Comic Review: ‘The Invincible Iron Man’ #600

It’s a farewell from Brian Michael Bendis as he caps off his run on The Invincible Iron Man…

 

Inv Iron Man #600

Cover art for Marvel’s The Invincible Iron Man #600 by Chris Sprouse (image belongs: Marvel Comics, used for illustrative purposes only).

 

Warning! Contains Spoilers.

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / Art by:  Stefano Caselli, Alex Maleev, David Marquez, Daniel Acuna, Leinil Francis Yu & Gerry Alanguilan, Jim Cheung, Mike Deodato Jr, Mark Bagely, Andrew Hennessy & Scott Hanna, Andrea Sorrentino / Colours by:  Marte Garcia, Alex Maleev, Daniel Acuna, Guru-eFX, Romulo Fajardo, Marcelo Maiold & Rachelle Rosenberg

What’s it about?

“The Search for Tony Stark” Finale : Tony Stark emerges from the shadows as Iron Man returns to face the threat of the Hood and a face from the past…

In review

The 600th issue of The Invincible Iron Man is a milestone for more than one reason, the book’s numeric value aside it’s not only the conclusion to Brian Michael Bendis’ run on the title (which commenced in 2015) but also the prolific writer’s final comic for Marvel (for the foreseeable future at least) as he departs for DC after working at the ‘House of Ideas’ for almost twenty years.

The Invincible Iron Man #600 serves as a fitting, albeit slightly muddled and not overly spectacular final chapter in “The Search for Tony Stark”.  It’s not the greatest comic Bendis has ever written, nor is it an out-and-out classic issue of The Invincible Iron Man but it does the job adequately.  Following the events of issue #599, Tony Stark is back and ready for action as he faces a hostile takeover of Stark Industries, a threat from Hydra and demons from the past as Riri Williams must decide where her future lies now Iron Man has returned and Victor Von Doom seeks retribution.

Where The Invincible Iron Man #600 does succeed is in its revelations, chiefly the resurrection of Rhodey (who had fallen at the hands of Thanos in Civil War II) – this could be a huge spoiler for some (hence the warning at the head of the review) but surely most readers will have been expecting it, given that very few characters ever die and then remain so in comics…notwithstanding that the issue’s cover can be seen as a giveaway.  Anyway, it’s handled brilliantly being both emotionally satisfying and funny and no doubt we’ll be seeing more of Rhodey/War Machine in Dan Slott’s forthcoming run.

There’s a tragic and heart-wrenching climax to Victor Von Doom’s tenure as the ‘Infamous’ Iron Man and one that may precipitate his return to a more villainous path – another area for Dan Slott to explore with the impending Fantastic Four relaunch.  The return of Stark’s biological father (see the International Iron Man limited series), Jude also adds to the drama whilst helping to bring things full circle.

The Invincible Iron Man #600 does become a little jumbled though.  Despite its increased page count there is so much going on and barely enough space, although the pacing never feels rushed.  It can also be a bit of a trying read at times, much of the book is narrated by the A.I. version of Tony Stark and it’s quite dense as Brian Michael Bendis packs in a lot of exposition that serves to both recap events of his entire Iron Man saga and set the stage for the future.

There’s still room reserved for some action, the highlight of which is Stark’s attack on the Hood and his gang as he fights to prevent Stark Industries from falling into enemy hands, Jim Cheung’s beautiful double-page splash featuring numerous past Iron Man armours – evoking memories of Iron Man #300’s Iron Legion.

The expanded roster of artists is a little tricky, granted some of Marvel’s strongest talent has been engaged here and it’s a particular pleasure to see David Marquez contribute but it’s a shame that the whole book couldn’t have simply been divided up between Stefano Caselli and Alex Maleev in the same manner as previous issues, but it’s perhaps partly necessitated by the jump to 42 pages.  Still, it’s fairly consistent overall but the random jump between artists can be a little jarring.

In the end, it feels like Brian Michael Bendis may have had more up his sleeve for Marvel’s Iron Avenger but with his time at Marvel now up we can only see what’s in store with Dan Slott’s Tony Stark:  Iron Man.  The Invincible Iron Man #600 isn’t perfect but Bendis has produced a memorable run on the character (and given us Riri Williams in the process) and although it’s not as fulfilling as it could have been, there are certainly some good moments within.

The bottom line:  “The Search for Tony Stark” comes to an end in Brian Michael Bendis’ flawed but enjoyable final issue of The Invincible Iron Man.

The Invincible Iron Man #600 is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Film Review: ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’

Ron Howard and Alden Ehrenreich punch it as they chart a young Han Solo’s journey to the Kessel Run… 

Solo

Alden Ehrenreich leads the cast of Lucasfilm’s ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’  (image used for illustrative purposes only and remains the property of the copyright owner).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettnay

Directed by:  Ron Howard / Written by:  Lawrence Kasdan & Jonathan Kasdan / 134 minutes

What’s it about?

Dreaming of becoming the greatest pilot in the galaxy, Han Solo embarks on an adventure where he meets his future co-pilot Chewbacca and is pitted against Lando Calrissian as he seeks to obtain his prized ship, the Millennium Falcon for use in a daring intergalactic heist…

In review

Following all of the behind the scenes drama surrounding the exit of original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and extensive reshoots implemented by Lucasfilm with the hiring of Ron Howard, it’s fair to say expectations were somewhat soured for this latest standalone Star Wars story chronicling the early adventures of a young Han Solo.  A film that many a Star Wars fan would argue they never even wanted in the first place, Solo rises from the ashes of those initial issues of its troubled production and via the talents of director Howard, a surprisingly witty and charming lead and scintillating visuals proves to be an enjoyable addition to the Star Wars cinematic canon.

Opening on the crime ridden streets of the planet Corellia, Solo introduces us to a younger version of the iconic scoundrel some years before his fateful encounter with Luke Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi in A New Hope (aka 1977’s original Star Wars) as he attempts to escape to a better life with girlfriend Qi’ra (Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke).  Events taking a bad turn, Solo soon finds himself disillusioned and without cause as he fights for the tyrannical Galactic Empire – but the future hero of the Rebel Alliance gets another chance as he joins the devious Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his ragtag group of outlaws (amongst them Westworld’s Thandie Newton as Beckett’s wife, Val) on a raid to steal a valuable fuel source and deliver it to the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate.

With Harrison Ford so universally adored as one of the most beloved Star Wars characters – one who is a cinematic icon, regardless – fears of anyone else stepping into the role would not be unfounded.  Rest assured that Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!) is a worthy successor and a great fit for the part, charismatically conveying the swaggering mannerisms and cocky attitude (ably assisted by the writing from veteran Star Wars scribe Lawrence Kasdan and his son, Jonathan) without coming off as a mere imitation of Ford’s take on the loveable rogue, more of an embodiment than an impersonation and much like Chris Pine in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek is afforded some latitude to add his own mark without betraying the essence of such a memorable character.  Emilia Clarke is fine enough as Qi’ra (but certainly no Carrie Fisher) but Ehrenreich is at his best when playing off against new pals Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and Lando Calrissian (The Martian’s Donald Glover similarly channelling original actor Billy Dee Williams whilst equally making the part his own).  The ever reliable Woody Harrelson makes an impression as Beckett and shares some great moments with Ehrenreich but it’s a part that’s maybe not as fully realised as it could’ve been.  Paul Bettany (Avengers: Infinty War) is another high point in the role of Crimson Dawn’s leader Dryden Voss, which the actor tackles with some glorious scenery chewing might.

Jon Favreau (director of Marvel hits Iron Man and Iron Man 2, also appointed to oversee the forthcoming live action Star Wars television series) adds to the fun as the voice of Beckett’s pilot, CGI character Rio but it’s the motion capture performance of Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Lando’s faithful droid companion L3-37 that stands out, although admittedly filling the void left by Alan Tudyk’s K2-SO in Rogue One, Waller-Bridge is similarly wonderful as L3 and delivers some genuine laughs…and even a little bit of heart.

Overall, the plot manages to maintain momentum and delivers an almost continuous string of excitement in a fun and visually striking adventure.  Where Solo does falter however is in some of its predictability borne out of the demands of being an origin story, whilst it can (together with the numerous nods to the history of the franchise) often enrich the experience for Star Wars fans, the potential scope of the narrative is restrained a little by the need to check off certain items as well as a couple of surprisingly unsurprising twists.  There’s also not a huge deal of development to the character of Han Solo beyond what we already know but that’s arguably down to the placing of the film in the Star Wars timeline.

Those flaws notwithstanding, Solo is never less than a highly entertaining space adventure and is bolstered by quality production values and epic visuals that only enhance its action sequences, which includes a gripping mountain top train heist but the highlight undoubtedly being the infamous Kessel run as Han and Chewie take control of the Millennium Falcon for the first time – John Powell’s score effectively evoking a sense of nostalgia as he employs those classic John Williams themes that are so intrinsically connected to the Star Wars mythos.

Solo is by no means the greatest Star Wars film but it’s a pleasingly solid and fun ride that may even serve as a palette cleanser for those who were not so enamoured by Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi.

The bottom line:  Han shoots first in Lucasfilm’s enjoyable Solo: A Star Wars Story which features a likeable lead performance and some tremendously executed action sequences.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is in cinemas now.

Flashback: ‘Iron Man’

Ten years ago, a certain cinematic universe was born…

 

Iron Man 2008

In the beginning: Robert Downey Jr and Jeff Bridges head-up the cast of Marvel Studios’ ‘Iron Man’.

Starring:  Robert Downey Jr, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Shaun Toub, Faran Tahir, Clark Gregg

Directed by:  Jon Favreau / Written by:  Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum & Matt Holloway / 2008

What’s it about?

After escaping captivity and near-death in Afghanistan, weapons manufacturer Tony Stark builds a hi-tech armoured suit and embarks on a mission to thwart evil…

Retrospective

A surprise hit back in 2008, Iron Man was not only the first theatrical release for Marvel Studios but the Big Bang of the multi-billion dollar grossing Marvel Cinematic Universe.  A decade later, it’s hard to imagine that a feature film adaptation of one of Marvel’s lesser known (the rights to the likes of Spider-Man and X-Men held by Sony and 20th Century Fox, respectively) characters was considered a huge gamble and had the fate of a potential film franchise weighing heavily on its shoulders.

Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Paramount Pictures (Disney’s purchase of Marvel would take place in 2009), Iron Man would take the Howard Hughes inspired character created by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber together with artists Don Heck and Jack Kirby (first appearing in Tales of Suspense #39, published in 1963), place him in the 21st Century and meld the core elements of billionaire playboy industrialist Tony Stark with the performance of lead star Robert Downey Jr.

An inspired casting choice, the once troubled Downey Jr was able to channel his demons into the role of Tony Stark – a character who had plenty of personal struggles in the comics – and turn in a performance that balances wisecracking quips with some hearty introspection.  Downey Jr is certainly a strong point and although this interpretation of Tony Stark differs somewhat to the more broody version comic book readers would be used to up to that point (writers such as Matt Fraction and Brian Michael Bendis leaning him more towards the lighter, playful big screen version in subsequent runs), it’s a take that fits with what Marvel were seemingly going for with Iron Man – a colourful, fun action film with nuances of maturity, tucking in themes of redemption as the film’s protagonist seeks a more heroic and morally justifiable path.  When we first meet Stark, CEO of weapons manufacturer Stark Industries, he’s not the most likeable of people – a carefree and careless egotist who likes to drink, gamble and womanise in equal measure.  Yet, over the course of the film we grow to care for Stark as he reflects on errors of the past and embarks on his journey to becoming ‘Iron Man’.

 

Iron Man 2008 (2)

Robert Downey Jr: inspired casting for ‘Iron Man’.

The plot of Iron Man is fairly straightforward and functions well as an origin story and although it lacks the sophistication and artistry of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins it’s entertaining and gets the job done.  Updating the Vietnam-era setting of Iron Man’s comic book debut to that of post 9/11 Afghanistan, Tony Stark is gravely injured by one of his own weapons and captured by militants where his life is saved by fellow prisoner Yinsen (Shaun Toub) who fits an electromagnet to Stark’s chest, preventing deadly shards of shrapnel from piercing his heart.  Put to work on constructing a missile, Stark instead builds an armoured suit, powered by a refined version of the electromagnet and escapes.  Having witnessed the horrors of war and how his weapons could be used for untold evil, Stark returns home with a change of heart, announcing the end of munitions manufacturing at Stark Industries, to the reticence of Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges).  Frozen out by the rest of the board, Stark develops a new iteration of the armoured suit and sets out to destroy the cache of stolen weapons being utilised by the very terrorist group who held him captive.  Meanwhile, Stane has other plans for the future of Stark Industries and will stop at nothing to realise them.

Downey Jr is ably supported by Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘Pepper’ Potts, Tony Stark’s trusted, often frustrated, assistant who non-the-less is always at her boss’s side.  Paltrow is solid in the part, gifted with some plucky lines and it’s only bolstered by the easy chemistry between herself and Robert Downey Jr.  Adding further to the star-power is Academy Award nominee Terence Howard, who makes his only appearance as Tony’s friend and military liaison to Stark Industries, Lt. Colonel James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes.  Grumbles over pay negotiations for the sequel would lead to Howard being replaced by Don Cheadle, who continues in the role to today.

As the big bad, Jeff Bridges brings gravitas to the role of Obadiah Stane elevating it above something that could’ve easily come off as too pantomime in less capable hands, resulting in one of the more memorable Marvel film villains.  Stane’s increasing mania as he builds an exo-suit of his own is fun to watch, leading to an explosive finale as Stark dons the Iron Man armour to face off against Stane and his formidable ‘Iron Monger’ suit.

Iron Man 2008 (3)

Tony Stark takes flight in the Mark III Iron Man armour…

Director Jon Favreau (who also appears as Tony Stark’s driver, ‘Happy’ Hogan) keeps things energetic and exciting, delivering slick spectacle without sacrificing the smaller and more intimate character moments.  The film’s design is commendable, the highlight of which is the Iron Man armour itself.  Based on the designs of comic book artist Adi Granov and created using a mixture of CGI and practical elements – implemented by the legendary Stan Winston Studios – it’s a faithful translation of the red and gold future Avenger from the four colour pages to the silver screen.

Iron Man remains a highly enjoyable watch, whilst Tony Stark’s Avengers outings are generally stronger and the character, along with Robert Downey Jr’s continued success in the part, has grown and matured.  The film’s positive reception cemented the plans of Marvel Studios for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the wider superhero world teased by the inclusion of Clark Gregg as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson and a post-credits appearance by Samuel L. Jackson as the organisation’s director, Nick Fury) and instilled Marvel with the confidence to adapt other lower-tier comic book properties such as Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and Doctor Strange all of which would be well received by audiences and critics alike.

Geek fact!  An Iron Man feature film had lingered in development since the 1990s, with superstar Tom Cruise at one point mooted as a possible candidate for the lead role.

All images contained herein belong: Marvel Studios and used for illustrative purposes only.