Following the commercial success of DC’s New 52 line-wide reboot of their titles, Marvel also relaunched their comics with Marvel NOW! This is the first volume of the newly rebooted Iron Man series, Believe, written by Kieran Gillen and drawn by Greg Land and, like the New 52, Marvel NOW! isn’t really a reboot. It’s also a pretty weak first volume considering Iron Man is one of their biggest characters.
The first issue opens with Maya Hansen on the run who sends off a message to Tony before dying – Extremis is on the loose. Extremis is a virus that “hacks” the human body, “reprograms” it and, depending on the code, the infected person can wind up with all sorts of superpowers, eg. superspeed, firebreathing, etc. Maya Hansen is the creator of the virus along with Aldrich Killian. Tony puts a stop to Extremis being sold on the black market and sets off to collect all of the Extremis units that have been sold.
That’s the entire setup for the book – Tony jetting around the world and fighting whoever has Extremis to get it back. It’s a thin plot that gives Gillen the space to write some varied single issues such as Iron Man fighting vampire-like creatures in the catacombs of Paris, South American drug cartels, and fighting on board a space station. The best of these was the bizarre 21st century version of King Arthur-esque knights kitted out in juiced-up armour. But featuring Extremis as the main plot device isn’t a particularly original idea as, besides the Ellis book, Matt Fraction also did a similar Extremis storyline when he wrote the character back in 2008. It would’ve been better if Gillen had tried doing something different for his Iron Man book than two well-known Iron Man books had already done – and done better, too.
By far the worst thing about this book is Greg Land’s art. His Tony Stark is a constantly squinting, frog-faced man who would be unrecognisable if not for the famous moustache/pencil beard. But the most confounding thing about Land’s style is the way he draws women – they are all identical! They’re all long-haired, large-breasted, long-legged women who wear as little as possible, and facially they’re indistinguishable. There’s even a scene where Pepper asks Tony if she looks different from the others girls to him – and she really doesn’t! It makes me wonder if Gillen is aware of Land’s limitations as an artist and wrote that scene to acknowledge/poke fun of it. Either way it’s an aspect of the book that’s hard to get past.
Land further compounds this problem by making some questionable decisions regarding scenes such as when Tony is working on some schematics – instead of being in his garage/lab, he’s sat by the pool giving Land the opportunity to populate the panels with bikini-clad pornstar clones. It’s just so derivative.
I will give Land this – he can draw Iron Man armour really well. The scenes where he didn’t have to draw Tony Squinty-Eyes were definitely the best. There are also numerous armours that Tony uses in each of his missions to get Extremis which was an excellent narrative choice as Tony wouldn’t have a single all-purpose armour so we get to see a special kind of stealth armour, large combat armour, and one for space-faring, all of which are really well designed, and Land does a great job of drawing them all. This might be the sole reason he was hired to draw this book.
I also liked seeing that Tony has a portable armoury that flies around after him whenever he goes on a mission and might need an armour change – it reminded me a bit of Rincewind and the Luggage from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. But this, the armour designs, and a few decent scenes aren’t enough to make this a good Iron Man book. For a first volume of one of Marvel’s highest profile characters, Believe is a very underwhelming start for Iron Man. It’s ending is also very confusing as it’s uncertain where this series is headed. If you’ve been keeping up with a certain cosmic team’s comics, you’ll know exactly where Tony is headed but whether he becomes part of that series or they become part of the Iron Man series – or neither! – is unclear.
Overall this is a disappointing beginning to the new Iron Man series. Hopefully the following books become a bit more focused on creating stronger storylines that are more than pale imitations of past, better stories, and the artist on the book gets changed. While I can’t recommend this title for anyone looking for a great Iron Man book, I will recommend checking out Iron Man: Extremis by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov to see how an Iron Man book should be done – it’s also a great starting point for new readers, unlike Believe.
Iron Man, Volume 1: Believe by Kieran Gillen and Greg Land is out now in hardback at your local comics shop and online at Comixology and Marvel Unlimited
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