Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Writer: Warren Ellis IronManExtremis cover

Artist: Adi Granov

Issues: Iron Man #1-6

I’ll be the first to admit that I was not exactly a big Iron Man fan growing up. It wasn’t until Robert Downey Jr.’s perfect portrayal in the astonishingly good 2008 Iron Man film that I began to take notice. Even so I’d been planning to get most of my Iron Man fix from the Avengers series (which in the era I’m currently in – 2006, is in New Avengers), but heard such positive remarks on this particular Iron Man story that I decided to give it a shot.

“Extremis” is the six-issue story arc that centers on Iron Man’s new solo series that picks up right after the events of 2004’s Avengers “Disassembled.” The entire arc is told in a very cinematic style as it opens with some unknown ne’er do-wells injecting some kind of serum they got off the black market. One of them freaks out and begins to transform, and by the end of the first issue we still don’t know entirely what’s going on.

The story takes its time by giving us a cross section of who Tony Stark is and where he is in his life, most notably in one of his early scenes where he sits down with an exposé style reporter and verbally jousts about his past, present and future with technology and the military. We get a nice glimpse back into the inciting incident that changed him from a war profiteer into a vigilante, and it’s very similar to how it’s portrayed on the big screen – imprisonment by terrorists (updated from Vietnam, heh) and building a prototype Iron Man suit out of spare parts to escape.

Eventually the plot unfolds as our new villain has gained superhuman powers and is running amok, and the lead at a research lab gives Tony a call, an ex-girlfriend naturally. A secret super-soldier formula called Extremis has been stolen out of the lab, and scientist Maya Hensen needs Tony to track it down. Stark is able to find him relatively quickly as our low-life tears apart an office building, at one point breathing fire on a bunch of innocent people.

ExtremisIron Man promptly gets his ass kicked in the ensuing battle on a highway. The battle doesn’t happen until issue #3, but over half the issue is dedicated to panel after panel of fight scenes, until the villain finally throws a car at Iron Man, pinning him underneath after his power’s drained. It’s decently exciting but the jarringly realistic art style makes it look more like action movie stills than carefully constructed panels of a comic.

I found the art to be extremely distracting throughout. Adi Granov uses a unique style that I’ve never seen before. Numerous close-ups of characters look pretty fantastic with tons of detail, shading and lines, but at the horrible detriment to the background and everything else. Much of the backgrounds are filled with nothing but grays and browns and while the characters do pop in each panel it makes everything else just fall flat, particularly the few (but long) action sequences. It also hits some frightening Uncanny Valley level weirdness that, again, made the art more distracting than in service to the story.

Paced like a film, Iron Man proceeds to get an upgrade in the form of injecting himself with a modified version of the formula to better adapt his body to his suit. And also to save his life, since his battle tore him up pretty bad. There’s something you don’t see too often – the aftermath of a brutal battle with a non-immortal hero. The new upgrade allows him to sheathe himself in his Iron Man undies and reconstruct a suit electromagnetically out of a suitcase – hello Iron Man 2!

Stark catches up with our right-wing skin-head extremist villain Mallen and the two fight on even terms. Tony holds back as much as he can but just as Mallen is about to get the upper hand, Iron Man is forced to blow a hole in his chest (then slice off his head, just to be sure). It’s a brutal end and not terribly satisfying, as our villain had very little agency and a cliched backstory.

iron man extremis #3

I’ve come off pretty negative so far but I actually enjoyed “Extremis” over all. The insight into Tony Stark was fascinating, and I really got the concept of a character that both wanted to succeed within the system (being head of a major company) and without (being a tolerated vigilante). The cast is so sparse – Stark, Maya, Mallen, Stark’s aging hippie friend Sal – that it really feels like one character’s internal battle with himself as much as the actual crisis at hand. It also seems to happen so quickly that I guess it makes sense that Stark doesn’t even have time call in his new Avenger buddies (a constant irksome conceit when these characters have multiple ongoing series).

The next story arc uses an entirely new writer and artist so I’ll definitely give it a try. It’s fun seeing so many elements from all three Iron Man films ripped from this one story arc and it’s an easy, self-contained story to follow. For those reasons I’d give it a recommendation, though so far New Avengers has been the superior Iron Man experience.