Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Awesome Origin of Mrs. Arbogast (Marvel)
Iron Man Annual #11 When: 1990
Why: Carrie Barre How: Steve Ditko

The Story So Far...
Injured in a warfield, Tony Stark is forced by terrorists to design weapons of mass destruction. With a piece of shrapnel lodged inches from his heart, Stark instead builds a suit of armor capable of maintaining the life threatening metal whilst also turning him into an invincible Iron Man!

Iron Man returns with Stark to the United States, where he employs the superhero identity in an effort to atone for the violence purveyed by Stark Industries weapons. Posing as his own hi-tech bodyguard, Stark soon becomes a golden beacon of justice, trusted and adored by the public and government alike, earning him founding status with Earth's mightiest heroes - the Avengers.

Though many of Iron Man's greatest enemies would emerge through corporate malfeasance against Stark Industries and it's playboy executive; Iron Man's status as an Avenger would also earn him his fair share of villains. Once such fellow is Whirlwind, who's taken the fight to Stark Industries, where his battle with Iron Man threatens to unhinge Tony Stark's search for a new secretary!

Tale of the Tape...
ARTWORK: Whilce PortacioARTWORK: Adi GranovStrength: Iron Man 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Iron Man 5 (Professor)
Speed: Whirlwind 5 (Super)
Stamina: Iron Man 6 (Generator)
Agility: Whirlwind 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting Ability: Iron Man 4 (Trained)
Energy Power: Iron Man 5 (Lasers)

- David Cannon, a lifelong tearaway and thug, would elevate himself to the status of career criminal when he discovers he is a mutant capable of achieving fantastic speeds. He develops his powers through a variety of schemes that benefit from his speed, before debuting in the guise of the Human Top, an identity swiftly foiled by the likes of Giant-Man and the Wasp!

Upgrades in Cannon's arsenal would allow him to become the armored menace, Whirlwind! In this guise he would continue his long running feud with Hank Pym, developing an obsession with the hero's ex-wife, and Cannon's foil, the Wasp. A desire for revenge keeps Whirlwind in constant conflict with the Avengers, lending to his many memberships with groups such as the Masters of Evil.

Whirlwind is capable of moving at incredible speeds, allowing himself a means of propulsion, by which he commonly launches himself as a human missile. Also in his arsenal is a suit of armor equipped with wrist-mounted blades, and projectile weapons. His armor also provides greater defense and proection from his own wanton attacks.

- While on a field tour to observe the effects of weaponry designed by his corporation for the United States military; billionaire industrialist, Tony Stark, soon finds himself face-to-face with the bold consequences of his actions.
Caught in a rebel booby trap, Stark suffers a near fatal wound that lodges a piece of shrapnel inches from his heart. The rebels take Stark hostage to demand he apply his genius to the design and construction of weapons built from their limited resources. In doing so, they provide Stark the means to construct a suit of armor that preserves his heart, and turns him into an invincible Iron Man!

Stark's mastery over technology allows him to bring his designs home, where the availability of rapidly upgrading technologies allow him to continue to refine the build to become increasingly mobile and efficient. Stark soon dons the Iron Man armor on a regular basis, not only as insurance against his life threatening injuries, but as an opportunity to atone for the wanton destruction delt by his weapons of death. Stark protects his secrets through the duality of a secret identity, projecting to the world the image of Iron Man as a hi-tech bodyguard.

Advancements in Stark's arsenal have advanced to a point where he has now undergone cybernetic synthesis on a genetic level. The armor now not only provides him with superhuman strength and an array of offensive weapons, but also gives Stark full wireless control over the armor and other peripheral devices, as well as access to information databases, including SHIELD resources under his control as Director of SHIELD. Iron Man remains a staple of the Avengers roster.

The Math: Iron Man Ranking: Iron Man (#5)

What Went Down...
While secretarial applicants mill about in the Stark Industries offices; outside an aerial showdown is going on between Iron Man and armored villain, Whirlwind! The pair make their presence felt when they careen toward the office, smashing through the window in a spectacular tangle of armored fists!

A disgruntled Whirlwind takes the upperhand as the battle moves inside and he channels the vengeful rages of countless defeats at the hands of other Avengers! While Whirlwind pushes his dominance with the threatening leer of wrist mounded buzzsaws, one of the secretarial candidates shows tremendous dedication to clerical work by attempting to protect threatened paperwork!

Reluctant to unleash his repulsor rays with a civilian nearby, Iron Man attempts to evade his foes assault with unconvincing results.

Suffering the mutant speed and agility of his opponent, Iron Man looks for an intellectual edge in the fight. While Iron Man grapples with a lunging Whirlwind, Mrs. Arbogast is once again summoned to fullfil her secretarial duty, this time to answer Mr. Stark's phone! A seemingly insignificant feat, but just as Mr. Stark's desk falls before Whirlwind's buzzsaw blade, Mrs. Arbogast makes her move!

Stunned by the disarming affects of an unexpected phone call -- Whirlwind is a sitting duck as Iron Man charges in with the safely contained energy of a gauntlet fist! With a mighty swing, the invincible Iron Man scores his first successful hit against the mutant menace -- a knock-out blow!

"I'm sorry, you'll have to try your call again later from behind bars!"

ARTWORK: Adi GranovThe Hammer...
Yesterday we talked a little bit about the importance of characters in superhero comics, and it's in follow-up to that that I take great pleasure in inducting the 485th character into the Infinite Wars cumulative rankings! Sure, he's initiated with a loss, but hey, he's not called the invincible Iron Man for nothing! [With the all important assist coming from Mrs. Arbogast, of course!]

Now, just in case you're wondering, yes. Iron Man had a word with Mr. Stark on his way out, and told him to forget about interviewing any of the other applicants. Afterall, why interview someone who's already started work? So ends another dubious chapter in Mr. Anthony Stark's on-going adventures, because let's be honest... Given his reputation, it's hard to imagine Stark ever passing up some skirt for an old woman in a pink blazer and bow-tie. At least, not sobre...

Lately we've been talking a bit about the importance of characters and characterization; [Phantom #1, Superman/Batman #43]; and given the many recent misadventures of Iron Man, it's probably a particularly pertinent subject heading into a mainstream feature film (in May).

You would've had to have been living in a cave to have missed hysteria surrounding Marvel's polarizing franchise event, Civil War, wherein Iron Man leads a renewed case for superhero registration after a New Warriors reality TV show results in the deaths of hundreds of school children. The situation cast Iron Man as antagonist, and revived 1950's flavoured issues of mistrust in the superhero community and the desire to see them unmask as an act of good faith. Further attached were conotations of responsive law making, and issues of privacy and freedom, setting Captain America up in staunch opposition to Iron Man's corporate takeover of civil liberties. Thus; the Superhero Civil War.

Fans were quick to attack Civil War's writers [chiefly; core title wordsmith and Infinite Wars favourite; Mark Millar] for failing to properly depict characters, like Iron Man, who they now felt resembled something closer to a villain than one of Earth's mightiest heroes. From here, assumptions are perpetuated by the online community, and Iron Man continues to suffer the indignities of his actions even a couple of years after the event, and in the lead-up to mainstream exposure.

I suppose there are two issues to raise here.
On one hand, we question whether or not Iron Man's actions ever truly deviated from what should be expected of the character. On the other, a much broader question that connects to the on-going topic, of whether or not characters and characterization are of particular importance.

I think my stance on the latter has already been answered.
In the last review, we talked about the greater context of the issue reviewed, and justified it's general insignificance in terms of character investment. This is something we alluded to with a character like Steel Serpent, whose significance is rivalled only by the number of appearances he's made, but only lends to the potential and allure of the character. Steel Serpent makes for a particularly good example, given the way Matt Fraction [and Ed Brubaker] have been able to build upon that character's brief history as an enemy of Iron Fist.

Top 25 Shell Heads
#1 Spider-man (Marvel)
#2 Batman (DC)
#3 Hulk (Marvel)
#4 Iron Man (Marvel)
#5 Captain America (Marvel)
#6 Daredevil (Marvel)
#7 Steel (DC)
#8 Hawkman (DC)
#9 Red Hood (DC)
#10 Dr. Doom (Marvel)
#11 Robin (DC)
#12 Nightwing (DC)
#13 Warmachine (Marvel)
#14 Wonder Woman (DC)
#15 Nova (Marvel)
#16 Black Widow (Marvel)
#17 Black Panther (Marvel)
#18 Lethal (DC)
#19 Destroyer (Marvel)
#20 Zauriel (DC)
#21 Crimson Dynamo (Marvel)
#22 Dr. Polaris (DC)
#23 Captain Atom (DC)
#24 Franklin Richards (Marvel)
#25 Superboy-Prime (DC)

The Infinite Wars Rankings
rate these as the top armored
heroes, but they haven't all
kept their shells. Got opinions?
Drop a comment!
I feel there's a tendency in comics to strive to over justify the medium with efforts to tell very contrived and singular stories. Though the Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns out there do well to portray a matrue filter of the superhero genre, they fail to really represent one of the exotic charms of the medium, which is, of course, it's long running history and prospect for continuous growth within the canon.

Regularly produced entertainment has an association with poor quality, which certainly remains a topic prevelant to today's comics, but isn't necessarily representative of even the average issues of a superhero comic book series.

One looks to this review's Iron Man Annual back-up story, which incidentally includes the declining work of Steve Ditko, as a model for the utterly disposable in superhero fiction. To the benefit of the point I hope to make, some of you are going to have at least eagerly scrolled through the panels provided, demonstrating the potential intrigue of any chapter in a character's history. This is comics! This is the fiction in action!

One need only look around the blogosphere any Bastille Day to observe the currency so-called inconsequential issues command. Sure, everyone mills around for the weekly comic review, but it's lesser known issues, ten years and older, that really bring something special to the table: the characters.

The medium is well and truly at the age now where the harsh truth of the power of the character will become self-evident. The recent deaths of Steve Gerber and Dave Stevens will tragically not be the last. Comics are slowly entering an age where it's most public legends; the 1960s progenetors of the Modern Age; are reaching their twilight years, and the legacy of the characters they helped create and define becomes more important.

As new readers become increasingly distanced from that old guard, question of the importance of characterization becomes increasingly filtered.
Longtime readers will know I have a healthy distain for the reluctant and frightened reading habits of today's readers. I joined comics in my childhood with little regard for the 'sequential nightmare.' Quite happy to randomly spot back issues and out-of-sequence chapters, I was more interested in the joy of the tri-colour characters, and their on-going exploits.

On reflection, I suppose characterization has always been as important to me as the characters, because it's there that I found my constant. Modern readers, with their many peculiarities, seem to be more concerned with the trinkets of storytelling rather than the investment in what makes these stories enduring.

Stan Lee describes the creation of Iron Man as a challenge to present an establishmentarian war monger as a likeable hero. This comes off the back of the Korean War, and directly connects the hero to growing unrest in Vietnam, which fast leads to one of the United States' darkest periods.

Lee [and Lee's brother and early IM writer; Larry Lieber] weren't stupid, but while they quickly distanced Iron Man from his involvement in military weapons manufacture, they never really removed that facet from the character!

Over the decades Tony Stark has gone through various identities of corporate enterprise and public service, often representing facets of justice mutually beneficial to the public and corporate sectors. If Captain America embodies the selflessness of super heroism and the American ideal, Iron Man has always been the flipside, and arguably more representative of America's reality.

The conceptual strokes of each character are broad enough to easily justify their motives. As 'the dream', Cap represents ideals of freedom arguably long since forgotten in the USA, and a strength built on spirit and determination, more than the 'lightning bolt' that gave him his powers. Tony Stark, on the other hand, is a more realistic depiction of corporate powers gained from the economic destruction of others, and the use of technological shortcuts that do the hard work for him.

Though not always an admirable fellow; Stark typically does his best to balance his own interests with a sense for the greater good. As seen in Civil War, the edict of the alcoholic remains intact, remorseful after the fact.

One could argue Stark's perspective has always been skewed toward his own experience. Tony Stark is probably one of comics' rare examples of a hero who's debatably dragged an entire support network into his own gravity, rather than having overwhelming support of volunteers.

Having successfully lived with a public identity, it's not unreasonable to think Iron Man would inflect his own perception on the situation. The superhuman registration act, a response to public outcry in the wake of disaster, is also in keeping with Stark's corporate sense for quick fix solutions.

We're letting the original question get away from us, but I think we've been successful in highlighting, through Iron Man, two perspectives.
What some fail to appreciate is that rules and boundaries imposed within fiction are what contribute to the strength of stories, and consistency within those parameters are key to maintaining and enjoying characters for years to come. Of course, as with Iron Man, we're reminded how much traits of humanity are crucial to a character like this, and therein we recognise the potential for many outcomes and opinions, even from one individual.

We're running long, so I'd better wrap this one up!
I hope everyone enjoyed a great Easter! Annual events like Easter are always a great landmark for a person to reflect on the past. Have your traditions or attitudes to Easter changed at all? How consistent is your characterization?

The Fight: 3 The Story: 3

If reflecting on the past only leads you to heartbreak, try this one on for size: A standard twenty-two page comic today costs $2.99 - a tag I cannot possibly afford to pay. Measure that against Marvel's sixty-four page 1990 annuals, which were just $2 even! Oh the humanity!!! Fortunately, the Infinite Wars Amazonian Gift Shop is always on hand to provide you with a good deal. Hey! With Amazon's prices you not only save a buck, but also buy yourself a piece of mind, knowing that karma will smile upon you for supporting your favourite comics blog! Now that's a reason to make a benevolent return from the dead!

1 comment:

jimsmuse said...

Hi, I'm Carrie, and I'm the one responsible for The Awesome Origin of Mrs. Arbogast. Since I wrote about it recently on my blog and linked here, I thought it only fair to: a) Thank you very much for a great synopsis; and b) tell you I'm flattered that anyone remembers the story, as silly as it was.

If you'd like to know how the story came to be written, you can view my own blog entry about it here:

Thanks again!