieron Gillen is starting to become a lot more comfortable with the book, and it makes for a comic that is finally a very nice read.
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