Thursday, March 10, 2016

Stark's Solution

After the events of Onslaught, several of Marvel's titles were relaunched with a fresh look, new creative teams, and new directions under the "Heroes Return" banner. I don't recall being as impressed with Iron Man's time in that alternate universe that he was transported to, as much as I was with his reappearance under new editorial reins--because as fresh starts go, 1998's Invincible Iron Man #1 showed a lot of promise, and deserves another look.

A lot of hands went into this reboot; in fact, great care seemed to be taken with all of Marvel's '98 reboots, as if to demonstrate that Marvel had turned a corner and was ready to return to their characters the quality and stability which had been absent for too long. Perhaps full stability had yet to occur initially, with colorist and lettering duties for several books being contracted out to Liquid Graphics and Comicraft, respectively; but the new launches were highly anticipated and well executed, and Iron Man's opening pages were likely received with the same jubiliation as the character himself, soaring over New York City to the cheers of ecstatic crowds.

Having been missing and presumed dead for several months, Tony Stark has a lot of his life to put back in order. Probate court has granted him the return of the bulk of his estate, including his personal fortune and investment portfolio; but his company, Stark Enterprises, is now merged with and owned by Fujikawa, Inc., and Stark will have to challenge the legality of the sale in court in order to regain the company that he built from the ground up. Most legal analysts believe that Stark has a good chance of winning. But the question he's been asking himself is: Is that what he wants?

It's a question that Stark wrestles with as he goes through the motions of re-establishing ties with his friends and business contacts--as well as when he reviews a project of the Maria Stark Foundation, a long-standing charitable organization which funds philanthropic and other worthwhile causes (including the mighty Avengers) and which has certainly come in handy following the destruction caused by Onslaught.

It's interesting to speculate how many other super-powered beings or organizations (aside from Damage Control) ever step in with assistance, financial or otherwise, to the extent that Stark does whenever massive damage results from a crisis involving super-beings. Stark isn't on the hook for making reparations here; if anyone fits that bill (so to speak), it would be Charles Xavier. It's to Stark's credit that he offers such assistance here, especially considering that he no longer has a company to bolster his finances.

There are two crises in the story that allow us to see the new Iron Man in action. (Take a look at the splash page for info on who assisted artist Sean Chen with the design. Who do I see about that %@$#! redesigned chest module that practically screams, "Target me! Target me! Massive circuitry hub here!"?) The first involves rushing to the aid of an old prep school friend of Tony Stark, who's been taken hostage by armed men laying siege to the financial trading company he heads. Iron Man is successful in capturing the lot of them--but unfortunately, Stark's friend had already been killed before his arrival.

This issue also offers a little bit of history, as it presents the first appearance of the 67-story Stark Tower--recently purchased and renamed by Stark upon his return, and the site of a lavish rechristening/"resurrection" party attended by 570 of the cream of New York City's luminaries. (I know what you're thinking--our invites must have slipped through the cracks.)

The event serves to underscore Stark's decision on whether or not to attempt to re-take his company, with many guests broaching the subject and offering their advice and/or their resources. Yet Stark is still reluctant to pick things up where he left off, a quandary which fits very well into the new course this book is beginning to chart and adds some welcome depth to Tony Stark, an often fascinating character who over the years has come to feel an obligation to apply his talents to helping his fellow man rather than exist with a focused obsession on business. On that note, it's important that we understand what point writer Kurt Busiek is making here with Stark's reticence; after all, Stark had already long since shifted his company to a direction centered on R&D, so you'd think it would be a no-brainer for him to want to reclaim his company in order to have the resources and personnel he'd need to continue the work that has both changed and satisfied him, and benefited mankind in the process.

As he reflects further, we're also treated to a revised origin that represents the first effort that I'm aware of to reshape Iron Man's beginnings and informally break from their ties to the Vietnam war (a revision tapped into by writer Warren Ellis in 2005 and later set in stone in the 2010 Origins of Marvel Comics title).

Stark then drops by the construction site of the community center once more, this time slowly walking through it rather than observing it from a flyover. And as he runs his hand over the wood and steel and rivets, he appears to make his decision--that he needs to not only feel a more personal connection with the people he's trying to help, but also not to waste precious time by wading into a protracted legal battle when he could instead be putting his abilities to better use. It's a commendable approach by Busiek, but a seeming oversight of Stark's ability to multitask; after all, it would be his lawyers who would be in the trenches on the Fujikawa matter, leaving Stark to continue to explore the kind of new direction he's found to be so rewarding while weighing in on the Fujikawa situation as needed.

Let's hope he's around to do one or the other, since a hit squad appears that's under orders to make sure Stark doesn't leave the site alive.

Stark thinks fast and causes a distraction that allows him to bolt and change to his armor, leading to the second display we're given of the new Iron Man armor in action. In the "Death Squad," Iron Man faces a well-trained, military-style combat task force whose efficiency, teamwork and weaponry give him a run for his money, which can only make Iron Man wonder who hired them, and why they consider Stark a threat.

Iron Man makes enough headway in the fight to whittle down their forces and force their leader, "Firefight," to order his team's withdrawal, their "evac" as well-executed as their other maneuvers. Iron Man, all things considered, is none the worse for wear--but there has nevertheless been one casualty in this battle, one that fully sinks in for him as he later makes repairs on his armor.

And so a press conference is called at Stark Tower the next day. Most attendees presume the subject will have to do with Stark's decision regarding Fujikawa, and they're right, at least in part. But Stark has another, more savvy use for all the press coverage--a new business venture that will directly benefit the Maria Stark Foundation.

In essence, Stark gets to have his cake and eat it, too--applying his talents on a more personal basis, while making sure the MSF is sufficiently funded to continue its charitable and renewal work. It bears noting that both things might have also been possible with Stark Enterprises in the picture, perhaps with a hand-picked C.E.O. at the helm while Stark shifted his attention to Stark Solutions. Obviously Stark isn't willing to wait until the S.E./Fujukawa situation is resolved, though, again, the legwork and heavy lifting there would be done by the lawyers.

Whether Stark's life will change to any great degree as far as his list of enemies or business rivals remains to be seen, though he's no longer in competition for contracts with other companies. The question is: What has changed for Iron Man? We've just seen vivid evidence that whatever work Stark hopes to accomplish in this new venture is in no less danger than when he was running Stark Enterprises, and S.E.'s past is replete with instances where Stark's enemies struck out at similar projects that Stark had in development and which Iron Man pitched in on. Stark's closing presentation hopes to address Iron Man's continued presence and responsibility, in no uncertain terms.

Afterward, to no one's surprise, the press goes wild, and Stark fields a full complement of questions. In his thoughts, we see that even Stark realizes that his shift in direction might not ward off the kinds of crises and battles he hopes to minimize, panels of narrative that likely reinforce the mild skepticism with which the reader might be regarding this direction the book is taking--seeming as it does to be business as usual, but with a twist. As if to punctuate those thoughts, the final pages of the issue present a number of foes, business and otherwise, who already seem to be planning to either turn this development to their benefit, or attack outright. Regardless, it would be hard to deny a favorable impression of this relaunch, leaving little doubt that this volume of Invincible Iron Man is off and running.

Invincible Iron Man #1

Script: Kurt Busiek
Pencils: Sean Chen
Inks: Eric Cannon
Letterer: Richard Starkings/Comicraft/Dave Lanphear


B Smith said...

"The cool exec with the heart of steel' - an amusing tip of the hat to those extremely-limited animation cartoons produced by Grantray-Lawrence back in the sixties :-)

George Chambers said...

I had high hopes for this incarnation of Iron Man, after the Teen Tony debacle and Heroes Reborn were swept under the carpet, and Busiek... partly delivered, I felt. Tony becoming a super consultant was a novel idea which could have generated tons of plot threads, but the overarching plot was 'Gosh, who's this mysterious person who wants to get me?' and it fell a little flat after a while. I understand that Busiek had Astro City and was also suffering from health issues, so that might explain why he didn't do as well with Iron Man as he did with Avengers. Chen and Cannon made the new armor look gorgeous, if slightly impractical; in addition to the fragile-looking chest module you mentioned, Comicsfan, there was also the faceplate horns which seemed to beg a super-strong opponent to grab them and rip Tony's mask off. I did like seeing a bearded Tony though.

Comicsfan said...

And for those of you curious about B's bit of trivia, I couldn't be happier to present the source! (Thanks, B!)

Interesting bit of trivia about Busiek's heavy workload, as well, George. As for that face plate, you make a good point about those horns, as nicely nostalgic as they are; part of me was looking for the mask to swivel upward like his similar face plate of old, but there seems to be no direct connection to his ear pieces. Instead, it seems to just detach--just as well, perhaps, since otherwise he might have had trouble sealing it off in cases where he was deprived of oxygen.

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