Monday, December 17, 2007

Iron Man: Enter the Mandarin #4

As a historic look back at the first-ever meeting between Iron Man and his arch-nemesis, Enter: The Mandarin has promised to reveal previously unknown details about the villain’s relationship to ol’ Shell-Head. Set in the early days of the Marvel Universe, this series tries to merge a harsher modern outlook with a more traditional scenario.

Joe Casey’s writing here is hot and cold, and opens with a terrific fight / chase scene that would be equally at home in one of the Die Hard movies. But when the fight’s over the story immediately changes gears, segueing into a stale, word-heavy conversation with SHIELD. It’s become something of a Marvel cliché that any appearance by one of the agency’s operatives leads almost immediately to an excess of dialog, stopping the tale dead in its tracks, and that holds true with this issue. Fortunately, Casey limits the conversation to just a few short pages before returning to more entertaining material. Stark’s technological “test” in front of the agency’s geeks midway through the issue is a particularly cool scene, though, as he transforms himself from a stiff corporate suit into someone with honest technological know-how in front of the grunts. It’s nice to see Tony tested like this, because his modern character is treated with such instant reverie that he’s rarely given the chance to prove whether he deserves that kind of instant respect or not.

Artist Eric Canete has a great flair for the dramatic, both for the poses his characters strike and the environments in which they strike them. He works a very loose, rough-around-the-edges style that is breathtaking during the spontaneous motion of an action scene, but can be every bit as attractive in slower, quieter situations. His choice in camera angles is frequently outstanding, and works to further emphasize the amazing range of motion that’s present in almost all of his work. When Stark flees on foot from the Mandarin’s brainwashed, gun-toting son, I could swear the panel itself is shaking around on the page. His style is righteously cinematic during these moments, both picturesque and explosive. He isn’t afraid to allow negative space to eat up a third of the panel, if its presence will lead to a better composition and a more exciting pose.

But where Canete’s general layouts are very strong, the same can’t be said for many of the details of his contributions - his work on faces, Tony Stark’s in particular, could use a lot of work. I guess something like that may not be such a big deal when the lead character is behind a mask for most of the series, but as a largely armorless issue, it’s quite evident here.

Despite my nitpicks and criticisms, this is a surprisingly entertaining tale. The Mandarin is treated with so much respect that the reader can’t help but take his threats seriously. He’s granted such a pompous, self-assured air that I was reminded of the conceded grace of some of the best Disney villains. And, though I’d forgotten in the year and a half since Civil War altered his public perception, it’s still a lot of fun to pull for Iron Man in a battle. Enter: The Mandarin has a few wrinkles, but it’s still a rewarding experience. Borrow this from a friend if you get the opportunity.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7

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