With 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!

iron man director of shield #15 coverWriters: Charlie Knauf, Daniel Knauf

Artist: Robert De La Torre

Issues: Iron Man: Director of Shield #15-18

The primary solo Iron Man series at the time of the mid to late 2000s was a wee bit confusing, changing names from The Invincible Iron Man to Iron Man, then Iron Man: Director of SHIELD until War Machine takes over to end the run and begin a new one. Thus although the volume is titled Iron Man: Director of SHIELD, it uses the same numbering that first started with the excellent Iron Man: Extremis back in late 2004.

I don’t usually write my Final Thoughts after a single short story arc, but seeing as the next two Iron Man issues are World War Hulk tie-ins, I’d better tackle these now. The new era of the Initiative stems from the world-changing results of the superhero Civil War: namely that Tony Stark is the new Director of SHIELD and pushing forward with his grand plans of a government sanctioned superhero squad in all fifty states.

While various Avengers titles have cropped up or changed to suit the still split superhero community at the time, Iron Man’s solo series focuses solely on his dealings with SHIELD, and works as a great continuation of his previous storylines. I actually skipped the story arc after Extremis, then dropped back in for his Civil War tie-ins – which were pretty meh (like most of them). Director of Shield brings back genetic researcher Maya Henson as Stark’s former colleague and ex-lover, and co-creator of the Extremis formula (which now runs through Tony, allowing him to shed and gather his suit at will).

iron man director of shield #16Maya and Tony are concerned about the increased level of attack and sophistication level of various random terrorist cells, just the thing that SHIELD deals with on a fairly constant basis. Former SHIELD director Dugan has concerns about Stark’s ability to run SHIELD, accusing him of running it like a company and micromanaging at every level. Indeed Stark feels the need to jump in and save the day as Iron Man in just about every situation they find themselves in.

Eventually their research and investigation leads to one of Iron Man’s oldest foes – the Mandarin. The Mandarin strikes at Tony and SHIELD by cleverly planting an organic bomb in the body of their lead, and when the dead terrorist is brought up to the helicarrier for autopsy, it explodes in a suitably creepy Alien-style moment, attacking and infecting everyone on board. Meanwhile Iron Man is down at the prison facility fighting off waves of cyber-modified zombie creatures and has to race up the helicarrier to save the day again.

All of issue 18 is one big battle, and it’s pretty damn fun. The tentacled organic thing is an exciting and creepy foe that results in the death of a semi-major character in Tony’s life, his aging hippie friend Sal. There’s a neat moment where Tony briefly flashes to the other recent deaths in his life, namely his bodyguard and friend Happy and of course Steve Rogers. Stark is only able to defeat the creature by learning that Maya’s Extremis virus (which he forbade her from researching further) would be able to cure it. He sheds his suit, gives his best Come at Me Bro line, and lets it infect him.

About a third of the helicarrier is destroyed and Stark and SHIELD have been built a huge blow, but Stark’s plan works and the dangerous creature melts off of him. He correctly surmises that the attack was a simple diversion as they never did find Mandarin, nor I believe even learn of his involvement in the plot. Dr. Maya Henson is shown at the end going to a previously offered research facility so she can further her work – away from Stark – and it’s run by Mandarin! Dun Dun DUNNNN!

iron man director of shield #18

Despite Stark coming off like a complete asshole from Civil War, I really enjoyed his first outing as SHIELD Director. The father and son writers effectively layer in the politics and implication of how SHIELD’s run in this new era under Stark while also providing a fun and decidedly comic book-y villain and climax. The heavily shaded artwork is quite a bit darker than artist Torre’s other work on Ms. Marvel; I really dug the very Earth-y tones of brown and red, interestingly making Iron Man blend in rather than stand out and giving the sci-fi plot and elements a very dark feel. Director of SHIELD isn’t quite yet required reading for what’s going on during the Initiative time frame (aka the year between Civil War and Secret Invasion), but so far it’s a fun romp starring a very driven and conflicted Tony Stark.