It’s pretty standard practice at Marvel Comics for a big name writer on a big name book to write a companion series. Ed Brubaker wrote Captain America and Winter Soldier, Matt Fraction wrote Fantastic Four and FF, and Jonathan Hickman wrote Avengers and New Avengers to name a few. Way back in October, Brian Michael Bendis launched his run on Invincible Iron Man with artist David Marquez and five months later saw the launch of International Iron Man with Alex Maleev.
Despite being a pretty big Marquez fan, I passed on picking up the first issue of Invincible Iron Man in October but leaped at International Iron Man due to what I thought was its premise of being a super-spy book. That’s not what I got when I read the first issue but I liked it anway. It was, more or less, about a younger Tony Stark dating. I like dating. The goodwill generated by that comic carried over into me recently picking up the super affordable Timely Comics edition of Invincible Iron Man (containing issues one through three of the series) at a local shop. To my surprise, the first issue was also about dating. I practically backflipped over the moon.
Tony Stark goes on his first date with fellow scientist Amara Perera in Invincible Iron Man and begins a relationship with Cassandra Gillespie 20 years earlier in International Iron Man. Marquez draws a book firmly set in the present tense with Justin Ponsor’s soft colors recalling reality TV like The Bachelor. There’s practically a soft focus on Tony and Amara as they dine out together. In contrast, Alex Maleev’s heavy inks create shadows that often obscure facial features in some way that gives colorist Paul Mounts the room to implement more subjective coloring choices that reflects characters’ feelings more than reality. Tony and Cassandra are cast in yellow when excitement breaks out, separating them from a background of grays, blues, and blacks. Visually, the reader knows how the characters feel about each other based on the coloring whereas readers of Invincible are more likely to ascertain that from the facial expressions Marquez drafts.
Maleev and Marquez are different sorts of artists which isn’t to say that this difference in their books amounts to one being “better” than the other. Marquez’s role in much of Invincible is that of an actor hired to believably depict characters on the page. He has other duties of course but this is the most important in this instance as the date between Tony and Amara takes up a large section of the issue’s real estate. Ponsor’s colors are given the task of reinforcing the reality that Marquez is simulating. The team of Maleev and Mounts, however, are first and foremost performing the role of joint directors of photography (DOPs) with their focus on framing and lighting to create their tone and tell their story. This is the effect of these two books being written very differently.
Bendis places Invincible Iron Man in the present tense and International predominately in the past tense. With the focus being on immediacy in the present day, Tony’s date with Amara occurs over a relatively short period of time with readers acting as observers. Objective reality is being depicted. The flashbacks that take up most of International Iron Man are framed as Tony’s subjective memories as he looks up at the face of a woman who meant the world to him 20 years previously. Their time together in the issue isn’t relegated to one moment in space and time. They start in a club, they meet at their university the next day, and eventually go to dinner with her family some time after that. Bendis can’t afford to let readers get to know Cassandra at the same leisurely pace as Amara because they need a firm idea of what she means to Tony so that a last page reveal can carry some weight. That forces an economy of storytelling in which color is used more boldly to create an effective yet still subtle shorthand.
While it’s implausible that these two creative teams would have perfectly replicated what the other had done if they had been assigned to the other’s book, it is reasonable to assume that these incredibly talented professionals might have made some of the same choices in their approach. Putting a great team together is what makes a comic. A good script and a good artist don’t make a good comic if they’re a bad fit for each other. And whether or not you think Invincible Iron Man #1 and International Iron Man #1 are good or bad, they both feature a team assembled for a specific function with a writer playing towards them.