Writer: Orson Scott Card
Artists: Andy Kubert (p), Danny Miki (i), Richard Isanove / Dave McCaig (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Ultimate Iron Man continues its run with another of its occasional appearances on the shipping list this month, with its third issue expanding on the story of a young Tony Stark, skipping forward a few years for the majority of the issue to provide a look at Tony’s school years.
After a swift tying-up of last issue’s loose ends via a neat sequence in which Howard Stark and a crack commando squad rescue the young Tony from Zebediah Stane, we jump ten years into the future, to a point at which Tony Stark is already showing signs of genius. His construction of a fleet of self-replicating robot insects is a neat way of showing the extent of the young Tony’s scientific know-how, even if a very similar creation was already used to memorable effect in an earlier issue of Ultimate Fantastic Four. Perhaps this is an intentional reference however, because at the very least, the implication of Tony’s aptitude for science and robotics would seem to put him on the same playing field as Ultimate Reed Richards - even if he hasn’t quite attained the same level of wizardry just yet. Whilst this is a necessary facet of the character to explore, it’s disappointing that this element hasn’t been more fully fleshed-out yet. Tony’s extensive knowledge is justified here by the bizarre conceit of having brain tissue throughout his body, an idea which does have the potential to be more fully explored – unfortunately, here it just comes of as an overly simplistic and lazily written excuse for Tony’s super-powerful mind.
Tony befriends a young black student this issue by the name of Rhodes (which, as someone who only knows much about Iron Man through his Ultimate universe appearances, doesn’t actually mean anything to me yet). [EDITOR'S NOTE: in the "616" Marvel Universe, James Rhodes became Iron Man for a brief time while Tony battled his alcoholism. When Tony Stark re-assumed his Iron Man role, Rhodes became War Machine.] The idea of Tony’s heroism being foreshadowed through his rescuing of Rhodes from racist bullies is hardly an original one, even if the method by which Tony taunts the attackers via his "unbreakable" disposition is fairly novel. The beginning of the relationship between Stark and Rhodes is, however, scripted in quite an original manner, tackling the race issue head-on and defusing it in a fun series of gags which acknowledge the differences between the two boys’ backgrounds and personalities. As Tony begins to prepare a prototype Iron Man suit, an emotional encounter with Howard Stark’s ex-wife leads to some fatherly advice on concealing one's feelings from others – a subtle foreshadowing of the future Tony’s closed emotional nature - but Tony struggles to follow this advice when he runs into Rhodes’ bullies a second time, in a highly-charged confrontation (pun intended) which closes the issue.
I’m now going to have to explain my relatively low rating for this book, which is difficult because essentially there’s nothing really bad about it. Indeed, the art is first rate, impressively detailed and consistent and richly coloured. Even the writing, whilst occasionally resorting to cliché situations, is at times quite original and challenging, foreshadowing some of Tony’s future character tics in quite an interesting way. The problem is, it doesn’t feel like a book about Iron Man. Three issues in, and the title superhero has yet to make an appearance, bar the prototype full-body suit shown in the last few pages – which certainly bears no resemblance to the Iron Man we’ve seen in Ultimates so far. Someone who came to this book looking for some backstory on the Tony Stark we’ve seen in that series might be surprised to find a mixture of teen drama and low-grade sci-fi dominating the pages, with no real connection apparent between the young Tony Stark’s character and that of his adult counterpart. I’ve nothing against building a character from the ground up and giving him some real depth; Indeed, it’s this personalities-before-powers attitude which generally makes me prefer Marvel superheroes over their DC rivals. Unfortunately, when you buy a book called Ultimate Iron Man, you have to expect Iron Man to make an appearance at some point. The simple truth is that three issues is just too long to pad out a short minseries before your fully-fledged hero even threatens to appear, and this is only compounded by this title’s erratic shipping schedule. Disappointing.
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