Monday, January 21, 2008

The Invincible Iron Man #25

When two adolescent heroes are killed in service of the Initiative, the sheer guilt drives Iron Man to continue the pair’s investigation into an apparently small-scale Missing Persons case in the great plains. Naturally, nothing is nearly as low-key as it seems. The case has a strong hidden tie to the development and deployment of the Extremis virus, the latest evil scheme of the Mandarin, and Tony’s stepped right into the middle of it.

The Knauf brothers have developed a strong story here, one that’s complicated enough to lend depth, but not so detailed as to lose its readers’ interest. They work with a moderately-sized cast of characters, which seems to be without a single weak link. Everyone has a reason to be, a distinct personality and motivation that gives them a purpose within the story.

As Stark’s constant foil, the Mandarin is a sneaky bastard, and that’s much of his appeal. He’s working undercover at the moment, as the benevolent owner of the laboratory that’s developing the Extremis virus, and he’d actually be quite charming if his goal weren’t the immediate, irreversible infection of the entire world’s population. In the opening scenes of this issue, as he’s smoothly manipulating one member of his staff, I was simultaneously loathing and respecting him. His machinations are plain as day to the reader, but it’s still understandable that a character without knowledge of his devious past would buy into his rhetoric. That’s the mark of good writing, not to mention strong characterization, and it pays off when his identity is revealed midway through the story.

Rob De La Torre’s artwork is in keeping with the more mature, serious nature of Marvel’s recent style. Dark and gritty, with an emphasis on facial details and reactions, it reminds me of what Alex Maleev, Sean Philips and Steve Epting have established elsewhere in the upper echelons of the publisher’s roster. When he’s working with civilians, regardless of the setting, his work is outstanding. When they appear, costumed heroes (or, in this case, men in robotic suits of armor) look a bit out of place alongside such realistic surroundings, but not so much as to take you out of the story. If anything, I think that disconnect between our reality and that of a comic book is partially bridged by this style. It was becoming a bit too commonplace to see a man in tights sailing through the skies above New York City, and the direction taken by the art both here and in a few other select spots within the Marvel Universe is restoring a little bit of that sense of wonder, of disbelief.

It’s been ages since I read Iron Man, but this issue was a pleasant surprise. Although it’s extremely detailed, with lots of twists and turns, I was able to come into the current story at the midway point, and it still captured my imagination. The writers have carefully developed a situation that’s come to a head at just the right moment, keeping new readers in the loop without alienating those that have been there since the beginning. The artwork is top notch, both explaining and elaborating upon the storytelling. This should be mentioned in the same breath as Captain America and Daredevil, because it’s told in a very similar style, with an equal success rate. Buy this if you’re into the direction Marvel’s been taking lately. It’s quality.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 8.5

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