A friend recently bought the Iron Man Disassembled tpb and I mentioned how I had thought it was one of the worst Iron Man stories in quite awhile. Unfortunately when challenged for specifics I actually couldn’t quite remember why, but I did remember the story leaving a bad taste in my mouth that was only fixed four issues into Warren Ellis rebooting the series not too long afterwards. So I borrowed her copy and figured out what I thought the problems were.
I think I should preface this by saying a few things about what I think about Iron Man. As some people who know me already know, I have a deep and abiding enjoyment of Marvel’s team book, The Avengers. I got hooked with issue #31 of West Coast Avengers (I should really write something someday about that particular issue) and have since managed to assemble (heh) a great majority of a full run of issues of the main Avengers and probably close to 98% of the spin-offs and related titles. But the solo books for a lot of the characters have not really been nearly as interesting to me. I think it mostly has to do with enjoying the interplay between multiple important characters in a story rather than focusing on a primary hero and their entourage. That said I have significant runs of both Captain America and Iron Man and at various times have even been a regular reader of both series but it has always been easy for me to drop the titles when they get stupid. Just to pull out a random example: I have never, ever, ever seen an Iron Man story involving time travel to the middle ages that was not entirely stupid.
So, about the Disassembled storyline. The tpb collects issues 84-89 of Vol 3 which contains two rather distinct stories. The first one “Prologue” is written by John Jackson Miller and the second, “The Singularity”, written by Mark Ricketts.
“Prologue” was published as a, well, prologue to the Avengers Disassembled event and is by far the better of the two stories in the book. It has excellent characterization, a decent plot (for a super hero fight comic), and a decent core idea about conflict of interest that is explored in a very appropriate context, in this case Tony Stark’s dual role as U.S. Secretary of State and member of the Avengers which at the time was a United Nations sponsored organization. The dual role theme is explored further, if lightly, in reference to the Avengers as a United Nations organization on U.S. soil as well as the Avenger’s Mansion originally being a family home for the Stark’s back in the mists of time, and finally circling back to the classic superhero problem of maintaining a dual identity. In this case Tony Stark is public about his identity as Iron Man but still finds the demands on his two very different jobs/persona’s as businessman and hero to be in conflict. The story is handled well in two issues with a well executed split between the talky first half and the more action oriented (though still somewhat talky) resolution in the second half. The art is good, if not exceptional. In particular I really enjoy the use of lots of other characters to flesh out the world. Little conversations with all sorts of people who exist in this over the top world are what make the Marvel Universe alive and compelling to read for me. The snatches of dialog with the protesters, or Jarvis getting help setting the table for formal dinner are what make the Marvel Universe worth reading and John Jackson Miller understands this and does it well. It however not without it’s flaws: Finding a forgotten cold war doomsday machine in the Avengers basement is about as hackneyed as you can get, but handling it as a macguffin to frame the conflict of interest theme works reasonably well.
With “The Singularity” we have an almost diametrically opposite example of a comic. To begin with, I find the jaundiced color scheme to be off-putting at best and just plain ugly. While I’m glad that someone is taking chances with the art in a comic book, it’s so sad that it has to fail so spectacularly. Yes, red and gold are the classic Iron Man colors, we get it already. Now please try not to make one of the pages look like the regurgitated results of last night’s bender. The story is a frightful example of not one, but two of my most hated comic plots: The Ham-Handed RetCon and the Tie Up Loose Ends So We Can Reboot Faux Epic. As far as I can tell, the assignment was handed out with the following instructions:
- Revert all character development that has happened in the past 4 years
- Do not make more than vague references to the events in the other books
- Find a way to incorporate Happy and Pepper back into Tony’s life, but don’t bother thinking about it too much
- Make sure the U.S. Military Iron Man units can not be used anymore
- Clean up any other hanging plot hooks that may be laying around
- Oh yeah, and spread it all across four issues
What results is, unsurprisingly, a dreadful mess. The mild attempts to interject the same kind of local color that was so successful in Prologue comes off as both trite and overdone. The story ends up being one cold and lifeless scene after another especially when any attempt to convey any real emotion is attempted. In the eight panels across two pages near the end of issue 87 where Tony’s latest ex-love interest is killed I felt nothing. This is a character that I have followed for a large portion of my life (as scary as that is) and a major character in his recent story is killed off and I barely even noticed. I, a guy who tears up reliably near the end of even the most mediocre romantic comedy, is unaffected by what is, in theory, a major event. Is it the art, the story, the plot, the characterization, or a combination of any or all of the above that is preventing me from taking this at all seriously? I’m not sure but the rest of it is about the same: big fight, reveal of the villain, miraculous intervention by the entourage, moody aftermath, more moody aftermath, yet more moody aftermath, and still more moody aftermath with a side of faint glimmer of sunlight, finally the big reveal of the real villain for no good reason. After all of which you put the book down and forget all of it in the next five minutes, if you’re lucky. It is dull, bland, emotionless drivel from beginning to interminably late end. No wonder a reboot was needed if this is how they go out with a bang.
When I made the comment that I linked to back at the beginning of this post I had not realized that “Prologue” had been included in the collection and can almost see picking getting this collection just for that story except for people who actually care you can probably source the actual issues for less money and you won’t be left with two thirds of your purchase being essentially unreadable.
Thank goodness there were other stories in the Avengers Disassembled event that were worth reading with Thor Disassembled being my personal favorite and really worth the purchase. It also suffers from a lack of coherence with the rest of the Disassembled stories but it really stands by itself very well.
At the other end of the spectrum there are actually worse things put out in the same event with a really tough call between Spectacular Spider-Man Disassembled and Captain America and The Falcon Disassembled being the worst. Spectacular Spider-Man starts out with a good lead by using a character who is not an Avenger and having absolutely no discernible link not only to any of the other Disassembled stories but also to any of the rest of the earlier, concurrent, or following Spider-Man continuity but is quickly equaled in Cap & Falcon by incredibly bad art, ludicrous plot, and dialog most likely plagiarized from an emo 13 year old’s fanfic project for something like Liberty Meadows or Strangers in Paradise.