Hard Reboot: Ultimate Comics Iron Man #1 Reviewon October 21, 2012 at 7:32 pm
The cynical side of me says that this comic book, in the most mercenary manner, throws aside a decade of continuity behind the Ultimate Universe Iron Man in favor of mimicking the depiction of Tony Stark by Robert Downey Jr. in the Marvel Studios movies, in effect putting itself aside in favor of a mass marketed version of the character designed to attract the maximum number of mouth-breathing summer entertainment seekers who don’t have air conditioning at home.
However, the hopeful and forgiving side of me says that the Ultimate Universe version of Tony Stark was originally depicted, in his first two miniseries written by Orson Scott Card, as a blue-skinned wuss who was mostly brain (literally; if I remember right, he sat on his cerebellum and pissed out of his medulla oblongata), with stupid organic armor and, if Card wrote what he knows, special magical underpants. In short, while it is weird to have positive feelings toward a comic book that so quickly and willingly throws away its own identity in favor of a popular movie depiction, the fact is that the old Ultimate Iron Man sucked hard, and Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man was fucking awesome.
So what we got here is one damn strange book. One that feels like a cynical tack toward the widely popular while disgarding its own history… except its own history was mostly the sucky wankings of a controversial writer (not of comics) with some kind of spastic agenda who wrote the character as a snotty naked blue kid who sometimes liked to pretend he was a robot… which is arguably a bad story choice for a character written as having a brain situated in a way where getting a giant-robot-fetish-related atomic wedgie would give him a partial lobotomy.
All of which is a long way to go to describe what’s going on in a comic book stuck between a rock star and a polygamist’s place… but the overriding question is: despite what it is, is it any good?
Here, we flip back and forth between a couple of years in the life of Tony Stark. A few years ago, he was a rebel trying to start a tech company with a fellow female genius, before his father lowered the boom and demanded he come back to the nest to take over the family business. Between then and now, his former entrepreneurial partner, seemingly tired of repairing fiberoptic routers in Daisy Duke shorts, is apparently killed in a plane crash, leaving Tony to wallow in billionaire CEO playboydom, alternating between banging redheads and stopping crimes as Iron Man. And on one of those armored jaunts, Tony comes across a fellow calling himself Mandarin, who has gained remote access to Tony’s armor, or at least the explody parts…
So let’s start with the derivative parts: this comic book wants to give readers Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, only with some additional backstory and pathos around his relationship with his father by making him still alive, at least during part of it. We get a Jarvis for Tony to talk to and be chided by while in the armor, only this one is a blonde linebacker who talks to Stark via radio. We get armor put on Tony while he walks by servos, just like in the Avengers movie, and we even see him in the heads-up display that became popular in the first Iron Man movie. Plus, writer Nathan Edmonson has Stark crack wise while in action, playboy it up in his personal life, and generally makes this version of Iron Man pretty familiar to anyone who contributed to the roughly billion dollars Avengers made at the box office.
So the overall effect is kinda strange. On one hand, these changes make Stark an engaging and likeable character… but they do it by pushing him into a template that they know Goddamned well is gonna work. And while adding some specific prickly encounters between Stark and his douchebag father might add a little depth to the idea of a character who is somehow simultaneously a rebellious, self-involved prick and a powerful leader of a multinational corporation, you have to balance those positives with things like giving Stark an assistant named Jarvis just so he can talk to Jarvis in the suit like he does in the movie makes a lot of this feel forced. There’s nothing innately wrong with making the Ultimate Tony Stark more like the movie version, or even the 616 version, but the way Edmonson does it here leaves a lot of the gears and levers exposed.
Now, with that said, it’s not like the Ultimate version of Tony Stark couldn’t have used an overhaul. Introduced as an old-school drunkard living each day like it was his last thanks to a brain tumor in The Ultimates by Mark Millar in the early 2000s, Orson Scott Card added a ton of sci-fi elements to the character that, well, didn’t really do anything for the character. There’s nothing wrong with making a character who’s colored blue with a brain in his ass and thinks that he can pass his armor off as some kind of sentient robot to fool the bad guys, but that sure as hell isn’t Tony Stark. And the whole backstory was so well-regarded that, well, everyone has pretty much ignored the hell out of the whole thing. So Stark’s backstory can be pretty much be considered a blank slate, and things could be worse than to fill it in with a familiar version of the character… I just wish that the decision hadn’t been so clearly made to make Stark like his movie counterpart quickly, by any means necessary.
Matteo Buffagni’s art is good enough for the story; he works in an extremely fine line, with interesting facial expressions. Everyone seems to have small and narrow eyes, and for a change, an artist uses excessive facial detail lines to actually show the passage of time and age as opposed to apparently being paid by the pen scratch. His layouts are easy to follow, and he manages to sneak in some iconic poses without resorting to giant splash pages to slow down the pacing to a crawl. All in all, it’s a pretty good look, but it’s nothing groundbreaking. It looks good enough, but it didn’t really set my world on fire.
Ultimate Comics Iron Man #1 isn’t a bad comic book, but it wears its influences on its sleeve. It clearly is trying to move the Ultimate version of Iron Man to be more the the Marvel Studios movie version of the character, but it’s doing it by forcing certain elements into the character – the whole, “Jarvis is a dude so Tony can talk to Jarvis in his helmet” thing really stuck out to me and felt like pandering to me – in ways that feel forced. Still and all, it beats the living shit out of seeing a naked blue kid wandering around, so it’s potentially a move in the right direction… but it’s gonna take another issue or two for me to decide if it’s a tactical move to make the character more in-line with his 616 counterpart, or a cynical move toward the movies to grab my money.