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The Invincible Iron Man #1
By Warren Ellis and Adi Granov
Published by Marvel Comics; $3.50 USD

Writer Warren Ellis heads up yet another relaunch of Iron Man, and this is probably the best of his Marvel efforts. When paired with good-to-great artists like Bryan Hitch, John Cassaday or Jacen Burrows, Ellis's writing historically rises to the occasion; good things happen. See, for example, the off-to-a-good-start Ocean Ellis is currently writing for Wildstorm with the always-excellent artist Chris Sprouse. Now, I wouldn't go so far as to call Iron Man "illustrator" (as he's called in the credits) Adi Granov a great artist, but his computer-game-style artwork suits the character and tells the story well, giving Ellis's script a solid stage on which to play itself out.

The opening sequence focuses on some unknown characters mucking about with unfamiliar technology in some sort of evil experiment on one of their own. Granov's work is at its most awkward here, with some faces looking particularly artificial and video-gamey. I will admit my prejudice outright and say I vastly prefer my comics actually pencilled and inked with, you know, pencils and ink, but I was willing to give Granov's modelled computer work a chance. It gets better once Tony Stark enters the story -- Granov seems to have spent more time thinking about Stark and the other characters in the story, obviously modelling them on real people -- Stark, for example, looks very much like actor Tom Cruise in more than one panel. If that's a sad and obvious ploy for Hollywood attention, well, at least Stark looks human, which is more than I can say for the bald guy in the opening pages.

Granov's sterile style is put to its best use in depicting the Iron Man suit; it hasn't looked right to me in years, but in this iteration, it actually does seem like a real metal suit with a guy inside it, and if the flying scene toward the end of the issue goes on for one page too many, at least it actually gives a sense of what it would look like to see Iron Man flying through the sky.

Not much happens in this opening chapter of a six-part story no doubt headed for collection as a trade paperback. Iron Man's origin is needlessly rehashed and 21st century terrorism is shoehorned into it to make it seem relevant (could be worse, could be Freddy Prinze Junior) and perhaps even please Marvel's new neo-conservative associates. Stark submits to an interview with a progressive journalist, and the flow of their conversation indicates Ellis may explore Stark's role as a weapons manufacturer for the government; on the other hand, the encounter between Stark and the reporter walks such a fine line between progressive and warmaking philosophies that it's hard to tell if the issue will be explored further or was brought up so as to be dismissed so we can get on to the kicking and biting and exploding. There's certainly potential for an unusual and welcome story to be told about Stark and his culpability as an arms dealer, although it seems unlikely Marvel would ever allow Ellis to trod too far down that path.

The writing occasionally falls back on familiar Ellis habits -- Tony Stark's motivation being "I'm trying to improve the world," a familiar refrain, certainly, for anyone who's read much Ellis comics in the past. But as first issues go, Iron Man #1 gets the job done and is certainly better than most recent Ellis efforts; I'm intrigued, and that's not a bad place to be after reading a first issue. Granov's storytelling skills appear limited at this point, but not so awkward and amateurish that I am ready just yet to write him off. For those who've been waiting for Ellis to get back in form after a string of serious disappointments, this one might be to your liking. As someone who liked Iron Man when I was a teenager, I'm plannng to see the first story-arc through and judge from there whether this title holds my long-term interest as an adult. If nothing else, it's vastly better than the book has been since Kurt Busiek stopped writing it a few years ago. Grade: 3.5/5

-- Alan David Doane



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