Writer: Robin Laws
Artists: Michael Ryan (p), Sean Parsons with Rich Perrotta (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with Pepper instructing an FBI agent in the use of a device that will effectively shut Tony's armor down, as Pepper's anger has turned her against Tony, and made her more willing to believe the charges that have been leveled against him. We then look in on Iron Man as he attempts to get some answers from the double agent he kidnapped last issue, and in a rare display of a more brutal side, Tony actually resorts to breaking the man's bones to make him talk. However when the man bursts into flames before he can offer up any useful information we see Tony starts to suspect that the person who framed him is a bit more formidable than he had expected. After a close brush with the FBI agent and his armor killing device, we see Tony leaves a message that puts him in touch with a surprise ally. While it's clear Tony doesn't trust this man, we also see that he's left with very little choice, as Pepper's betrayal has effectively cut him adrift. As the information this man provides steers him to an office building, Iron Man smashes his way inside, where he discovers the person responsible for making his life the living hell it has become is the son of one of his oldest enemies, the Mandarin. What's more we see the son has decided that this time out he's going to make use of the ten rings of power.
I realize that desperate times call for desperate measures but this issue features a scene that left me a bit concerned. I mean comics are littered with scenes where heroes dangle criminals off buildings, but this issue has Iron Man shattering a man's fingers, before crushing his leg, and then when the man bursts into flames, he makes absolutely no effort to save him. I mean I'm not saying the Iron Man doesn't have license to take off the kiddie gloves, as this series is littered with battles when Iron Man had really opened up on a villain. However there's a very real difference between fighting a villain who can give as good as they get, and torturing a man for information, and this issue has Iron Man engaging in the latter. There's nothing remotely heroic about torture, and while I would be willing to let it slide if Iron Man was working to save the lives of others, having his motivation be to clear his reputation makes it reprehensible. If this is the approach that Robin Laws has decided to take with this character, then might I point out that there are many other titles where the lead character has been shown to regularly carry out similar acts of brutality (e.g. Wolverine, Punisher), and perhaps such a title would be a better fit. I not saying that Robin Laws should move on, but rather display a little more restraint in the degree of violence Iron Man is unleashing on noncombatants.
This issue does introduce a super-villain to the mix, and while I'm still up in the air as to whether I really care for Mandarin Jr., I'm delighted to see he's wearing the ten rings, as at least I can accept the idea that he would be able to give Iron man a good run for his money, as his previous appearance was a downright horrid display of how little Mike Grell understood the power that the armor provided. I mean having Iron Man getting his head handed by a martial artist, no matter how skilled they might be was downright insulting to the intelligence, so if the character had not clearly been shown wearing the rings on the final page, I do believe I would've made a point of leaving the next issue on the shelf. As it stands it would appear this arc has decided that the Mandarin Jr. has decided that he is going to allow himself to be drawn into unnecessary conflicts with Iron Man, and while I do hope that Robin Laws takes some time to explain this attitude change, I'd be more than willing to overlook it if next issue has the character unleashing the full fury of the rings upon Iron Man, who is hardly in any shape to be involved in a prolonged fight, especially against an opponent with such a vast array of attacks at their disposal. In any event, it should make for an interesting show, though having him use the rings is an absolute must if there is any hope of redeeming this villain in the eyes of this reader.
Michael Ryan is a pretty solid presence on the art front, as he's proven he's able to deliver the goods on a monthly basis, and he can do no wrong when the issue has Tony in full armor, as the art does a fantastic job capturing the majesty & raw power of the armor. I can't wait to see what he can do with the wide array of attacks that the Mandarin Jr. can unleash. The art also does some nice work on the big impact moments in this issue, such as the panel where the man bursts into flames, or the abrupt entrance that Iron Man makes when he smashes his way into the villain' lair. This issue also offers up some strong work on the scene where Tony is spotted by his pursuers in the FBI, as there's a nice sense of urgency in the scene where he attempts to elude them in the condemned building. Tony's poor health is also nicely reflected by the art, as we see the blood stains that steadily grow on the clothing he borrows, and the beads of sweat that coat his face are also a nice indication that he's barely staying on his feet. On the other side of the equation though the art is still a bit weak when it comes to the facial expressions, with Pepper's reaction when Happy wakes up in the hospital being a scene that isn't nearly as powerful as it should've been. Tony's conversation with Mr. Yu also lacked the sense of underlying danger that it needed to have.
The issue plays out pretty much like one would expect it to, as Tony remains a fugitive from justice, but since we're nearing the final issue of this arc his attempts at finding answers are a bit more successful, and by the end of the issue we've learned the identity of the big, bad villain. However, this issue also features a scene that I found quite unsettling as Robin Laws seems to be under the impression that Iron Man is the type of character who would engage in torture to learn the truth, and this scene is wrong on so many levels. I realize that Iron Man is willing to get his hands dirty, and there have been numerous times in the past where the character has been responsible for the death of another person. However, to have him turning to torture in a bid to gather evidence just didn't wash for me, and I hope that Robin Laws isn't operating under the impression that this is the type of behavior Iron Man fans want to see him practicing. However, overall the excitement level is quite high, so I'm willing to look past this little miscue.
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