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Iron Man: The Inevitable
posted July 14, 2008
 

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Creators: Joe Casey, Frazer Irving
Publishing Information: Marvel Comics, comic book series, 32 pages each, $2.99 each, 2006
Ordering Numbers:

Looking back at Joe Casey and Frazer Irving's 2006 mini-series through the lens of 2008's hit summer movie makes for fun exercise marking the limitations of modern superhero characters and noting some of the various hitch-steps in the publishing of them. The story of Iron Man alter-ego Tony Stark's attempt to leave behind the rigid trappings of his costumed alter-ego only to be tossed back into the grimy basics of the genre not once, not twice, but thrice, the mini-series feels like it could be a January to March run of a high-class television show based on the Robert Downey, Jr. movie. If not a series on HBO by one of the Great Davids (Milch, Chase, Simon), it could be something you might eventually catch on fX that passes the time and generates a slew Emmy nominations for its various guest stars. And yet just like watching one of those shows, spending time with this comic feels like an indulgence rather than an entertainment, time that could have been better spent doing something else.

The series' virtues quickly reveal themselves. For one thing, it's an actual story. At this point it's almost shocking to see someone in mainstream American comics play with externalized plotlines as opposed to re-telling the character's origin or changing the narrative baseline or tweaking the genre. It's doubly impressive here because Iron Man was at this point in his long, not-very-storied publishing history casting about for something that would click in the marketplace like a desperate 49er panning for gold. A sense of the futility that comes from constantly rebooting these concepts is accidentally or perhaps even cagily folded into the plot, as both we the reader and Tony Stark know almost from the start his attempt to transcend the hero/villain paradigm simply isn't going to succeed, not in his world and certainly not in ours. This thematic heave and tumble allows Casey to write an Iron Man comic where Iron Man fails in spectacular fashion according to the stakes he sets for himself at the outset. He may win the fights (in fact, he's never close to being challenged), but he definitely loses the war. As one character puts it (roughly) before she passes away, all this dithering around comes back to bite our hero in the ass. Leave it to Casey to turn an Iron Man comic into yet another broad meditation on vocation, this time the futility of our attempts to re-define what we do -- and thus who we are -- in exactly the way we believe will best flatter us, our attempts at once pathetic and hopeful to fill the round hole at the center of our busy lives by informing it in our most convincing voice that it's square.

I can't imagine that sort of theme work was the main attraction of this already little-remembered series. Iron Man: The Inevitable reads like one of those comics where the publisher provides a quality artist a showcase and slips an established writer an assignment to keep them both close to the company for grander projects down the line. A solid book may almost be a surprise bonus in such a case; a hit one like winning the lottery. It's not the place you usually go for a layered approach to narrative implications, even when done with some skill. My guess is that the appeal is more visceral and immediate, and that as a result Irving's art was a main attraction for many of the book's customers. Everything in Irving's world looks glam and ordinary at the same time. His Tony Stark is a believable rake that looks like he could stand to take the stairs over the elevator for a few months. Irving's vision of futuristic, scientific facilities as modular warehouse units and streamlined home protection systems is about as unglamorous a depiction of super-technology as you're ever likely to find. He draws a fine armored superhero and an even better slinky yet similarly-attired bad guy. His civilians have interesting hair.

There are more fundamental problems that begin to loom large by about issue #3 and never quite slip off the page and into the gutters. The series is overlong by about half again as many pages as the story probably required, and there's a sameness to some of the scenes that isn't utilized to any specific, positive effect. It's claustrophobic, too, in the way that makes it feel more like an artificial construct and less like a window into lives as led, although that may have been partly intentional. The overwhelming feeling I have while considering this book is that I can't imagine the kind of person who might enjoy it most reads comic books at all, in any format. It's as if the creators and the editors that hired them are all sharing in something like their main character's carefully constructed delusion.