Editor's Note: Iron Man: Legacy of Doom #2 arrives in stores tomorrow, May 14.
Chapter Two: Night of the Living Dad
Time is fleeting
Madness takes its toll
But listen closely
Not for very much longer
I've got to keep control
I remember doing the Time Warp...
A new Michelinie & Layton Iron Man story. Take a minute to breathe it in.
Four-colour fans all have their favourites, whether it's Spidey or Supes, Wonder Woman or GL, Bats or the Punisher. Iron Man's actually my number two (after the Vision), but a strong second choice. Reuniting probably his most famous creative duo should be a reason for dancing in the streets. Chapter one was good for a quick two-step.
Portrayed as a flashback, this story has Tony Stark stumbling upon a recording of an event of which he has no memory. Once, he did recall, he'd been inadvertently swept back in time to Camelot, where he'd naturally aligned himself with Arthur and his knights in the face of an invasion from Morgana Le Fay and her army of the dead, abetted by Doctor Doom. Doom was after something, naturally, which Iron Man's interference had cost him. Ultimately, they were forced to work together to return to (their) present, with Doom swearing vengeance against the Golden Avenger. Sometime later (the pieces exorcised from Tony's memory), while in orbit helping to repair a shuttle, Stark is approached by Doom with an offer of returning to Camelot for further daring do. It's a trap, of course, and Tony finds himself in the Marvel version of Hell; in this case a wholly owned subsidiary of Mephisto Inc., or thereabouts.
At this point the tempo should flow into a choreographed sea of waltzing to delight Richard Strauss. Instead, the gears are downshifted to a slightly sluggish shuffle. Doom reveals his nefarious scheme via the abduction and incarceration of Morgana, achieved through a deal with the devil; Mephisto has a real mad on for Tony, you see. Tony? He has a Hell of a time.
The closest analogue to the Michelinie/Layton interpretation of the underworld that comes to mind is that of John Wyndham's "Confidence Trick", where "Hell" was exactly as popular culture described it: caves of fire, the stench of sulphur, and throngs of singleminded, pitchfork wielding, pointy tailed demons. Wyndham's protaganist rejected the reality presented to him as ridiculous and trite, and contrived a means of escape back to London; I won't spoil the ending, but one of his fellow lost souls, a True Believer, took umbrage with his attitude and actions and sets to restore the perceived order of things. Here, Mephisto is portrayed as part crank, part buffoon. He pulls strings, provides commentary, and behaves more like an irritable child than the personification of Evil; the setting mirrors a factory with requisite stygian accoutrements. For an as yet unrevealed reason, beyond the obvious, Mephisto greatly covets Stark's soul and concocts scenarios with which to play with his prize. The title of the chapter refers to a battle between Tony (as Iron Man) and his deceased, demonic, and armoured-up daddy, Howard; I must have missed the stories where Howard Stark was transformed from overbearing prick to Damned, though Tony doesn't seem terribly surprised. It's no big reveal that Tony's sheer goodness allows him to win through, and technical genius allows him to escape. From Hell. With the Devil watching. That's a problem for me.
Doom, meanwhile, wrests his prize from Morgana, sends her back to Camelot, and gloats. Tony appears back in Castle Doom through the Time-Whatsis to confront him. Sharks are jumped as Victor produces Excalibur and floors Stark as it penetrates his armour. Iron Man spent some time working with Dane Whitman, the Black Knight, who also possessed a mystic sword capable of rending any substance, and for all Stark knew, Doom's blade could have been adamantium. The ability to so shock someone possessed of the aforementioned "technical genius" is another problem. We're left with a stand-off as Doom swears to quench his thirst for vengeance.
There's a further "technical" problem, and an odd one given what we saw in the first chapter. There, Iron Man had bulky, shoulder-mounted thrusters presumably used to achieve escape velocity. A terrific amount of force is required to propel an object beyond Earth's pull, which is why huge, expensive rockets are used to launch something the size of a toaster. Iron Man's thrusters, awash in pseudo-science as they may be, manage to address this. Good show! Then, in escaping Hell, Stark is (again) assailed by a swarm of highly acidic techno-amoebas, which he keeps at bay with an electro-magnetic forcefield. Time is running out, however, as the acid begins to eat through the forcefield. If just one, small mention had been made that some magic was at work, or that the creatures were channeling energy through their goo, all would have been well. It's a little depressing to see a story stumble this way.
Enough grousing, let's get back in fanboy mode. When Bob Layton first took on Iron Man, it was nothing less than a paradigm shift. Fond as I was of other interpretations, from Don Heck to Gene Colan to George Tuska to the brothers Buscema, Layton was the first to give the character some Clank. At last Iron Man gleamed, real substance was returned not seen since the original pot-boiler armour. "Revelation" hardly describes it. Not even Neal Adams, who gave us gorgeous high-tech (reminiscent of Al Williamson) long before Star Wars became the standard, managed to capture him; his Iron Man was very pretty, but still seemed more like a tinfoil leisure suit than a steel exo-skeleten. Jim Starlin's model was still less impressive, remarkable from an illustrator who made his bones with the epic space opera of Adam Warlock. No, Layton was the man. I've previously described how superb brushmen like Tom Palmer or Joe Rubenstein can add considerable depth and polish without imposing their own styles; when Bob Layton finishes Iron Man, whether working atop John Romita, Jr., Jerry Bingham, Mike Zeck, or in this case Ron Lim, there's no mistaking that it's a Layton book. Lim's pencils are very fine, of course, but if you've climbed aboard as a fan of his work, you've found yourself something a little different.
So, yes, there are some issues, but the story is sufficiently compelling even if it boils down to a clash of armour. That's what we really came for, anyway. Iron Man versus Doom. Power against power. Super-genius vs. super-genius. Good vs. evil. It's a trip. The next chapter promises just that, so get yourself geeked early. Okay, it's over, you can exhale. Now, let's get ready to Rummmbaaa!!!
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