Review: Invincible Iron Man: The Five Nightmares collected hardcover (Marvel Comics)

Monday, January 05, 2009

[This review comes from Collected Editions guest-blogger Doug Glassman:]

It’s sometimes tricky for a comic book company to coordinate its comics with its movies so that the latter can drive business for the former. Marvel found this out after viewers of the first X-Men film found that the X-Men comics of the time were rather impossible to crack into for newcomers (though this eventually led to Grant Morrison’s New X-Men). Spider-Man was given organic web shooters in a pretty terrible story in order to sync up with the films. As a big Iron Man fan, I personally wondered what Marvel would do to cash in on the film, which presents a rather accurate picture of Iron Man . . . at least, as he was until Civil War. Would readers really get into Iron Man, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.?

Marvel found a rather brilliant solution in their second Iron Man title, Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca’s The Invincible Iron Man, the first seven issues of which have been collected into The Five Nightmares. On one level, it appears to be a deliberate movie tie-in. The villain bears the last name of Stane, Pepper Potts looks quite a bit like Gwyneth Paltrow, arc reactor technology comes into play and the banter between Iron Man and War Machine wouldn’t sound odd coming from Robert Downey Jr. and Terrence Howard. On the other hand, this is clearly set in the current Marvel universe; Tony is the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and we see Rhodey only as War Machine. Because the movie was so good and incredibly true to the character, the comic book and film elements mesh nicely.

The Stane in question is Ezekiel Stane, son of Obadiah, a homicidal sociopath who can barely be considered human after all the changes he’s made to his body. His plans hinge around suicide bombs based off of Stark technology. If this sounds a little bit like the classic “Armor Wars” story, you wouldn’t be far off—Tony brings up that adventure and a hologram of the various people he believes to be using his technology includes Stingray, Firepower, the Raiders, Mach IV (who was the Beetle back then) and the Mandroids. Matt Fraction adds a more complex riff onto the old “Armor Wars” concept, with Tony fearing that he is becoming outdated and that his technology is once again becoming more common. Considering that Tony lost much of his human touch with the addition of his Extremis armor, this is a good way to go back to some of the old Iron Man drama.

An epilogue issue featuring Spider-Man compounds this feeling of “bridging the gaps” between movie, pre-Civil War and post-Civil War Iron Man. Spidey helps Shellhead take down a black market technology network. Iron Man continually tries to get Spider-Man to leave, citing the SHRA, but as Spider-Man points out, he’ll just keep showing up anyway. Tony’s rather weak protestations and Spidey’s remembrances of the days when heroes could just team up remind me of better times in the Marvel universe. Appearances from old-school foes such as Big Wheel and the Terrible Tinkerer compound this. An earlier cameo by Thor compounds Tony’s problems with his fellow heroes. I have no problem with new villains and developments—Ezekiel Stane especially is a wonderfully-done character—but I’ve found myself disagreeing with most of the changes wrought by Civil War. Invincible Iron Man seems to strike at all of my problems and ease me back into the Marvel characters.

Salvador Larocca's art is wonderful, drawing on elements of Adi Granov and Bob Layton simultaneously while keeping its own flavor. His Iron Man has intriguing eye holes with a small vertical slit that make him look like he is crying in close-ups. As mentioned before, his Pepper looks like the movie version, but his Tony is closer to Granov and Layton with just a bit of Downey Jr. mixed in. Stane looks maddeningly familiar, but I can't tell if he's been based on an actor. His characters are "on-model," his faces are expressive and his action scenes are clearly laid out. It's very solid artwork for a very solid story. I especially like the new Evangelion-inspired Raiders. Unfortunately, the hardcover has almost nothing in the way of extras—just a gallery of variant covers. I would have liked some design notes or at least an introduction.

Whether you’re an old Iron Fan disenchanted by recent events, or a new fan brought in by the best comic book movie that isn’t The Dark Knight, I would highly suggest giving The Five Nightmares a read. The Tony who stars in this book is simultaneously the one from the “Demon in a Bottle” and “Armor Wars” glory days and the one portrayed so well by Robert Downey Jr. in the film. You may want to wait for the trade paperback edition, but check it out all the same.

[Contains covers and variant cover gallery. $24.99.]
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