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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Review: Iron Man #9

With the release of the much-anticipated Iron Man 3 last Friday, Marvel made the obvious decision in having the latest issue of the Iron Man comic release the Wednesday before.  In conjunction with the 50th Anniversary of the character, Marvel requested Kieron Gillen write an origin story of some sort to commemorate the occasion.  As the series was just coming off a rather mediocre to terrible arc called "The Godkiller," enter the next big Iron Man story arc: "The Secret Origin of Tony Stark."  Sadly, despite Gillen having a past of being a very capable writer and actually producing an excellent Young Avengers comic, Iron Man has yet to really take off as a series.  Perhaps going back to the beginning will help put the comic back on track?  See how the latest issue turned out after the jump.

Iron Man #9 picks up several weeks after the last issue and Tony Stark is still on the trail of robot turned villain 451, much to the ire of fellow Guardian of the Galaxy Peter Quill.  Since Quill refuses to help him out, Iron Man seeks the assistance of 30 foot robot bounty hunter Death's Head.  Together the two of them seek out 451, but the robot responsible for the death of an entire alien race has quite a few surprises in store for Tony Stark.

As mentioned, Iron Man has really been a series which has struggled to find its footing.  Kieron Gillen has stated previously that the decision to take Tony Stark into space is something he would like to explore for quite some time.  This is not a bad decision by any means as it has made for some very interesting choices artistically as well as a beautiful new set of space armor.  It has been said numerous times on this site in reviews for this series that Gillen's willingness to experiment with the kinds of stories which can be told with Iron Man can sometimes be disastrous no matter how noble.  Such experimentation got a little out of hand in the previous arc and it was, quite honestly, very hard to find the motivation to come back to this title with any amount of excitement.  Perhaps that is why this issue stands out as being significantly better in this respect.  Not only does a new arc begin in this issue, but Gillen makes some moves in terms of telling a "Tony Stark in space" story that works out much better for the character as a whole.

We begin this issue with a very brief cameo from Peter Quill, aka Star Lord.  As Iron Man is currently a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy in their own comic book, this is not too odd if one is reading both comics.  What may come off as a little bit strange for such readers, however, is when exactly this story is supposed to take place.  Tony's dialogue indicates that it has been several weeks since Iron Man #8, but when does Guardians of the Galaxy's current arc take place?  Presumably it would be during these several weeks, but it seems a bit odd that Tony would so willingly abandon his hunt for 451 (which he so vehemently defends to Star Lord) just so he can help out the Guardians.  Tony's membership in the Guardians is already beginning to feel a bit unnecessary in that series, so here is hoping the fact that this story takes place some time later is an indication that he may take a break from Guardians every now and then.  The first page of the comic indicates that, for the time being, Iron Man will tell the stories of what Tony is up to in space when he is not with the Guardians, which really only further muddles his motivation to find 451.  Although this is really a minor gripe in the overall sense of things...just don't try to ask when Iron Man is supposed to be on the Avengers during all of this.

Guardians of the Galaxy cameos aside, the majority of this issue deals with the almost buddy cop team-up of Iron Man and Death's Head.  It is a bit unclear if this is the same Death's Head which Tony fought in a gladiator-style arena not one issue ago as neither character makes reference to the incident (presumably there is more than one Death's Head?).  The over-arching story of this issue involving these two is rather simple.  Iron Man finds Death's Head, gives him money to help him find 451, and then the two of them search for and find the robot in question.  While the story is simple, the chemistry between Iron Man and Death's Head works quite well.  Perhaps it is the juxtaposition of having a human-sized robot and a Transformer-sized robot attempting to infiltrate a space ship, but there is just something very fun about this duo that really jumps off the page.  Gillen's trademark use of humor is also done to great effect in this issue.  Not only is there a very nice, but subtle Star Wars joke thrown in, but there is also a hilarious exchange between Death's Head and Iron Man about the dangers of "robot racism" and  "krypto-facism."  The scenes building up to the infiltration of 451's ship are incredibly well done and make for some of the best moments of this entire series thus far.

When Death's Head and Iron Man finally do locate 451 and his ship, the entire story enters a very dangerous zone: predictability.  Everything just seems too easy for our hero.  Overall, the basic plot driving this issue is not one that is entirely original; we have seen it all before.  As the tension builds when 451 approaches the ambush-ready robots, it becomes abundantly clear what the end of this little encounter is going to be.  It is a bit disappointing that Gillen chose to make this very obvious move in his story-telling when he was doing such an able job with writing the rest of the issue.  The way Tony is betrayed by both Death's Head and his suit is a nice, yet expected surprise that does occur with a decent bit of humor, but it is ultimately a move which does not feel very refreshing.  Instead of being met with a gasp, most readers familiar with the action and sci-fi genres will probably roll their eyes and mutter "of course."  It is going too far to say that the quality of writing at this part declines, as it is still a very well written issue, but it is sad to see that Gillen is still struggling with coming up with a 100% original space story.

451 plays a small, but very important role in this issue.  Beforehand, the character had seemed like quite the cliche.  The robot in space that seemed so nice before suddenly betrays our hero?  Nope, never seen that before in science fiction.  His turn to villainry may not be the most surprising, but that does not make 451 a terrible villain.  In fact, there is still a lot of room left for him to perhaps evolve to being one of Iron Man's better foes (although, really, that's not that hard).  As the issue comes to a close, we only get a small taste of what 451 is truly up to and what it has to do with this "Secret Origin of Tony Stark," but Gillen leaves us with a good enough WTF moment to keep the reader interested.  Hopefully the development of 451 and his relation to Tony's past becomes the time where this series turns away from predictability and cliche.

A changing of the guard occurs in terms of art with this issue as artistic duties are handed over to Dale Eaglesham.  This is not a very drastic transition by any means.  Quite honestly, if one did not read the credits on the opening page, it would be a bit hard to say this issue was drawn by anyone other than previous artist Greg Land.  One key difference can be noted between the two, however: Eaglesham does a much better job of making each panel distinct, instead of taking Land's approach of drawing only one image and zooming into that image in subsequent panels.  In fact, despite their similarities, Eaglesham's art does a much better job of capturing the feel of this book.  While Steve McNiven does a lot better space work on Guardians of the Galaxy, Eaglesham is not doing half bad.  No complaints will be had here if he stays on the book for quite a while.

After 8 issues of pure mediocrity, this Iron Man is almost a complete breath of fresh air.  Kieron Gillen is composing a space story which feels much more in line with the kind of adventures we expect from Tony Stark, with just a dash of experimentation in narrative.  While Gillen does need some work in making his stories less obvious, this issue as a whole represents much stronger artwork and story-telling than any issue previously in this series.  Some of the motivations behind Tony's desire to find 451 may be a little lost on new readers, but this issue is actually a very nice jumping on point.  As we get more into "The Secret Origin of Tony Stark" next issue, one can only hope that the quality established here remains.

Rating: A-

Summary:  In perhaps its best issue thus far, Iron Man #9 tells a space story that feels much more in line with Tony's character despite being a bit predictable at times.
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