Wednesday, January 6, 2016

My Friend, My Enemy!

The conclusion to Part One of the story which saw the debut of the Guardsman probably left you a little stoked, eh? A tense standoff involving the police, Iron Man, and an angry group of demonstrators, with the police finally being provoked into taking action, with casualties likely? When we open the next issue, we're all expecting a bloodbath waiting to happen--or at least Simon Gilbert, Stark Industries' ruthless Chairman of the Board, yelling the equivalent of "Get off my lawn!" from the offices above, right?

Imagine our surprise when we discover that, somewhere between Parts One and Two, everybody has left the scene. The demonstrators have inexplicably dispersed; Gilbert gives us a two-page ranting of the events of the prior issue and wraps it up convinced things will end in his favor regarding his hostile takeover of the company; and writer Gary Friedrich adds a quick behind-the-scenes recap while driving home the point that it's somehow the fault of the Guardsman armor that the mind of Tony Stark's close friend, Kevin O'Brien, has been impaired.

Meanwhile, each of us would be perfectly justified in asking: "Wait! What... Did I blink??"

But almost immediately, Friedrich and artist George Tuska practically bring us right back to where we left off.

With the difference being that this time, the police are absent, and will be for the duration. (That is if you're not counting Mr. Todd of "Plant Security," whose job description doesn't seem to cover "all hell breaking loose" on the premises.)

As for Simon Gilbert, he's very aware that all hell is breaking loose, and arrogantly instructs the Guardsman to deal with the situation--and if any kids die as a result, they're rabble-rousers who deserve what happens to them, as far as he's concerned. Perhaps it's the relief O'Brien feels from the knowledge that he didn't end up murdering those four students he attacked earlier that gives him pause this time, and moves him to reconsider instead of blindly following Gilbert's orders--resulting in O'Brien once again finding his conscience, fiercely loyal to Stark and any who would conspire against him.

(What was it with demonstrators back in the day? Were they all pyromaniacs?)

O'Brien's epiphany was not to last, unfortunately, thanks to Stark arriving with his fiancée, Marianne--an image that serves to remind him of his heartbreak, and, in Stark's case, the sense of betrayal he feels. By the time he's finished saying his piece, he's back in Gilbert's pocket, turning to again pursue and deal with the rioting demonstrators. As for Gilbert, he regains his footing just in time to twist the knife with Stark--though as we'll see, his footing is precarious when it comes to facing either Stark or the Guardsman.

(Let's hope Gilbert rolling around in the furniture wreckage drowned out Stark's exit line.)

The Guardsman is now back in the same crisis situation he faced earlier--attacked by a group of riled-up students, and reaching the misjudged conclusion that the only way to deal with them is through the use of overwhelming force. And once again, it sets up a confrontation between himself and Iron Man--only this time, O'Brien stands his ground, spurred into action when he spots Marianne watching the scene from the vantage point of Gilbert's office, which in O'Brien's mind provides him with the opportunity of proving himself against Stark in her eyes. And he has one advantage in this upcoming slug-fest--the fact that Iron Man will fight a defensive battle against his friend, while the Guardsman, in his current state of mind, will have no such scruples.

(Tony Stark, ladies and gentlemen, once again dispensing that annoying defeatism that only serves to incite the people he's trying to calm. Not exactly the soul of tact, is he?)

Whatever our sympathies may be for O'Brien, he's made it clear through both his actions and his ravings that Iron Man has made the correct assessment of his mental state--that there's no reaching him, and that he must be stopped by whatever means necessary. Strangely, Iron Man never thinks of using his prior tactic of targeting the prearranged flaw in the Guardsman armor that will disable his circuitry and allow him to be captured; but when the Guardsman commandeers a top-secret advanced tank to use as a weapon (which won't win him any of the points with Marianne that he was concerned with; on the other hand, O'Brien isn't exactly capable of rational thinking right now), Friedrich adapts the "weak spot" trick for use on the tank this time. Neither instance appears to be the way Tuska had laid out the scene; otherwise, we're being asked to believe that Stark is in the habit of designing flaws into practically every piece of weaponry he builds. As it happens, Tuska and Friedrich at least appear to be on the same page in how they were bringing this story to an end: tragically.

It's a powerful if at times disjointed story that Friedrich contributes in a two-issue-only stint which subsequently sees him moving on to other work--but not before closing the chapter on the character of Kevin O'Brien and establishing the Guardsman for future wearers of the armor. (Though with the shuffle of writers on this title at this point in time, I'd be curious to know who plotted the Guardsman's debut.)

O'Brien's death would prompt Iron Man to take a step back and reflect on the worth of his existence, with Gilbert and even Marianne piling on to compel him to pack it in. As for Gilbert, he's revealed to be the father of the villain known as Firebrand (the demonstrator of all demonstrators, in a nice touch of karma for Gilbert), and his obsession with taking revenge on Stark would lead to his death; while Marianne's future would see her eventually break from Stark, only to return to kill him. Now what did I mention about the importance of those two dating before they leaped right into an engagement?

Invincible Iron Man #46

Script: Gary Friedrich
Pencils: George Tuska
Inks: John Verpoorten
Letterer: Sam Rosen

No comments: