Friday, 20 May 2011

Iron Man "Not-Quite-As-Extreme-As-I-Hoped" Extremis..

The title of this blog is by no means any disrespect to Mr Ellis and Mr Granov however it does accurately reflect the feeling of disappointment I had when I flicked over to the last page. Ultimately...I wanted more.

I know a lot of you Marvel fanboys (and gals) are going to rush to it's defence and scream abuse at me - before you do, let me explain. I mentioned a few blog posts ago that my impression of Marvel is a bit askew these days. I mean, I've only really read a few X-Men titles, used to love watching the Incredible Hulk TV series and other than that I kind of assumed Marvel was for pre-pubescent teens and immature readers. Well, SHAME ON ME...because I was expecting Tony Stark; the womanising, wise cracking, recovering alcoholic billionaire tycoon that I know from the films. Also, I've always been more of a DC/Vertigo girl. Either way, here's my review:

Warren Ellis and Adi Granov's Iron Man Extremis #1-6 was rather surprising.

Extremis was altogether darker than I had expected, an updated origin and reboot seemed like a good place to start however I felt a little thrown into the deep end. The story was easy to follow, well written and flowed perfectly yet it had a seriousness to it that I couldn't shake. I almost yearned for that trait that I'd come to associate negatively with Marvel; immaturity. I found myself wanting funny dialogue and witty one liners. I wanted to see Tony Stark woo the ladies and become that billionaire playboy I thought he was. I had expected and was ready for all of that. So, it shocked me when what I got was an in depth analysis of Stark's psyche, a dark, gritty storyline and an origin of stark realism (seriously, that pun was NOT intended!).

The art was beautiful too. The design of Iron Man's armour is dynamic and reflects Ellis's version of Stark so well. It's a great pairing. I met Adi Granov briefly at Kapow this year and I wish I'd have read Extremis beforehand so that I could have commended him because it's stunning. Every panel is well orchestrated and the fight scenes between Stark and Mallen - well, they were something - the pace was absolutely right. Each page was wonderfully illustrated and incredibly detailed in the foreground as well as the background - basically Granov did a phenomenal job working with Ellis. The action was well written and there was no doubt in my mind that Ellis wanted to take Tony Stark, pick him apart and concentrate on his inner struggle with two very different parts of himself. Ellis also upgraded Iron Man's origin and personality, as well as the suit and his powers. It was from Extremis that Stark was able to upgrade his brain, thus being able to automate it like a computer. Revolutionary, innovative and futuristic...much like the man Tony Stark yearns to be in this arc.

This dichotomy between Tony Stark the man and Tony Stark as Iron Man was well executed. There were two panels in particular that illustrated this perfectly, both of which stuck in my mind - I guess that counts as being poignant, right? Marvel, I'm impressed.

The first of these panels was in #1 - Stark is going through his daily morning routine, he looks in the mirror.

He stares at himself and remarks "I hate it when you look at me like that".

It humanises him, stopping to consider Stark in this way really struck a chord with me. Ellis has taken Iron Man and updated not only his origin but his personality. He has given Stark's character and nature more depth and a certain realism that Granov has captured so well. The self-hatred manifests itself in this story arc and becomes a catalyst, driving Stark to become better.

The second panel that stuck in my memory, which is essentially an extension of the first is pre-fight with Mallen, Stark has just told the Avengers that "Iron Man is available for intercept and engagement" after doing so, he is looking at his reflection and says "Oh, now you can look at me?"

The very last panel brings these two panels together. After defeating Mallen and discovering Maya played a part in the "loss" of her Extremis serum he tells her that he's trying to be better than she is "...And I'm going to be able to look at myself in the mirror tomorrow morning".

The sense of pride and integrity that Stark feels is perfectly portrayed in this single panel. It certainly sets him up as the right person to take over as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. in Civil War. Which is actually another Marvel story arc I've read - seems I'm not quite the newbie to Marvel as I thought after all.

These two panels are the bread of this story and it's an extremely tasty sandwich indeed. The "mirror" panels, reflect (hehe, get it?) what being a super hero is to someone who is essentially human. Tony Stark, the man, is flawed and despite only wanting to do good, he is constantly labelled as an arms dealer. It's only when he's Iron Man he can change the world and be more than that label.

The interview between Stark and journalist John Pillinger is also rather interesting and gets right to the issue. It is clear that Stark wants to move conversation away from arms dealing and talk about the future, how he wants to change the world. I felt the tension and anger between the pair reflects Stark's struggle. As Tony Stark he represents the past. As Iron Man he's the future.

At the end of the interview Stark asks Pillinger in an angry underhanded way "Have you changed anything?". It's a great moment and I found myself saying "YES!" under my breath and revelling in that small victory with Stark. It's that trademark Warren Ellis character depth and exploration that engrosses me and is why I love his writing so much.

I suppose, my only criticism is that I felt Extremis was missing "something". What that something quite is, I'm still not sure. Maybe the fact that Ellis chose to focus on building on Stark's existing character changed his essence somehow? Giving him a moral compass is a great device for character development but perhaps it's not what Stark is about? Iron Man is about a billionaire with expensive toys and weapons that make him a superhero and he's also a bit of a dick who can't control himself with women or booze. Maybe that's why Matt Fraction went on to bring back traits of the old Tony Stark in The Invincible Iron Man. I look forward to reading Fraction's Iron Man run next. Yet, for a character with as many fans as Iron Man to get a reboot and for all those fans to hail it as one of the best arcs of a series...well, Ellis and Granov did an awesome job. I love this indepth analysis into Stark's personality and like where the arc has taken the series. I look forward to reading more Iron Man.

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