Monday, October 12, 2015

Vulnerable Invincibility: Invincible Iron Man #1

The following is my review of Invincible Iron Man #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Contrary to the belief of every hippie, communist, and Bernie Sanders supporter, the ultra-rich of the world have a vested interest in not destroying it. What's the point of having all that wealth and power if there's not an intact world in which to flaunt it? But unlike riots and petitions, the ultra-rich actually have the resources with which to save the world. They don't need superpowers. Sometimes, having the real-life equivalent to the infinite money cheat in Skyrim is just as good.

Tony Stark is the embodiment of this concept. He's unambiguous in his desire to save the world. He doesn't hide behind a mask like Bruce Wayne or Spider-Man. He makes saving the world part of his brand and from a pure business perspective, it's brilliant. What customer wouldn't respond to a brand that both claims to save the world and actually does more than fund Al Gore documentaries? Even if Tony Stark is an arrogant jerk, he's still an arrogant jerk who's trying to save the world.

It's the arrogant jerk part, however, that often undermines his goal and his competence. That's what makes Tony Stark such a compelling character. He's arrogant enough to flaunt his money and hook up with every stripper in Las Vegas, but he's also driven enough to use his resources to protect a world in ways that nobody else can. That imbalance has driven his story for decades and Robert Downey Jr. helped turn it into a billion-dollar boon for Marvel and Disney. Invincible Iron Man #1 probably won't make quite as much money without Robert Downey Jr. being involved, but it does offer a version of Tony Stark that's fit for any Joss Whedon movie.

Even before the events of Secret Wars, Tony was in an usual place. He found out that he is not the biological son of Howard and Maria Stark. He also pushed away his long-time assistant and friend, Pepper Potts, in a way that wasn't nearly as kind as Gweneth Paltrow's conscious decoupling. He's basically raw, like pro-bowl football player who just got cut because he screwed up off the field one too many times.

But he still has plenty of talent and potential to offer. He just needs to convince others he's still got it while not letting his arrogance get the better of him. And for a man who makes cute redheaded holographic assistants, that's a challenge.

For most of the story that plays out in Invincible Iron Man #1, Tony Stark is not in his armor. And having just created another new set, it's quite a feat for him to not take out for a test drive while the metal is still warm. Instead, he spends a good amount of time chatting with Dr. Amara Perera, a fairly run-of-the-mill beautiful female genius who sounds like a knock-off of half the female characters on CSI. While she does little to set herself apart, her conversation with Stark is pretty revealing.

It's this conversation that reveals some of Tony Stark's deeper insecurities. They talk about inventions that they dare not reveal because of the damage they would do. Unlike the inventor of the ski-mask, they know the dangers of being a genius. They can create things that a world full of non-geniuses world might not be ready for. And being able to surmise which invention won't do more harm than good takes a genius that Tony Stark simply does not possess.

Between Extremis 3.0 and the big gun that he used to fight the Phoenix Force, Tony has shown an uncanny inability to make this determination. It's his greatest vulnerability in that his genius tends to create as many problems as it solves. Creating a suit of armor that can save lives and punch Dr. Doom in the jaw is all well and good. But creating a giant gun to fight a cosmic force? That demonstrates that Tony Stark's genius has more than its share of flaws and as smart as he is, he tends to learn from it at a 4th grade level at best.

This vulnerability with Dr. Perera makes for some nice insight into Tony Stark, even if it fails to seduce her into his bed. It helps set a compelling tone for the kind of Tony Stark this series will be dealing with, namely one who can't seduce beautiful women as easily as flashing a charming smile and a wad of bills. But as compelling as this Tony Stark is, the conflicts surrounding him are less thrilling.

While Tony is enjoying his date, another sub-plot is unfolding with Madam Masque. It's as generic a sub-plot as can happen in the Marvel Universe. A well-known villain steals something valuable from a well-known location. In this case, it's Madam Masque and the well-known location is Latveria, the one-stop shop for every generic high-stakes theft. There's not much about this sub-plot to get excited about, but it is an excuse for Tony to test out his new armor so it more than serves its purpose.

Beyond that purpose, there isn't much progression with the story. Tony doesn't even get to shoot anything in his new armor, which for him is like driving a Ferrari under the speed limit on the highway. There's an effort at a shocking ending, but it feels forced. Without having much reason to care about Madam Masque or what she's doing, the only thing this conflict accomplishes is robbing Tony of a chance to score with another beautiful woman.

Even if Tony Stark does strike out in this issue, Invincible Iron Man #1 sets an intriguing tone for his character. His inherent vulnerabilities, coupled with his current situation, put him in a position where being a genius just isn't enough. No amount of genius will build around the revelations surrounding his parents or the extent to which he's alienated his friends. He's still arrogant, but he's trying to avoid instances where his genius does more harm than good. Compared to the man who invented ski-masks, he's still got a long ways to go.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

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