Comic Thoughts: Iron Man Disassembled

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.

Never quite Lost it

I finished watching Lost Season 2 on DVD (out from Netflix) last night, or all of the episodes anyway. (I didn’t realize disc 7 was just extras until I watched the last episode on disc 6 last night which was very obviously a cliffhanger.)

I had talked with a friend about it just as the first disc was arriving and she had mentioned that she wasn’t interested in seeing Season 2 because she was apparantly tired of the neverending slow reveal of mysteries paired with just a bit too much posing. I just wanted to know what was in the hatch.

Honestly, I almost agreed with her when I had finished the first of six discs of episodes. Specifically episodes 1-3 where, I think, possibly the most grotesquely painful replaying of the same 10 minutes of footage that I have ever seen on television. Yes, the hatch opening was a big deal for the series but you don’t spend three entire episodes without moving on to something, ANYTHING, else.

The good news? As soon as they got over themselves and got on with the rest of the season things took off very nicely and I really think there was enough balance of interesting new mysteries along with answers for the old mysteries even if not complete, and usually leading to new mysteries. The last episode of Season 2 alone was a great payoff for answering quite a few issues and I was reasonably happy with most, thought not all, of the answers.

Was there still maybe a whole lot of posing? Hell yes, but I think there may have been slightly less than in Season 1. I also had some small issues with the overly melodramatic continuing epic saga of the stunning and dramatic love triangle supreme of all time, space, and eternity that is Sawyer, Kate, and Jack’s story of love, unrequited and not, spurned and returned, and flowing through the, well, you get the idea. It runs on even worse than that last sentence. Possibly the most irritating thing about it though is that I think I might know people just like that.

Maybe I’m just a sucker for neverending plot lines, my 85% complete run of the Avengers comic from Marvel not being another indication, but I thought it was fun and it succeeded just as well as Season 1 at making me nervous to be alone in the dark after the TV had been turned off.

A few weeks of comics all in one shot:

A few weeks of comics all in one shot:

  • Marvel Comics:
    • Avengers 52 (May 2002) & 53 (Jun 2002) – The Kang the Conqueror storyline thunders onward to it’s conclusion in issue 54. In a lot of ways I’m really looking forward to it ending, and in a lot of ways I’m not. A friend of mine was asking about team comic books the other week and I really had to recommend against him picking up the Avengers for several particular reasons. 1) Right now is a really bad time to start since it’s so close to the end of a really long and involved storyline. 2) While it would provide a good introduction to a lot of the characters, there is not a core team right now which is what usually gives the book some sort of… coherency. And not one, two, or three love stories going on right now, but far too many to count really. It’s kind of bizarre. 3) Right now they are playing fast and loose with almost 4 decades of continuity and it’s all kind of piling up into a really big rat’s nest. So, I’ve been avoiding saying whether these are any good to read, and I have to say, I’m not really sure. The payoff had better be good, and having read a lot of Busiek, I don’t think he’s going to disappoint.
    • Captain America Vol 4, No 1 (Jun 2002) – Well, it was readable. I’m going to give it another 3 or 4 issues and see how it does, but as it stands it sounds like someone heard the “Come to Jesus” crap that Rumsfeld has been spewing for the past while and picked it up and ran with it. I don’t think I’ve seen so much jingoistic poo in my life. Ick.
    • Citizen V and the V-Battalion 3 (of 4) (Jun 2002) – I really like this story. I can’t figure out why. Like the rest of the Marvel books, nothing in here seems to have any effect on anything else in the Marvel Universe anymore, but it’s actually pretty good. After I picked up The Authority recently, there are a LOT of parallels that can be drawn. This isn’t quite as good, but it’s still worth reading. Besides that, the end is in sight and FlagSmasher gets a present!
    • Fantastic Four 54 (June 2002) – YAY! The god-damned storyline from hell is finally over! Was there any real resolution? No. Was the story put together well? No. Was the art worth the effort of plowing through such horrible dialog? Not by a long shot. Should you read this book? Maybe next issue, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I’m giving it 1 more issue and if it doesn’t getting any better, I’m closing the box on my Fantastic Four and keeping my good memories and just going to forget the past year. Ick.
    • Iron Man 53 (May 2002) & 54 (June 2002) – Mike Grell is really hitting his stride with old Tinhead. There’s a storyline here that is interesting to read, and reasonably well drawn, even if Tony Stark once again looks like he’s barely 20. (LET THEM AGE, DAMN YOU!!) It’s the beginning of a new Mandarin dynasty, but does this look like there might just be a twist? We shall see. Good.
    • Marvel Knights 2 (Jun 2002) – I like the art pretty well, and the story is fairly interesting. I won’t get too far onto my continuity soap box, because I think you already know what I’m going to say. Definitely worth a read, if for no other reason the interaction between Daredevil and The Punisher, as mediated by the original Black Widow.
    • Taskmaster 3 (of 4) (Jun 2002) – I really like this series. A good anti-hero is just what I’ve been wanting lately, and this is filling that hole in spades. The manga influenced art is a little over the top, but what exactly did I expect? Worth reading.
    • Thunderbolts 63 (June 2002) – Things are coming together again. Hawkeye is finally going to be back in action, and that can only be good.
    • Icons: Tigra 2 (of 4) (June 2002) – I like it. It’s a lot like the Tigra of old, and it works.
  • MAX Comics
    • Black Widow Vol 3, No 1 (June 2002) – It’s a new Russian Widow, and it seems like an interesting story so far. I was a bit annoyed that they didn’t just keep with Natasha, who’s been playing the role just fine for the past 40 years, but this seems to work.
    • Howard the Duck No 4 (June 2002) – It had to happen sooner or later, but one of the better send ups of the Vertigo line of comics happens here, and is worth the read if you happen to read that other line of adult oriented comics.
  • DC Comics
    • The Power Company 3 (June 2002) – Busiek shows off that his pacing is worth the wait. The team is coming together finally, but hasn’t quite gotten there yet. I’m really looking forward to the rest of this series.
  • Dork Storm Press
    • Dork Tower 17 (March/April 2002) – The fun continues, and in good form. John Kovalic is probably the best humor comics writer in the business right now, and it shows.
    • PvP 5 (Mar 2002) – Want to read a really, really, really good Matrix parody? Want to see a cameo by Scott McCloud? You want to read this comic. Really you do.
  • Image Comics
    • Powers 19 – Wow. Wow, Wow, Wow, Wow. The secret origin of FG-3! Another death! Walker on his knees! This is just amazing stuff.
  • Vertigo Comics
    • Transmetropolitan 55 (Jun 2002) – Some better action sequences than I think I’ve seen in this book. Works well, but I really kind of wish there was just a bit more plot to bring the story along.

Quite a haul today from ye’ olde comic shoppe. I’l…

Quite a haul today from ye’ olde comic shoppe. I’ll go in quality from worst to best to get the crap done first:

  • Blade #1 (Marvel Max) – Oh my goodness did this suck really large oblong rancid-dead-anemone-coated rocks. Ewww. The dialog sucked. The plot and pacing was annoying. The art was okay, but reminded me too much of the Men In Black saturday morning cartoon which I always hated the look of. Again, with feeling: Eeeewwwwww. If anybody wants my copy, they can have it, with my thanks. No “just borrowing” it to see how bad it is, I don’t want it back.
  • Fantastic Four #53 (Marvel) – Next issue this storyline will finish up and maybe we can get to something worth caring about. The Invisible Woman is going to do her first miscarriage the second time. Really, that made about as much sense as it is possible to make.
  • Origin #5 (Marvel) – You know, it occurs to me that this is a very pretty story, and has some neat stuff in it for finding out where Wolverine actually comes from, but am I the only one that finds it kind of, well, boring?
  • Taskmaster #2 (Marvel) – It’s a somewhat stilted anti-hero story, and quite enjoyable as such. Just don’t go looking too deep.
  • The Power Company #2 (DC) – The writing is as good as I’ve come to expect with Busiek and the team is developing into something to pay attention to. There are just enough little sub-plots to keep my attention but it’s not quite sucked me in totally yet. I wonder if some of the reasons that I’m not quite into it yet is that either I or Mr Busiek just aren’t quite used to the DC Universe yet.
  • Fused #1 (Image) – Saw a blurb about this a month or so ago and so far I’m glad that I picked it up. As with many things, the pace is just a bit more slow that I would like but I imagine things will pick up a bit next issue. Nice art though. From what I’ve seen of the main character, I’m trying to figure out how the heck he got as far as he did in his career though. Ah well, at least there aren’t any oversized basketba… er, breasts to be seen.
  • Dork Tower #16 (Dork Storm) – Go Kayleigh! Woooo! More than just the usual stuff, it’s one of the better issues of late. Besides, it’s worth it just to see Kayleigh drag Igor the wrong way through his own looking glass. Hehehe.
  • Transmetropolitan #54 (Vertigo) – More good stuff. Big payoff at the end.
  • Iron Man #52 (Marvel) – Some people wonder why I still read superhero comics, and Marvel comics in particular still. This issue (part 2 of a story started last issue) is a pristine example of why I stick with it. Yeah, there’s some crap, but when the gems come through, they really shine. I’m still a bit pissed that Tony Stark looks like an 18 year old again (FOR FUCK’S SAKE HE’S FUCKING 40 YEARS OLD NOW! LET HIM *AGE* DAMMIT!) but the rest of the art was not only good, but appropriate. Highly recommended.