Writer: Orson Scott Card
Artists: Andy Kubert (p), Danny Miki (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Plot: In the months before Tony Stark is even conceived, Howard Stark meets and falls in love with the woman who will become Tony's mother. She is a respected geneticist, and Howard is looking for her help in the development of a body armor technology. However, Howard's current wife is in league with Howard's rival Stane, and when she divorces him, they plan to siege control of Stark Industries. However, Howard is distracted by Maria's impending pregnancy, and the complications that have resulted from her accidental exposure to an experimental virus that may impact the health of their child.
Comments: I'm not quite sure how I feel about the idea that this opening issue looks to have taken steps to give Tony Stark abilities that set him apart from the ordinary mortal. One of the more engaging elements about the character has always been the idea that his powers were entirely technology based, rather than obtained with a magic gem, through exposure to radiation, or by an alien power source. In fact, one of the reasons why I make a habit of picking up issues of Popular Mechanics is to see the newest technological toys that will bring us one step closer to Iron Man style technology. In the end, there's nothing particularly wrong with the backstory that this issue offers, but it felt a bit like an unnecessary element was tacked on to the character because the writer wanted to explain something that has never really needed to be explained. In my two decades-plus of reading the character's adventures I've never once wondered how Tony Stark became one of the big brains of the Marvel Universe. In fact, this opening issue generates the same feeling that I got when I was reading John Byrne's Spider-Man: Chapter One maxiseries, in that the changes that are being made to the character's backstory don't feel like they are accomplishing much beyond answering a question that wasn't bothering anyone except for the writer. I also have to say that Olson Scott Card is guilty of offering up some rather cardboard villains. Howard Stark's first wife would be twirling his moustache if she was able to grow one, and Stane's behaviour on the final panel was just this side of laughable in its presentation of his villainy. Still, there were elements that I did enjoy quite a bit, as the romance between Howard and Maria plays out in a convincing fashion, and I had to smile when she mentions redesigning the helmets on the containment suits.
Andy Kubert is a solid artist with a strong eye when it comes to delivering the action in a visually striking manner (e.g. Howard's body armor test, the scene where Maria is attacked by the monkey). Now the art is guilty of going a little too far in its attempt to sell an idea, such as the scene where Stane and Loni Stark are shown wolfing down their meals to emphasize they are a pair of snakes. One also has to wonder why the art seemed to be reluctant to show Maria's pregnancy. If the writing didn't state that she was about to deliver her child, one wouldn't have any clue why she was in the hospital. Still there are some undeniably powerful images in this issue, from the scene where Maria is infected by the experimental virus, to the series of panels where she has her final conversation with Howard. While I'm not a big fan of foil covers, I can't deny the effect is really quite striking, when it's combined with the image of Tony locked in that nightmarish looking technology.
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