Writer: Orson Scott Card
Artists: Andy Kubert (p), Danny Miki (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
I make no bones about being a big fan of Marvelís Ultimate line. Donít get me wrong, I have a lot of love for the regular Marvel Universe and still avidly follow events in the 616. However, the Ultimate Universe seems to have freed up writers to do a lot more than they could within the confines of the entrenched continuity of the last 40 years of Marvel comics, and with the success of Mark Millarís modern spin on the Avengers, it was surely only a matter of time before the individual Ultimates members got their own spin-off titles. Whilst some argue that Ultimate continuity is already getting somewhat bogged-down, Tony Stark is still a relatively blank slate for a new creative team to tackle, and the direction that this miniseries looks to be taking seems in no danger of interfering with Tonyís characterisation in Ultimates. In fact, this issue goes further than merely giving us Tony Starkís origin. It instead begins his story by introducing us to his literal - and figurative - forefathers, not all of whom are as benevolent as weíve come to expect of the Stark empire.
Ignoring the complaints of those who object to Orson Scott Cardís involvement in this title due to his reportedly right-wing views, the writer manages to craft a fairly engaging science-fiction story with strong personal, character-based elements to boot. The central concept of a bacteria-based skin suit is a neat and unexpected way to begin the Iron Man story Ė even if Tony Stark hasnít even been born yet in the timeframe in which this issue is set. If the route ahead appears to be a little more predictable, the concept of beginning with Tony Starkís parents and tracing the evolution of his Iron Man design through their earlier inventions is still a strong concept to start with, providing a broad canvas for the two mini-series which are going to lay out the backstory of Ultimate Iron Man.
Talking of a broad canvas, this opening issue gains a lot in terms of atmosphere from the strong visuals of Andy Kubert. Whilst clearly influenced (in this book, at least) by Bryan Hitchís work in The Ultimates, Kubert also builds bridges towards the look established in Ultimate Fantastic Four by his brother Adam, and in doing so helps to bind the Ultimate Universe together with a very cohesive look and feel. Whatís more, Kubert gets to employ a retro-modern style for a lot of the architecture and machinery found in the 70s/80s world of Ultimate Marvel: the opening shot of Stark Defense Corporation Headquarters (a possible precursor to the Ultimatesí Triskelion?) captures the mood of a Howard-Hughes/Donald Trump-style triumph of overblown style and sophistication over practicality, and in doing so gives us an insight into the Stark empire before weíve even met the central characters. There are also amusing details to be found with the clunky VHS format of Starkís otherwise ultra-modern presentation, or the old-fashioned spacesuit-esque labwear that the scientists use in one very dramatic scene. Kubert hits every note well, whether itís the deceptively simple yet brilliant sequential of a scientist getting herself kitted out for work in the lab, or the rendering of the more grotesque qualities of two greedy businesspeople chowing down for lunch like pigs. Richard Isanoveís colours also live up to their usual high standard, with the pink-blue sunset across the Manhattan skyline adding a huge amount of atmosphere to the opening pages, in a stark (no pun intended) contrast to the smoggy red-orange smokiness of the Stane corporation headquarters on the mainland.
Whilst itís early days for the series, there are enough interesting characters and relationships laid out in this first issue to ensure that Iíll be back to read more and see how the tragic story of Tony Starkís early existence continues to unfold. I love the art, and if Cardís writing of Stark can live up to the quality of his writing of his parents, then I think Iíll enjoy his miniseries immensely.
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