The Invincible Iron Man – Extremis
Warren Ellis is one of those writers where even if you find what you read uninteresting you generally have to admit it’s well written. Personally I find his work very hit or miss. Which is unusual in its own way because I also find his work fairly samey. The same concepts and patterns tend to pop up in a lot of them, just with different set dressing, usually the characters. For the record I remember greatly disliking Extremis the first time I read it so I wan’t exactly champing at the bit.
The first issue was fine. Tony is hold up in his lab and we get various flashbacks introducing characters that will become relevant and we also see the pieces villains up to no good. The best part of it was Tony getting taken to task by a documentarian about being a weapons manufacturer. This also included an odd abridged re-runs of his “Origins”. Which had been updated to be in post-gulf Afghanistan. Which is possibly the same as his MCU ones? Though this obviously predates by a few years.
It’s one of the interesting things about an endless continuity that is always set in the now. Most iconic and long lasting superheroes have ultimately fairly simple almost archetypal origin stories. Iron Man is always relevant, always updateable because there is always a recent war he can have invented weapons for and being injured in. Just as Batman can be because peoples parents are still getting killed in alleyways or Spider-Man can because what we do with power and responsibility are questions we cant answer. In the endless now it is characters who are anchored in time that start to fray. The further we get from World War 2 the less impactful Captain America’s origins become and more it would behoove writers to address the changes in values.
As it may be relevant, the unnamed bad guys inject one of their own with some weird biotech that turns him into a weird monster and then back to human. The guy who leaked the tech commits suicide. Turns out he stole the tech from a co worker who is Tony’s female friend. I only mention her gender as it will likely become relevant. In the second issue Tony goes and meets her and whisks her off to meet a friend of theirs who is some sanctimonious old hippy that goes on a long tirade about how DMT lets you see your bodies operating system and how nature wants us to see that and how the Iron Man suit is doing that on a macro level. This all fields very much classic Warren Ellis. It also made me miss psychedelics.
If the foreshadowing wasn’t obvious enough interspersed with this we have Mr Monster going into an FBI building and punching through peoples heads. Meanwhile Captain Hippy (should be his game) guilt trips Tony about the Iron Man suit is for nothing other than being the Iron Man suit. I’ll admit it makes for a solid read but I find this kind of deconstruction a bit unconvincing when it’ll be undone when the next author takes over. Meanwhile the guy killing all the FBI is breathing fire. Which feels really goofy. Meanwhile the conversation with Sal, Captain Hippy’s actual name, is ongoing. It feels jarring because its presented as he’s an old mentor to Tony and Maya. Despite him being introduced for the first time ever in this issue (just like Maya was last issue).
The next issue begins with some exposition about what Extremis (the biotech Mr Monster injected himself with) is. In short it’s a super soldier attempt that works by reprograming the body (hey that sounds familiar…). The exposition is full of the usual pure bollocks Ellis technobabble. We then found out that the guy who leaked it leaked it to domestic terrorists. Apropos of nothing we so far haven’t seen a single non white character. Anyway we get a pointless flashback of Mallen (Mr Monster’s) sad past that makes me feel absolutely nothing and then Tony’s “suited up” and fighting Mallen in the middle of the road.
Iron Man get’s his ass kicked but not before there is a lot of “collateral damage” as Mallen throws Tony into occupied cars or lifts them up to smash them down on him. Carnage like this in a mainline title honestly feels somewhat out of place. Anyway we begin Part 4 with Mallen running off due to the police showing up. Which makes no real sense. But it is what it is. Tony is badly injured but gets himself shipped to Maya’s lab where he convinces her he needs to get injected with Extremis because the response time of the suit is too slow so it HAS to be wired into his brain. Despite literally decades of it not being an issue. But again, it is what it is.
While this is going on we get a two page interlude where Mallen, who is running at three hundred miles per hour to Washington to save the “real America”, runs into a goth looking girl having a smoke and complaining about small town America. They get into an argument and Mallen crushes her head. This felt very much like it was an attempt to play the comic book reading audience to underscore what a cunt Mallen is. It worked I suppose but felt transparently manipulative.
Anyway they finally inject Tony with the reconfigured Extremis in order to “make him Iron Man inside and out” and we come to my main issue with this story arc. Tony was “just” a genius. He was human, mortal, but through his genius he could with and against gods and supermen. But without the suit he was, as Faith No More would say, Just a Man. But now he’s not now he is the suit. That may seem like semantics but it fundamentally changes the character for me. An iron suit no matter how complex is still an external power. But super bio tech which reprograms your body to make the Iron Man suit from memory metals in your blood is, well, to paraphrase Arthur C Clarke, magic.
The next issue starts with an extended sequence where we see Tony constructing the original Iron Man suit to save his life (and then a few pages of him violently killing Afghani’s). This is interspersed with the Extremis virus reconstructing his body in the modern day. Then Tony wakes up and how he has memory metal in the hollows of his bones and can see through satellites and grew new organs and so on. That was it. Not a lot to this issue.
The next issue is basically one big fight between Iron Man and Mallen. It’s well drawn and “choreographed.” It also falls very flat. The dialogue tries to paint Mallen as some kind of dark mirror of Iron Man but it doesn’t work at all. Then Iron Man kills him by blowing his head off. Which again is the kind of violence that feels incredibly off. A token effort was made to make it seem like he was forced. But it didnt work. It felt like what it was, pure sensationalism. Oh and in the end it turns out Maya had a hand in releasing the extremis in order to prove its worth and to get funding to cure cancer.
Meh. This wasnt as bad as I recalled but I wouldn’t say it was that good either. The first two chapters were definitely the high point. Ultimately it was mediocre and felt like Ellis playing around with no real interest in the character or the universe.
Oh I didn’t mention the artwork. I’m not a fan of the style, which I’d describe as “plastic realism”. But it is well done and works with the story.
Secret Wars (2005)
I was planning to read this because it was on my reading list. It basically sets up Bendis’ run on the New Avengers which feeds into the next eight years or so of events. But then I got to the first page and I remembered two things. The first is that I am very much not a fan of the art style (as an aside its getting to me how much I complain about stuff in these posts, its a bit monotonous.)
The second was how the story ends. Badly. I really dislike this. It does introduce a character, Daisy Johnson (aka Quake), that I really like. But that doesn’t save it. If you want a decent summary you can check out the wiki article here. If you want my one line summary, Nick Fury tricks a bunch of heroes into helping him commit a war crime in reprisal for domestic terrorism. Maybe it’s a sign of the times. It was written in 2005 but it feels very “post 9/11”. I have a lot of problems with it.
The first obviously is that I don’t feel a story about how an American military officer uses excessive force to kill the rightfully elected leader of a country and every civilian in the government building they were in as a reprisal for “attacks on America” to be in any way compelling. Second the fact Nick Fury is presented as the nominal hero of the piece and his actions are justified by “hard men making hard choices” is honestly repellent to me. The fact he suffers no consequences for his actions doesn’t help. Thirdly it completely undermines the established character of Nick Fury. Par for the course for Bendis admittedly. I suppose finally its how fucking stupid the entire plan was. Nick Fury has access to the resources both in terms of technology and personnel to get the job done cleanly and the collateral damage (and alienating all the heroes) serves no purpose. The whole things a fucking mess.
I tried to read the first issue. But it’s like a super hero pastiche of 24 (I assume, I’ve seen twenty minutes of it). Right down to the old standard “enhanced interrogation”.
I have a big problem with how torture is portrayed in popular media. Torture doesn’t work. That’s an established fact that everyone from leading psychologists to the fucking CIA admit. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen or that people don’t believe it works and stuff like this plays into that toxic mythology. Oh by the way those SHIELD bell ends get that guy killed literally two pages later. Hard men. Hard choices, etc. I haven’t mentioned it yet through sheer force of will. But I might as well. The “Bendis speak” is fucking insufferable as well. The issue goes on with Nick Fury, the Director of SHIELD who are an international organisation who work for the UN and report to the World Council, briefing the US President about “domestic terrorism” and the finer points of how the z-list tech criminal aren’t criminals but terrorists.
It’s all very jingoistic and again very stupid and ignoring not just continuity but the setting. SHIELD doesn’t give a shit if they are terrorists or criminals as both fall under their remit. They also dont give a shit that the President wont bankroll the operation and in fact shut it down because a) they don’t work for and b) aren’t bankrolled by the United States. Here’s the second last page of the issue which perfectly captures the mood of the comic and its core moral justification.
I like how they had to spell it out, in case people didn’t get the 9/11 references. If that page didn’t make it clear what kind of story this is perhaps the first page of the second issue will help.
Fuck me. The story somehow gets worse. Or at least stupider. Fury goes around recruiting his Secret Warriors. Which includes Peter Parker. Who he tells not to wear a costume to and puts him on a plane with his other Secret Warriors. In equally secret identity ruining style we have Matt Murdock. So a blind lawyer and a photographer in a plane cabin with Captain America, Wolverine (written as a drunk womaniser despite it being canonically more or less impossible for him to get drunk) and an unknown (Quake). Oh and Luke Cage.
I suppose I should also mention there are lots of weird cracks about Latveria being very sexist, Luke Cage being the only black man in it and it being heavily militarised. Feels like I’m a broken record but we actually know that in terms of continuity none of this was true and Doom’s rule, while a dictatorship, is relatively benign and egalitarian. We also know he has fuck all human soldiers. It feels pretty clear they were presenting it as “European Afghanistan”. Black Widow shows up and some shit happens. Because I hate myself I move on to the third issue. Spoiler after reading issue one I went and read issue five and then went back to read them in order. And you thought I was joking when I said I hate myself.
I wont bore you with the details the summary linked above will do that. The last issue was the worse, because it had the most self justifying bullshit rhetoric in it.
Honestly apart from the story being pure masturbatory jingoistic garbage it was a waste of time in terms of continuity to read it as well. All you need to know is Fury is out and Maria Hill is in as the head of SHIELD. That’s it. Maybe, maybe you need to know that Captain America, Spider-Man, Wolverine and Luke Cage know one another. But considering that was true before this storyline existed I don’t really count that. I will say this made Extremis look even better by comparison.
Well its on to Grant Morrison’s X-Men run next I think. Though its fairly long so I’m thinking about changing how I write this up. I think I’m going to move to talking about whole arcs and less issue by issue stuff. Unless its very good or very stupid. I’d bet on the latter.