Tony Stark. Visionary. Genius. American patriot. With all the brainpower and technology of the Marvel Universe at his disposal — not to mention super-smart writer Kieron Gillen having his back — you'd argue that the Armored Avenger should have a bright future ahead of him.
Yet if that's the case... why does this comic feel like it's six years behind the curve?
Borrowing heavily from Warren Ellis's seminal "Extremis" storyline, Kieron Gillen and Greg Land's first issue of Iron Man doesn't have much in the way of flaws — it just doesn't commit to a solid theme or direction, either. Gillen introduces us to his chatty, devil-may-care protagonist in a way that certainly matches the Marvel movies (albeit without some of the snarky bite that Robert Downey Jr. would bring to his every line), and then brings us back to a tried-and-true trope of the Iron Man mythos, one that you could argue we've already seen too many times before: a deadly killing machine is back on the open market, and it's Tony's job to put the genie back into the bottle.
Pacing-wise, the story works just fine, with the prerequisite amount of introduction to Tony's life as well as superhero fisticuffs — that said, there's an awful lot of telling rather than showing in this book, and if the ideas were a little bit more eye-popping than "putty armor" or "subdermal tasers," I'd probably be cheering. Yet Gillen gets credit for barreling ahead at a breezy pace, never slowing us down with bland exposition. The problem is, while Tony asks himself some questions about the vague "fundamentals" of the world, Gillen never really sets up a firm statement with this book. It's not about the evolution and internalization of technology, like Warren Ellis, or the lengths Tony will go to keep his technology from falling into the wrong hands, like previous writer Matt Fraction. It's very Point A to Point B at the moment, and while the journey is refreshingly straightforward, I can't help but want more.
The artwork, meanwhile, has its ups and downs. Greg Land excels when it comes to Iron Man himself — his oft-criticized tendency to use photo reference actually works well when making the armor seem consistent and actually an external suit, rather than an absolute analogue of the human body. He also knows how to compose a shot with some real drama — watching an AIM soldier standing menacingly in flames is probably the most bad-ass I've seen those supervillain beekeepers in, well, ever. That said, in the "real world" the highs do come crashing down, in particular with a not-so-ditsy blonde whose cutesy expressions I've definitely seen in at least one Land book in the past. The colorwork also left me a bit flummoxed — Guru eFx is on the prowl here, but the colors come off as way too bright, almost garish for Land's ultra-realistic art.
Kieron Gillen is in a precarious position at the moment, leading one of Marvel's marquee characters after a billion-dollar movie and the departure of one of the House of Ideas' most popular writers from the book. To his credit, there are no flaws in Iron Man's armor, no gaping missteps in character or dialogue that would make me turn away from this book. That said, the main hook I've heard about this book — the Q-style gadgets for any situation — don't really appear here, and even if they did, wouldn't be enough to carry the book as it is. What is Tony Stark's future? Where does the road lead for this visionary, this billionaire genius playboy philanthropist? I hope Gillen tells us soon, because all the toys in the world won't come close to matching what I know lies in Iron Man's repulsor-powered heart.