Writer: Joe Casey
Artist: Eric Canete
Published by: Marvel Comics
Next year when Iron Man hits the big screen, our favorite superhero / registered drunk is sure to change the layout of the superhero genre. The outside influence of major studios will be gone, Hollywood executives who want to butcher a character to “appeal” to the masses, i.e., milk the property for all the money possible, have very little influence in the making of Iron Man. Rather, the great Marvel Studios will launch their first independent film in what is anticipated to be one of the truest comic books adaptations yet. While some can argue that Chris Nolan transcended the superhero genre by giving Batman Begins a less “Hollywood blockbuster” feel, Iron Man will hopefully serve as a wake up call to Hollywood, these characters are more than cash cows; they are an integral part of American culture.
While director Jon Favreau has stated the Mandarin will not be featured in the film but his “presence will be felt,” it’s prudent for Marvel to re-establish the origins of Iron Man’s greatest villain. No doubt that as the movie moves closer there will be stories featuring the Iron Monger, but the Mandarin is the archnemesis of ol’ Shellhead and his origin should be re-explored. While the Mandarin plays a strategic chess game against Tony Stark in the main Iron Man series, the most recent story to feature the villain’s origin was the Invincible Iron Man animated feature. But Joe Casey brings forth Iron Man: Enter the Mandarin and the earliest battle between Iron Man and the Mandarin is re-explored and modernized.
The first issue did a great job establishing the timeline of this series as well as the manner in which Iron Man gets involved with the Mandarin. But the first issue didn’t offer anything that was completely ground-breaking; it seemed as if this series was going to play out like a traditional “good guy vs. bad guy” origin re-hash. But something struck me as odd by the end of the first issue: Iron Man confronts the Mandarin. This is a six issue series and already the two characters were battling it out? I felt like Joe Casey was on to something and upon the first pages of this issue, I understand where he’s going and this mini-series is going to become much more than another origin re-hash.
Basically, Iron Man gets his tin can handed to him by the Mandarin. It’s a fantastic fight scene and the inclusion of the armor’s warnings to Tony just adds to the suspense and action of the fight. What Casey also does extremely well is keep the dialogue and banter between Iron Man and the Mandarin entertaining and classic. When Mandarin gains the upper hand over Iron Man, the dialogue is fantastic. Casey puts the Mandarin in that classic “I’m the bad guy who’s better than you” category that is too caught up in his own self-promotion and banter that he doesn’t realize the hero is making an escape attempt.
This series also takes on another dimension because the Mandarin has become fully integrated in the Chinese political landscape. Regardless of his alien-based power, he’s a very smart and down to Earth character that knows all of the angles he needs to play in order to consolidate control. While he doesn’t know of the covert military operation, the Mandarin also believes that Iron Man is simply Tony Stark’s muscle, and Tony is the man the Mandarin ultimately feels threatened by. He hires a spy and this series takes the unexpected turn of hitting the industrial espionage angle. I am intrigued and excited by this direction of the story.
Another highlight of this issue is the pre-Civil War version of Tony Stark. Here he is still the untarnished and troubled hero. He get’s beaten to a pulp by the Mandarin, but he still manages to not only run his billion dollar empire, but also suit up in his damaged armor to save Happy Hogan from the spy. It’s quite respectable of Tony Stark as he even turns down a rendezvous with his current socialite fling.
While I wasn’t a big fan of Canete’s artwork in the first issue, it really seems to work for this series. It’s totally different that what we are used to seeing today, especially in the main Iron Man series but it works. Canete’s style is unique but captures the action and plot of this issue very well.
Overall, this mini-series has transcended from a “stock origin” story to something more. The Mandarin’s origin was definitely in need of a re-boot and Joe Casey seems to have a firm grasp on ret-conning the Mandarin’s origin in the modern world.
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