Invincible Iron Man #12
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Mike Deodato and Frank Martin
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10
Kicking off not one, but technically two new spin-offs on the Armored Avenger, Invincible Iron Man #12 seems on its surface like the definition of an "important" book. And in certain moments, it actually is — the moments where Brian Michael Bendis is able to zero in on the innate humanity and enthusiasm behind his various characters match the weight of expectation. Unfortunately, though, these moments are fleeting, surrounded by what I can only describe as filler, as Invincible Iron Man spends page after page jumping between subplots and wasting valuable time with unnecessary banter.
Part of what hobbles this issue so badly is that Bendis tries to incorporate four different stories into one book, and winds up dropping the ball on all but one of them. On the one hand, he takes a perfunctory effort at wrapping up Tony's ongoing story after he faked his own death to fight a techno-ninja threat — it's treated in a similarly blasé manner in the book, as well, squawking chairpersons notwithstanding — which feels like a total nonstarter, with Tony literally "nyah nyah"-ing his board members in what is looking like just the latest dissolution of a Stark-owned company. While the corporate intrigue feels tepid and toothless, Bendis also tries to add in a subplot about Tony's latest love interest... who doesn't actually appear on panel once this issue. Wrap that up with an out-of-left-field scene in the midst of Civil War II (featuring an even more unearned cameo by soon-to-be Infamous Iron Man Victor Von Doom), and you have a mess on your hands.
Yet if there’s one bit where Bendis does succeed, it’s in the subplot featuring the new Iron Man, Riri Williams. Amid all the corporate nonsense and the latest hero-versus-hero faux-drama, Bendis’ take on teen protagonists still rings as true today as it did in the first issues of Ultimate Spider-Man, as Riri’s drive and excitement over her homemade armor are as infectious as they are refreshing. Similar to the parental dynamic Bendis has given Miles Morales over in his series, Riri and her mother bicker over whether or not this 15-year-old should finish college, over her (alleged) theft of M.I.T. materials, and what her future might hold as a budding superhero. When Tony makes a perfunctory appearance to discuss Riri’s extracurricular activities, it can’t help but get a little schmaltzy, but amongst the gloom and doom of the current Marvel Universe, it’s nice to see someone actually enjoy the idea of superheroing.
But the biggest downside to such a cluttered, decompressed comic is that it wastes Mike Deodato’s art so completely. Deodato is an artist who thrives on drama and shadows, of taking unique twists and turns in both his layouts and his anatomies. Unfortunately, that’s not Invincible Iron Man - aside from a double-page spread that feels like a gross and unearned depiction of the World Trade Center after 9/11, this is a comic full of people just standing and talking (and occasionally shouting) at one another. (Even the standing and talking looks pretty unnatural, with one panel of Tony raising his hand that looks almost like something out of Team America: World Police.) Like Bendis, Deodato’s best moments are with Riri Williams, as he portrays her as a wide-eyed idealist, smiling and fawning over her idol when Tony asks to see her new suit. (Unfortunately, all we see is a helmet.)
Given his place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s no denying the importance that Iron Man has in the current comics landscape. He’s right up there as a company icon with Mickey Mouse, Woody and Darth Vader. He’s a complex, fun character with a ton of nuance and even more personal flaws, and that should make him an electrifying character to follow. But books like Invincible Iron Man squander that potential in a way that’s hard to swallow — this is a book that’s just marking time, checking off the (minor) changes to the continuity status quo, and it’s not just a waste of readers’ money, but it’s a waste of at least one valuable creator (if not two) whose voices would be better served on a different project. Invincible Iron Man #12 might be leading Marvel to some interesting places, but it’s certainly a slog getting there.