Monday, June 22, 2009

World's Most Wanted Part 7:
The Shape of the World These Days (Marvel)

Where: Invincible Iron Man #14 When: August 2009
Why: Matt Fraction How: Salvador Larroca

Strength: Draw 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Iron Man 5 (Professor)
Speed: Iron Man 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Draw 6 (Generator)
Agility: Iron Man 2 (Average)
Fighting: Crimson Dynamo 4 (Trained)
Energy: Draw 5 (Lasers)

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

At the beginning of this year's season, I predicted a quiet year for Iron Man, and I suppose in a manner of speaking, that's what it's been. 2006 put the shellhead at the forefront of comics when he led, and technically won, the Marvel Civil War. The event - which pitted Iron Man and Captain America against each other as ideological figureheads of their opinions on superhero consignment - thrust Iron Man into the role of Director of SHIELD, and consequently, positioned him to be at the centre of the Marvel Universe.

Opinions of the character rendered Iron Man as one of reader's most reviled and successful "villains" in comics. Yet, as you might imagine, sympathies were turned in time for a major motion picture that established the Iron Man brand as a force to be reckoned with in the mainstream. The comics house of cards came tumbling down, however, with Secret Invasion, which allowed then-Director of the Commission on Superhuman Activities, Norman Osborn, to steal the throne.

World's Most Wanted positions Tony Stark on the run, as a fugitive from the new regime that has branded him a coward and traitor to America. Contrary to those accusations, Stark's as dedicated to heroism as ever, and he's determined to destroy all the data and technology he accumulated during his time as Director of SHIELD to prevent Norman Osborn getting his evil hands on it. For a man merged with machine, this means even destroying chunks of his own mind -- uh oh!

Yes! The situation does look grim for Tony Stark, but with a sequel to the massively successful 2008 film slated for release next year, you can't shake the feeling that current plotlines all point toward a restoration of Iron Man as beloved member of the good guys in time for the sequel.

Okay. Maybe they didn't hit the reset button for the last film, when it would arguably have been more important to do so, but Civil War had bubbled into the background by 2008, and anyone who looked in on the shellhead could've easily mistaken him for the beloved hero he always was (as opposed to a jezebel). So maybe it's at least plausible that the shifting tectonic plates of influence on the Marvel Universe might be conspiring for a reset in time for the sequel.

Let's be honest -- it isn't just cross-promotion that's pointing in the direction of a new normality in the Marvel Universe. As much fun as Dark Reign has been as a high concept exercise, it almost seems designed specifically to deconstruct the validity of well argued policy initiated by Civil War. Essentially; Dark Reign is an extention of the tale, using the circumstances that allowed Tony Stark to assume the level of control he did in response to disaster, as a stepping stone toward a more explicit tale of evil exploitation. Without Stark, we wouldn't have Osborn.

Trends in superhero comics seem to be retreating from the hard-choice post-9/11 pseudo-politics of police states and government paranoia. For the first time in years, you can almost imagine a reunion of Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, as the save-the-day butt kickers in a go-for-it-boys moment of fist pumping justice as the classic Avengers unite to take down Osborn and his lackeys!

It's a fun thought, even if it seems like such a shame to interrupt the urban rythmn the Secret Avengers have finally gotten into, in New Avengers. Hey! I guess it's wouldn't be the first time there've been two official Avengers teams in the books! I think I'm getting a little bit distracted by what ifs now, though.

Here in the present; Tony Stark continues his journey across the world in retro armor. I'd be lying if I said I didn't get a kick out of seeing the classic look, but it's starting to look like it'll come at a price...

I realise it's a little ironic, given that I've just spent a lot of time speaking pretty positively about undoing the last few years worth of storylines, but I'm really not fond of the prospect of Iron Man being stripped of his Extremis upgrades from the Warren Ellis story of the same name, from 2006. It's got the same bad taste and lack of creative vision that the undoing of Grant Morrison's New X-Men had, and it feels like it's the kind of ham-fisted direction we've seen Marvel undertake too many times under the current regime.

Iron Man is a technological hero for a technological age.

I got quite excited by the prospect of previews that showed Iron Man travelling to Russia where he would lock horns with the Crimson Dynamo. Yet, as much as I have an affection for those antiquated iconographies, Iron Man has progressed beyond them. The technology available to the hero needs to respond in kind.

Extremis errs on the side of science-fiction, but dances creatively enough to balance the necessity for real-world technological touchstones, with a superhero possessing that which is beyond normal (human) means. I really do hope I'm wrong about the possibility of Iron Man losing that part of the canon as a result of World's Most Wanted's story. It would be a very negative legacy to a tale that otherwise feels a bit like a play right now, reenacting the moments before Dark Reign falls, rather than being the story of the build-up.

To the matter of this week's quick fix fight -- Iron Man finds himself under rocket fire as he flies through the snow-filled skies over Arkhangelsk, Russia.

The retro armor cobbled together over days of hopping through tech-stations does an admirable job of out-flying the missiles, but is simply unable to compete with several-to-one. After out maneuvering a few exploding shells, the golden (and red) Avenger is caught in the blastwave of one explosion, only to catch the near full brunt of another.

The Crimson Dynamo (Dmitri Bukharin) is quick to arrive on the scene, swatting the grounded Iron Man at staggering speeds, before looming over him like a metallic red hulk. Believing this enfeebled Iron Man to be a rogue impostor, the Dynamo clutches his armored opponent and wrenches the helmet free. Beneath he finds an almost unrecognisable man, whose quest has been one of self-destruction, as much about deleting the data he accumulated as Director of SHIELD, as it is about deleting himself.

Convinced, Bukharin embraces the man he had come to count as an ally.
This isn't the first Crimson Dynamo to wear the red, or the first to be befriended by Tony Stark in the modern post-Cold War age [ie; Valentin Shatalov]. Bukharin offers to help the embattled Stark, later even denying Norman Osborn requests to enter Russian quarters in an effort to retrieve his fugitive foe.

As a piece of the Dark Reign puzzle, so far Invincible Iron Man feels reasonably disposable. This is connective tissue to the past, and presumably at some point, the future. For me, the attraction has been the guest characters more than the plot going on around them. I actually quite like that everything about Iron Man feels very insular, right after he spent several years appearing in almost every Marvel title. It's a fun reversal of roles and a great way to capture the Iron Man story with gravitas. At the same time, it's disconnection and indulgence in internal plotlines just doesn't thrill me the way other Dark Reign series have.

Like I said earlier, if there's a return to glory for Iron Man and his resurrected fellows, then this just feels all the more like killing time. I skipped the issue between this and #12. If there was anything of vital importance to miss, I certainly didn't notice it. These days that's the mark of a "friendly" good writer, but in this case, it feels like testimony against a by-the-numbers book.

The Fight: 3 The Issue: 4
Winner: Crimson Dynamo

Invincible Iron Man is currently available monthly from Marvel Comics! You can pre-order the World's Most Wanted trade collection, and many others, from Amazon! By using purchase links provided on the site, you help sponsor future techno-entries on the Infinite Wars! You'll find more stories like this in the Infinite Wars Gift Shoppe, including plenty of Iron Man, and other collections containing issues reviewed in the Secret Archives!

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