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Iron Man: Extremis

Posted: Wednesday, March 7, 2007
By: Dave Wallace



Collecting issues #1-#6 of the rebooted Iron Man title

Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Adi Granov

Publisher: Marvel Comics

This volume of Iron Man clearly sets out with the goal of relaunching the character, and making him interesting and relevant again in the modern Marvel Universe. Warren Ellis is tasked with redefining Tony Stark, the billionaire industrialist superhero, in an age where ruthless capitalism and war profiteering just isn't as impressive as it used to be. The dichotomy between Tony the superhero and Tony the businessman offers Ellis the opportunity to add considerable depth to Stark's personality and character, acknowledging the roots of Stark Industries' success in weapons manufacturing and military contracts, but giving Tony a believable urge to use his ideas and business acumen for the greater good, even if it means dealing with some fairly complex moral grey areas. Ellis also uses the arc to revisit Iron Man's origin story (making a few cosmetic changes on the way), and even gifts the character with significant new powers by the end of his run on the book. It's an impressive undertaking, but the side-effect of this concentration on redefining and repurposing Iron Man is that the central plot on which Ellis hangs this detail - concerning the theft of a prototype virus from Stark Industries, and its creation of a new, powerful enemy with whom Iron Man must do battle - feels relatively slight and somewhat under-developed.

What I enjoy about Ellis' writing here is that he's not afraid to devote a lot of space to discussing important ideas at length. Two scenes really give us a strong sense of how Ellis perceives Stark: the first is an interview with a documentary filmmaker who implicitly criticises Tony for his involvement in the manufacture of munitions which are still causing pain and misery in the world today; the other is a chat with an old friend and one-time business guru who has embraced a simpler, less materialistic life, and who encourages Tony to question his motivations - both as a businessman and a superhero. Ellis writes Tony Stark as a combination of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, with just a hint of Howard Hughes showing through in Stark's obsessive, ambitious and driven attitude to his work. Stark is the consummate innovator, and although the writer never paints him as overly cynical, he's presented as a realist - and a highly intelligent, forward-thinking one at that. Despite this, Ellis doesn't sugar-coat the past actions of the industrialist, reminding us that although Stark may have altruistic intentions for his technologies, he didn't make money by running Stark Industries like a charity. It's a mature, thoughtful take on the character which reinforces the necessarily economical characterisation of Iron Man in other books like New Avengers and Civil War, and actually makes those books read more smoothly as a result.

Ellis is paired with artist Adi Granov here, whose distinctive design for Iron Man is perhaps as important a part of the book's relaunch as Ellis' writing of the character. Granov won a lot of fans over with this run, and whilst I can't say the sleek, visibly computerised style of his artwork particularly appeals to me, it's fairly impressive on its own terms. It's also very well-suited to the character of Iron Man, as the scenes which feature Tony in the suit are some of the most realistic and visually well-conceived that I've seen. He captures the appeal of the character well, updating the Rocketeer concept for the modern age, even if his artwork isn't always as exciting or as smooth in storytelling terms as it could be. Granov also gets the chance to illustrate the retro look for the character in a flashback to Iron Man's origin (here transposed to Afghanistan, rather than Vietnam), and he carries it off well. Fans of the artist get a small bonus at the back of this TPB, as his covers to issues #75-#83 of the previous volume of Iron Man are reprinted, and they're all impressive pieces. Granov is undeniably talented, but I just don't find his artwork quite as dynamic as that of his more traditional peers, especially on the occasions when it's called upon to carry Ellis' story on its own. It's just too cold and clinical to feel alive or vibrant in any way - but those who enjoy photo-realism in their comicbook art will probably love it.

Unfortunately, the too-quick denouement and unsurprising plotting takes the shine off the book slightly. The super-powered villain is given the slightest of backstories, and Ellis struggles to make him sympathetic or to give him a clearly-defined motivation within the short space that he devotes to the character. The twist-reveal of the final few pages is also fairly obvious from the start, as there are so few supporting characters of any real importance that the list of suspects who could have been behind the theft of the Extremis virus is very short indeed, and the moment loses much of its power as a result. Still, it plays into the idea that the road to hell is paved with good intentions very neatly, mirroring Tony Stark's own character flaws and providing the possible seeds for Stark's own morally blinded characterisation in Civil War.

Ellis's style definitely suits this book, and I'd be interested to see him return to the character - perhaps with a different artist - in future. His approach is resolutely character-centered, rarely departing from material which is strictly relevant to the story (aside from one small tangent about the potentially positive effects of drug use: it's the one section of the book which is slightly conspicuous as a passage of Warren Ellis writing which has been shoehorned into a story that doesn't really demand it). Granov's art is an acquired taste, but fits the story well - although I'm glad I didn't have to wait for months for each individual issue to hit the stands, as the delays which were suffered by regular readers of the book would have undoubtedly hampered my enthusiasm for the story. All in all, this book does almost everything it needs to in order to cement Iron Man's place as one of the Marvel Universe's A-list heroes; it only falls short in the story department, as I would have expected something a little more sophisticated in terms of plotting from Warren Ellis.



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