Thursday, September 13, 2012

Just Another Day In The Armor

Marvel 100th Anniversary Issues


The Invincible Iron Man #100

If it weren't for the imposing picture of Iron Man standing in front of a giant, conspicuous "100" on its cover, Iron Man #100 would seem like just another issue to the reader--particularly if you were used to the writing of scripter Bill Mantlo. Mantlo has a very fast-paced style of writing--one scene quickly cuts to the next, which quickly cuts to the next, and so on. He doesn't waste a lot of time getting to the action. When you're talking about a centennial issue, that can be an asset--though if you're writing over the course of several stories, it can be too much of a good thing.

A typical Mantlo script would go something like this:
"He's trapped me in a block of ice! But if I can reach my thermo-induction knob--there! I'm free! Have to strike quickly, before he has a chance to react! His armored death squad--coming up fast! Armor's at 70% power--don't have much time to free Pepper and stop that missile!"
Imagine a simple board meeting at Stark Industries having the same kind of rapid-fire pacing, and you have a good idea of Mantlo's style. That's not to say he's not a good scripter. Mantlo doesn't forget his characters and how they're made up; his dialogue is full of all sorts of little touches that assure you he's not just coasting on what the artwork has presented. Mantlo's Iron Man has very much the fighting style and thinking pattern of Tony Stark and what we've come to expect of him when he suits up in the armor. It's just that his scripting is somewhat--aggressive. And even when he eases off, to an extent he doesn't.

So issue #100, where Iron Man confronts the Mandarin in "final battle"--a phrase which I'm surprised wasn't stamped somewhere in this issue--gives Mantlo plenty of room to ply his craft. Iron Man is in a new suit of armor, facing off against his deadliest foe--and events that have been building up over the past few issues have come to a head. I won't mince words here--Iron Man kicks ass in this issue. The Mandarin has his moments, but in this issue he's overwhelmed in force and strategy that Iron Man has never brought to bear in their previous encounters. Nor does the Mandarin get much mileage out of his deadly rings, which usually have Iron Man on the ropes--instead relying on things like trap doors and karate. Eventually, Iron Man neutralizes both the rings and the Mandarin's plan to ignite nuclear war. You couldn't ask for a neater wrap-up--or a more typical Mantlo story.

The real treat here is the work of artist George Tuska, who has drawn the bulk of Iron Man's first 100 issues. And I'm saying that as someone who isn't a fan of his work. In issue #100, his generally "rushed" style is still dominating his panels--but there are rare moments when he'll take a little more time and portray the characters in a more impressive and polished form. Here's a rather typical page of Tuska artwork, taken from this issue:

And here's a beautiful two-page spread where Tuska flexes a little, even ignoring panel bordering at one point:

If you think about it, Tuska's style is an excellent match for Mantlo's aggressive story pacing. You have only to look at Iron Man Annual #4 for the perfect example of that--a cover-to-cover hunt for Modok, with the Champions along for the ride. No wonder Tony Stark had a heart condition, being at the mercy of the relentless pacing of his scripter and artist.

Iron Man #100, then, is another day at the office, in this respect--and merely wraps up a few loose ends that have come to a head. If you'd like to see a much better rendition of what a milestone issue of Iron Man might look like, be sure to pick up Iron Man #47, written by Roy Thomas with art by Barry Smith--a special origin issue, in which the death of his friend Kevin O'Brien is the catalyst for Stark asking himself the question, "Why must there be an Iron Man?" As in issue #100, Iron Man still soars away in victory--but in the earlier issue, the reader ends up feeling more satisfied about why.

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