Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest – Ultimate Iron Man 2 #1

Posted: Sunday, December 9, 2007
By: Keith Dallas

Writer: Orson Scott Card
Artists: Pasqual Ferry, Dean White (colours)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Editor’s Note: The first issue of Ultimate Iron Man 2 arrives in stores this Wednesday, December 12.

Average Rating:

Geoff Collins:
Chris Murman:
Christopher Power:
Dave Wallace:

SPOILER WARNIING: The following reviews discuss plot developments of the issue.

Geoff Collins

I’m not a big fan of Iron Man, and all I know about the Ultimate Universe is what’s in the animated movies and X-Men. My interest in the comic results more from the hyped up ads. Despite that, I like this issue and think most super hero fans would also. Ultimate Iron Man duplicates the head games and politic-like maneuvering that the Marvel U.’s Iron Man does, plus he has a lot of powers (even for a super hero) and keeps coming out with new ones, much like Superman in the Gold and Silver ages or Spider-Man. For instance, Ultimate Iron Man’s healing factor allows him to be ripped up and reassembled in Wolverine-like fashion. In addition, there are a lot of gadgets and sci-fi aspects that remind me of The Fantastic Four or The Metal Men.

So there’s a lot for fans to like.

What was intimidating was the “Previously…” page. It’s as long as any in Marvel but has a lot more going on in it and is really hard to follow because of how complicated the story is. However, once the actual comic got going, I had no problem following the developments. It was clear what kinds of relationships characters had to each other and the exposition was mostly natural. In general, Card does a fine job writing this.

And Ferry’s art is impressive. Any doubt of his artistic ability is removed right on the first page that depicts Iron Man being blown apart. White’s colors also help make every page visually appealing, including the ones that mostly just present talking heads (take a look at the colors on the fourth page that has art). Visuals are important when it comes to science fiction, which the artists do superbly in this issue. As many inventions as possible are worked into the scenes at Stark Tower which gives you a lot to look at in every panel.

Fans who stick to independent comics probably won’t like this, but if you enjoy Marvel or DC, check this out—it’s worth the hype from their ads.

Chris Murman:

Sure, it’s been too long, and there’s just as much blame on a certain Kubert for the demise of the first series. Certainly, a decent story is a decent story no matter the lag between issues, and I would argue that Card gave us a great first arc of Ultimate Tony Stark. As a result, this just wasn’t the same for me reading this opening issue of the next run. This issue lacked the pop I got as a reader the first time around.

There was, of course, a freshness of Card’s initial offering, giving Stark the more science-fiction origin we all knew was coming from the writer. Not being the Iron Man aficionado, I enjoyed being told a different tale of how Tony put the suit on. In the first part of the second story line, we’re back to telling about how awful Big Brother is and the sci-fi aspect of the book is gone. Dad’s upset, the assistant is hitting on Tony in bed, and Rodney’s doing the “aw, shucks” routine. He even uses the government bullies to pester his rival. Call me crazy, but I don’t see much difference between Ultimate Stark and Marvel U. Stark.

Props go to Pasqual Ferry for giving the book his own personal touch when the script allowed for it. Given the fact the Ultimate Iron Man look is fairly set in stone, the scenes with Tony out of the suit were fresh and didn’t appear to be aped off Andy Kubert’s work. His Tony looked to be a bit leaner than I remember before. Maybe that plays off of the growing alcoholism combined with the frailty explained in the first arc.

Also, Stark did seem to be quite a bit more chipper than I would have thought the script called for. He’s being bullied by the U.S. government for the first time, dealing with media flap, trying to please his father behind bars, and doesn’t have Jarvis wiping his butt yet. Maybe he’s too liquored up to care about all of that, but I may be reading too much into the art at this point. Regardless, the first page leapt out and grabbed me, and I stayed mainly because of the Ferry’s work. The battle scenes out in the desert were also above average.

During those scenes, however, I was a little confused. I had to go back and check to see which suit Tony put on, because Rodney was doing all of the instruction and teaching to the original tin soldier. I thought Stark developed this suit; shouldn’t he be giving his friend some tips? Maybe it’s my lack of Stark-lore knowledge; I would have just pictured billionaire Tony to be a little savvier on his own technology.

The development that may keep me around is Obadiah growing into the villain of this book (well, besides Big Brother). I do not know the significance he will have in the future of the book, but it appears to me that our bowl-haircut sporting friend is building something with which to take on Tony. And with not only the scholarship, but the funding for the research itself coming from Stark Industries, wouldn’t that be perfectly clichéd to have Obie come back to bite our hero in the butt somehow?

While the disappointments abounded in this issue, there is a possibility of some growth in this run. Will the suits be further developed as hinted by the three teenage brainiacs? How in the world will Tony deal with his double life as Bruce Wayne ’s alcoholic Marvel clone? And speaking of booze, will we see a drink in Stark’s hand in issue #2?

While the magic has faded, I’m not writing this book off yet. I just may not be buying it, which is the name of the game, isn’t it?

Christopher Power:

Marvel’s Ultimate Universe often feels like it was written for my age group, people who grew up with Die Hard, Aliens, Terminator and other great action movies. It is grim, gritty, and doesn’t pull many punches. I’d never let my child read most of it, but boy is it entertaining to me.

This comic kind of felt like one of those old action movies. Our cocky hero and his sidekicks undertake an ill-defined mission for the government or some other organization. Even the motivations of our hero Tony Stark and his buddy James Rhodes, who actually suits up in this issue, are pretty ill-defined. They are doing it because they can. They want to test out the new suits, pretending that they are robots.

The set-up for the mission is pretty grim, and topical. I suspect that if we were in the 1980s Tony would be off to fight the communists, but this time they are just nebulous “terrorists.” Orson Scott Card manages to slip in a little bit of commentary regarding whether or not such a strike would be moral through the argument of the “robots” being the lesser of two evils because they will result in less civilian death. I am intrigued to see if Card explores the difference in moral implications between an unthinking missile and a “man-in-suit” solution. I think that a moral quandary regarding the use of the suits on a wide scale with human pilots would be an interesting topic for Tony to explore, and maybe force him to grow up a little.

The scenes with the set-up of the mission were well written, with the relationship between Stark and his friends feeling real, flowing from topic to topic with an infectious enthusiastic nature that research scientists get when they are really passionate about their work. The only part of the story that was pretty stilted was the conversation with Stark’s father, but maybe that was the point. The disapproving superior reminds me a little bit of Top Gun for some reason. Maybe that is what Card is trying to recapture.

There are a couple of story elements that are a little ill-placed in this particular issue, such as the development of the subplot of Obadiah’s petulant child, but I hold judgment on this one, as hopefully it will emerge more clearly as the series goes on.

The art has a soft tone to it, with the colours creating a robust tapestry to situate the characters and, in particular, the suits for the action. It is the type of art where when someone says “The camp is just over that hill” you know which hill they are talking about and believe you can imagine the camp on the other side. My only complaint is that the artist seems to have problem with faces, which seem to shift to an almost comical proportionality and takes away from the immersion of the story.

Overall, this first issue is a strong entry, with a lot of fun attached to it. I look forward to more of this, as I remember that I used to read Iron Man for the hero that he can be.

Dave Wallace:

The first Ultimate Iron Man miniseries was a reasonably enjoyable take on the early days of Tony Stark which was undermined slightly by delays to the artwork, as well as a cliffhanger ending that offered no sense of finality or closure to the story of those five issues. After a hiatus of a couple of years, the story of Ultimate Iron Man 2 picks up almost exactly where the last volume finished - and in order to compensate for the lack of storytelling momentum between the two minis, it happily wastes no time in scene-setting or recapping the earlier mini, preferring to plough ahead with its continuing story.

After a brief re-introduction to Tony’s character, we see that the U.S. military has taken an interest in Stark Industries’ new “robot,” and wishes to use Stark’s technologies for its own ends. It’s a logical development, and one which pushes Tony closer towards his adult characterisation in the pages of Ultimates, maintaining the real-world feel of that book and foreshadowing Stark’s later involvement with S.H.I.E.L.D. There’s also very little evidence here of Tony’s powers of regeneration or the brain tissue that runs throughout his body (although they are mentioned). It’s as though Card has made a conscious decision to downplay these more fantastical elements in favour of a more traditional and grounded interpretation of Iron Man. That said, there are still some concessions to the conventions of the superhero genre: Stark’s identity as Iron Man is kept secret from most characters, for now, and the addition of Ultimate Fantastic Four’s Dr. Molevic to the cast (along with a couple of other newly-Ultimised villains from regular Marvel continuity) suggests that we might see a more traditional superhero/supervillain vibe in later issues. There’s also a welcome vein of humour which runs throughout the book, as Card has his characters act in an entertaining way rather than forcing jokes or ill-fitting comedy into the dialogue. I particularly enjoyed the inexperienced young Stark being upbraided by his father for his weak attempts to intimidate Stane in the Baxter building, and the device which sees Stark pretend that Iron Man is a robot when he takes on his mission with the military produces some amusing moments.

One slightly questionable element of the book that didn’t sit well with me was the disturbingly straightforward approach that it takes to Iron Man and War Machine’s acceptance of a mission to kill an entire camp of purported terrorists. The subject is handled in very black-and-white terms, with no questioning of the reliability of the information given to Stark by the military, and very little acknowledgment of the dubious morality of the two characters’ decision to kill so many people on the orders of the U.S. army. When it comes to showing the plan in action, there even seems to be a conscious effort to avoid showing the deaths that result out of Tony and Rhodey’s actions for fear of casting them in a less-than-heroic light. If a story is going to deal with the moral complexities and conflict of Tony Stark’s dual role as a peacekeeping superhero and a weapons manufacturer, it should at least take the time to explore those elements in the amount of depth that they deserve. Instead, the book is content to rely on clichés (the black-suited sunglasses-wearing government agents, the Middle-Eastern training camp for turban-wearing terrorists) and to make the assumption on behalf of the reader that Tony’s actions are laudable. I also struggled to make sense of the rushed developments of the final few pages which build up to the bizarre cliffhanger, but that could be as much down to a lack of coordination between Card and his artist as it is a criticism of the writer’s pacing in particular.

One other flaw (that has been carried over from the original miniseries) is that this version of Tony Stark just isn’t that compelling a character. In many respects, the character of Tony’s father Howard is far more interesting and well-developed, so it’s a shame to see that there’s very little progression of the storyline involving his false imprisonment here. It makes me wonder why this second mini didn’t take the opportunity to jump forwards in time and show us the adventures of a more adult Tony Stark, with all of the foibles and complexities that come with him, because his younger counterpart just isn’t as interesting a character to follow. However, there’s a suggestion that the plotline involving Obadiah Stane’s framing of Howard Stark will become more important in the near future, which should mean that Stark Sr. plays a larger role later on in the miniseries - and that we might see Tony develop further into his more recognisable adult self as a result.

In the absence of the original miniseries’ penciller Andy Kubert (who has since departed to work at DC), Pasqual Ferry replaces him on art chores. Ferry’s artwork serves the story well, with a real sense of substance to the visuals, even if they’re never dazzlingly impressive or innovative. Ferry’s characters are reasonably realistic and unexaggerated, but there’s a chunky angularity to his style which reminded me of Stuart Immonen’s work on more than one occasion. The design of Iron Man’s suit hasn't changed much from the Kubert-designed prototype of the original miniseries, but Ferry makes the most of the more dynamic sequences towards the end of the book, and many readers will be delighted that we’re finally getting to see the Iron Man that we know from Ultimates (well, more or less) get stuck into some real action. Colourist Dean White enhances Ferry’s art with his delicately graded colours: White has got a really distinctive style that many people will know from his recent work on Punisher: War Journal, and even if it probably won’t be to everyone’s taste (it’s quite far removed from the stark, bold colours of more traditional comics art), it suits the more realistic tone of the Ultimate Universe fairly well.

Anyone who enjoyed the original Ultimate Iron Man miniseries will find plenty more to like here, as the writing approach is virtually unchanged, and the transition to a new artist isn’t jarring or off-putting at all. Whilst I’d still probably rather read about the adult Tony Stark than the teenage version, this is a reasonable enough modern superhero story that doesn’t push the boundaries of the genre, but is an enjoyable enough continuation of the story that started in volume 1. I commend the fast pace of the story, but I hope that Card dedicates some more time to exploring the complexities of his characters and plot in future issues.

Pages 1-6 of Ultimate Iron Man 2 #1, courtesy of Marvel Comics.

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