Friday, April 03, 2009

World's Most Wanted Part 5: The High-End
Technology of Ultramodern Destruction (Marvel)
Invincible Iron Man #12 When: June 2009
Why: Matt Fraction How: Salvador Larroca

The Story So Far...
When the superhero community was split by a controversial act to force them into official government registration, it was Tony Stark who championed the bill. His dogged pursuit of illegal unsanctioned superheroics allowed him to maneuver into more encompassing roles, including his appointment as Director of SHIELD after Nick Fury's disappearance into the underground.

Just as the fickle nature of emotional politics had allowed Stark's rise, so too did it fascilitate his fall. When a secretive plot hatched by super-powered Skrulls was revealed to be a full scale invasion, both registered and unregistered Avengers were forced to pool their efforts to thwart the alien incursion. With suspicions and fears renewed within the public, Norman Osborn was there to capitalize.

Disgraced as an impotent coward who was unable to anticipate and prevent mass corruption within his agency, Tony Stark becomes that which he had hunted. With SHIELD disbanded in favour of Osborn's own HAMMER intelligence agency, Stark finds himself alone in the world, forced to seek out obselete technologies to use against the overwhelming forces that now oppose him. In an effort to protect the secret informations he gathered, Stark embarks on a one-man mission to erase all of his accumulated data, but in doing so, provokes Osborn's most potent forces. Now, deep beneath the ocean, a former ally hunts the Iron Man...

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Sub-Mariner 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Iron Man 5 (Professor)
Speed: Sub-Mariner 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Iron Man 6 (Generator)
Agility: Sub-Mariner 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Sub-Mariner 6 (Warrior)
Energy Power: Iron Man 5 (Lasers)

- The union of an American sea captain and Atlantean Emperor's daughter brought into the world one of the most potent mutants it would ever see. Prince Namor was an oddity in the kingdom of Atlantis, not just for his pale skin, but for his uncanny strength, durability, and ability to breath and fly above the oceans, that made him a worthy heir to the throne.

During the Second World War, Namor's surface adventures led him to prominence as the powerful Sub-Mariner, whose unique talents were lent to the war effort of the Allied Nations. Joining Captain America and Human Torch, he and the heroes of the Invaders and All-Winners Squad supressed the tyrannical efforts of the Nazi Party and their many superhuman agents. Despite this association, Namor's relationship with the surface world remains one of uncertainty, and when common enemies of WWII disappear, so too does the traditional anti-hero.

When a modern age of heroes emerge, the Sub-Mariner returns to induct them, discovered living on the surface as an amnesiac vagrant by Johnny Storm. With the fate of Atlantis more uncertain than ever, Namor resumes his adventures, forming early rivalries with the Fantastic Four, Hulk, and Brotherhood.
Despite baring an antagonistic relationship with the polluting modern world, Namor once again rises as one of the world's greatest champions, forming new associations with the Defenders, Avengers, Illuminati, and several other groups, including less savory elements, such as Dr. Doom and the counter-active Cabal formed by Norman Osborn. As stubborn as he is mighty, Namor always serves a noble end, seeking only a greater good for he and the people of Atlantis.

- 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.

Math: Iron Man Ranking: Iron Man (#3)

What Went Down...
Deep beneath the Red Sea, Tony Stark works feverishly within one of his many laboratory stations to upgrade an old suit of armor. Knowing full well that the forces of HAMMER are closing in, Stark scrambles to don the upgraded suit. The lab hull gives way to the pounding might of the Sub-Mariner who tears through the structure with his bare hands.

Stark ignores his former ally's call for a surrender, firing repulsor rays at the deepsea monarch and his Atlantean warriors. The blasts distract as Iron Man makes an attempt to flee, flying just above the flooding waters. The Sub-Mariner borrows one of his warrior's spear weapons and tosses it with superhuman strength, enough so to interrupt Iron Man's flight and open another channel for the ocean depths to invade the once airtight facility.

Namor's guards pursue their target, only to suffer a barrage of micromunitions fired from the suit's rear. Adding insult to injury, Stark blasts away a portion of the floor to leave the unconscious bodies tumbling to the lower depths, a diversionary tactic for the fleeing strategist.

Namor fails to bite the bait, suffering the full onslaught of Iron Man's offensive energy projectiles. The ultra-powerful Sub-Mariner, perhaps fuelled further by his recent dip in the deep, marches through the oncoming blasts to deliver an energy attack of his own -- a single superhuman knock-out blow that sends IM hurtling!

The blow delivers a concussion to the man inside the invincible armor, and creates another breach of integrity for the laboratory exterior. Unafraid by the crushing depths of the sea, Namor gloats over his foe's pending defeat. It is the insult to the injury as the monarch's fists do his talking for him, once more.

With every blow, the Sub-Mariner comes closer to breaking open the metallic shell that seperates Tony Stark from his lethal force. In a desperation move Iron Man raises his gauntlets and releases high impact repulsor rays. Rays effortlessly deflected by the Sub-Mariner's heaving chest. Rays that further threaten the ensured destruction of the external glass his suit had cracked.

Recognising his physical inferiority, Iron Man seeks a strategic solution to his predicament. Noting facility waste pipes, he evades one of Namor's blows, and blasts the sewage. The gunk flows into the surrounding waters which grow ever higher with Namor's stray punch penetrating the glass behind.

Playing upon Prince Namor's aversion to aquatic pollution, Iron Man takes full advantage of the distraction with a mighty leap!

He buries Namor's head beneath the murky waters, forces him to inhale the sickening much through open gills. With the water rising around him, Iron Man holds steady until finally the Atlantean passes out.

Satisfied with a strategic victory, Stark makes use of the fleeting airspace, retrieving the aquatic armor he'd been upgrading, before initiation a self-destruct sequence in the lab. The destruction buys him valuable time for an escape.

The Hammer...
Y'know, there are a few things to consider when you look at the method of victory Mr. Tony Stark employed here. This was a science laboratory. There were a few pipes on hand. Maybe some of them were suitable pollutants, maybe they weren't. Regardless, Iron Man's blasts punctured the sewage of a facility that had been quite probably abandoned for some time. Disturbing, or highly improbable? That's for you to decide, true believers.

Well, it took some time, but finally we've overlapped with some of the pseudo-seventieth anniversary celebrations for Marvel Comics. That, and the omni-present marketting stamped "status quo" shift that is Dark Reign.
Both seem to have fully resurrected the relevance of Marvel's Golden Age icons, namely Sub-Mariner. The surly undersea mutant seems to have found a new zest for anti-hero guest appearances, sponsored largely by his tenure with "The Cabal" (aka; Dark Illuminati), who have dominated the Marvel Universe as the new ruling class via Norman Osborn. Not that Marvel's first mutant has ever truly faded to obscurity since his 1962 return in Fantastic Four #4. Consider it a resurrection of a career in the same way The Wrestler revived Mickey Rourke.

If for some reason the Sub-Mariner has alluded your reading career, you might like to familiarize yourself with the character through the Infinite Wars, and various other information sources. Why? Because in a strange way Sub-Mariner is the father of not only Marvel Comics superheroes, but also the tradition of "continuity" as it came to be known via examples like Thor's many overhead flights (and various famous guest appearances).

Marvel Top 25 Playlist
(With Year of Debut)
#1 Spider-man (1962)
#2 Iron Man (1963)
#3 Hulk (1962)
#4 Wolverine (1974)
#5 Capt. America (1941)
#6 Mr. Fantastic (1961)
#7 Daredevil (1964)
#8 Thing (1961)
#9 Invisible Woman (1961)
#10 Human Torch (1961)
#11 Luke Cage (1972)
#12 Sub-Mariner (1939)
#13 Venom (1984)
#14 Thor (1962)
#15 Silver Surfer (1966)
#16 Storm (1975)
#17 Beast (1963)
#18 Iron Fist (1974)
#19 Rogue (1981)
#20 Deadpool (1991)
#21 Tara (2004)
#22 Capt. America (1941)
#23 Union Jack (1980)
#24 Spitfire (1976)
#25 Wonder Man (1964)
Before the beginning of the Marvel Age, Marvel Comics was a series first published in 1939 by Timely.
The inaugral issue featured the first appearances of Human Torch, the Angel, and Sub-Mariner, who featured in an expanded reprint of an unpublished story. The trio of heroes have all since returned, most notably the former and latter heroes, while Angel joined many other four colour heroes to fade to obscurity come the 60's reboot.

The emergence of Stan Lee as a creative force saw the introduction of a new line of costumed heroes in the early sixties, which resulted in Marvel Comics. The success of lasting icons like; Fantastic Four, Spider-man, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Dr. Strange; the prospect of a universe quickly emerged by a simple logic of business sense.

Despite boasting these unique new creations, Lee's sense of history as a reader, and fan, wasn't lost. In an Editorial role, he influenced the name of the company in homage to the classic superhero series, and also revived Golden Age concepts as part of his new emerging universe.

The Sub-Mariner's stature as an exciting anti-hero from the WWII era was well represented through a succession of appearances in; Fantastic Four, X-Men [#6], Avengers, Daredevil, and in a regular feature, Tales to Astonish.

With his role as an atagonist well established during the early years of the Marvel Age, it's little wonder that today Sub-Mariner has formed an alliance with the sinister powers of The Cabal. The secretive organization and it's precursive counterpart - the short lived Illuminati, to which Namor also held membership - sort of encapsulate this erratic relationship Namor has held with the rest of the Marvel Universe. In fact, the series reunites Sub-Mariner with his Supervillain Team-Up co-star, Dr. Doom, to whom he has been nemesis, and ally.

The reprisal of a slightly modified version of Namor's 70s outfit in Salvador Larroca's pencils presents a subtle adaptation of the character. Traditional superheroics and politicized intrigue collide in Invincible Iron Man; the secondary series starring the title character's run from the current administration, who deposed Stark, and recast him in the public eye as a coward and traitor.

The demotion appears to be part of a process to make amends for the character's antagonistic role in Civil War, which proved unpopular with many fans. One wonders if the abrupt shift isn't borne of a conscious concern for any crossmedia exposure the character might benefit from, namely the immensely popular film franchise initiated by director, Jon Favreau, and star, Robert Downey Jr.
Downey will reprise the role in May of 2010, giving a pretty good picture of when we might expect Tony Stark's nobility to finally have him in good stead with the heroes he alienated during the registration battle. (Just in time for the launch of a brand new Avengers film!)

Iron Man's deviation into fisticuffs is well balanced this issue with B-plots involving an armored Pepper Potts, and former Agent of SHIELD, Maria Hill, struggling with a brand new menace posed by a Matrix-lite revamp for The Controller who now possesses a zombie-like horde of jakked minions.

Larocca's pencils, colored by Frank D'Armata, dance a curious line between Adi Granov's heavily rendered humanoids, and CP Smith's distinctive characters. Consistency is lacking in the details of his work, but the action works, and like Granov's sometimes cold pages, the armor stands out well.

Revisiting previous suits in a time when Norman Osborn is wearing the most recent generation, (as Iron Patriot), is a fun prospect, but a kitschy piece of a puzzle that isn't quite cut to fit. The title, "The High-End Technology of Ultramodern Destruction," which is shockingly actually spoken in dialogue, telegraphs the slightly ambitious wankery that Fraction attempts to undertake.

It's a weird clash between classic superhero deviations (ie; a fist fight), sci-fi high concept, and modernist dramatic indulgence, that clash with average results. It feels like the type of formula a Grant Morrison could implement, but the balance of this particular issue just lacks the enthusiastic finesse of the Scot.
Likewise, characters and dialogue are fairly underwhelming, too unremarkable to offend standard accepted characterizations, but not distinct enough to inspire.

The rapid rise of inductees into Marvel's boysclub might inspire some degree of suspicion when it comes to the uniformity of approach. As names like Fraction or Aaron are thrown at prominent titles through association with Brubakers and Bendis', there's a feeling that the product ultimately defies the role.
Is this a fair criticism of an issue? Ultimately, the material speaks for itself, and while this issue doesn't sparkle in isolation, it's non-commital trivialities through the fight probably aren't as disappointing when viewed in the context of the arc.

Also worthy of praise is the logic of the fight.
Despite the nature of our reviews, so often we fail to elaborate any further than the cumbersome text summaries you read in the What Went Down section. Here, Fraction commands the fight in a way we always appreciate - with an awareness for circumstances and settings. Though obviously contrived, the use of the locale as a factor in the battle is a nice effort to utilize the tools presented by the tale. If the story is going to stay close to a checklist of objectives, this is a good effort to make some justifiable use of it.

As one of the many anniversary appearances of Namor, the issue also deserves credit for a well motivated appearance.
Like many of the stories featured previously on the Infinite Wars, it's an immensly interesting instalment to be included in the more significant canon of a character. The kind of story that the Infinite Wars are founded upon, regardless of any larger critiques. Part of a winding seventy year history!

The Fight: 4.5 The Issue: 4
Winner: Iron Man

If you want to get ahead of the curve on World's Most Wanted and find out the context of the issue, you can preorder the trade from Amazon! By using links provided on the site, you benefit from Amazon's service and price, while also helping sponsor future entries in the Infinite Wars! Other stories from the Secret Archives, including those featuring the invincible Iron Man, are also available in the Gift Shoppe.

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