Have You Read… ‘Iron Man: Extremis’?

The comics and graphic novels you may not have read that are worth checking out…

Iron Man Extremis

Art by Adi Granov (image credit: Marvel Comics).

Written by:  Warren Ellis / art by:  Adi Granov

What’s it about?

Tony Stark faces a new and deadly threat as he dons his Iron Man armour to stop a biologically enhanced terrorist from destroying the U.S. government…

In review

Originally published as the first six-issue storyline for Marvel Comics’ 2005 relaunch of The Invincible Iron Man (recently re-issued in a new hardcover edition as part of the comic book publisher’s ‘Marvel Select’ line), Iron Man: Extremis is a benchmark in modern Iron Man comics.  Extremis can be read as a self-contained, standalone story without the need for any familiarity with the decades-long history of Iron Man.  With a sharp and exciting script, British comic book writer Warren Ellis (The Authority) crafts an intelligent science fiction bio-tech thriller with an intriguing, thought provoking concept at its core complemented by solid characterisation, a touch of horror and blockbuster action – brought to life by artist Adi Granov’s unique visuals.

Extremis is a story that’s conscious of the war on terror and the technological explosion of the early 21st Century.  It sees an experimental biological enhancile known as ‘Extremis’ fall into the hands of domestic terrorists who test it on one of their number – a dangerous and radical low-life named Mallen.  Utilising deadly superhuman powers bestowed upon him by Extremis, including enhanced healing and strength together with the ability to unleash searing blasts of flames, Mallen wreaks havok as he sets about his anti-U.S. government agenda.  Maya Hansen, an old acquaintance of Tony Stark and one of the creators of Extremis enlists the help of the Stark Industries CEO in stopping the terror but a brutal confrontation with Mallen ends with the Iron Man armour being severely damaged and Tony Stark critically injured.  The only hope of Stark making a quick recovery and being able to match Mallen leads to him risking the use of Extremis on himself.

The Extremis process itself, the ability to essentially unlock and manipulate the human body’s (essentially hack its ‘operating system’) repair centre is a fascinating idea and Ellis explores it in a philosophical and also ethical manner as its military applications, and the risks thereof, are debated.  It also presents an evolution for Tony Stark/Iron Man as the marriage between the two is deepened to the biological level, increasing the powers and abilities of the Iron Man armour and its user – providing a new and exciting modern status-quo for the enduring Marvel character.

This is pre-MCU Iron Man and those only familiar with Robert Downey Jr’s more light-hearted and quippy portrayal of Tony Stark (which is enjoyable in itself) may be surprised to find that this version of the character is quite different.  In keeping with previous interpretations in the comics, the Tony Stark in Extremis is a billionaire philanthropist (the ‘playboy’ aspect isn’t really on display here), a genius almost constantly thinking of the next innovation who is somewhat insular and broody yet well-intentioned – driven to ensure that his company moves away from its past identity as a weapons manufacturer – despite grappling with personal demons, finding a true sense of purpose and self-worth when he dons his revolutionary Iron Man armour – the world at large unaware that Stark himself is the Iron Avenger.  Despite some of the more troubled elements of the main character, Warren Ellis injects a smattering of humour where it’s appropriate and Stark isn’t without some charm but it’s generally a darker and more mature realisation in-line with earlier iterations of Iron Man whilst being resonant in a post 9/11 world.

Warren Ellis deftly weaves an updated but faithful recounting of the Stark/Iron Man origin story into the narrative via a media interview and flashbacks – modernising it by transposing the setting from during the Vietnam War to the conflict against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan (much like we saw on film in 2008’s Iron Man), where Stark, gravely injured by one of his own weapons is captured by Afghan terrorists and with the help of fellow captive, Doctor Ho Yinsen builds his first Iron Man suit as a means to both keep him alive and fight his way to an escape.

The digital art by the Bosnian-American illustrator Adi Granov is excellent, some may find it unusual or an acquired taste with its computer-generated look, but it produces clean and realistic visuals that are somewhat filmic with its muted colouring.  There are several striking single page spreads, boldly presenting the Iron Man suit in all its glory and the action is equally impressive – especially in the origin story flashbacks.  Granov also proves himself adept at the flourishes of horror in Ellis’s script with the startling and gross Extremis transformations.

The “Extremis” storyline would later form part of the plot for Marvel Studios’ 2013 big screen smash Iron Man Three but the comic book source by Messrs. Ellis and Granov is more like a Christopher Nolan film or a HBO production of Iron Man and is all the more attractive for it, making for a highly recommended read.

Geek fact!

Adi Granov helped to design the Iron Man and Iron Monger armours for Marvel Studios’ Iron Man as well as providing key-frame illustrations for the film.

Iron Man: Extremis is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

2 thoughts on “Have You Read… ‘Iron Man: Extremis’?

  1. Excellent review, my friend. I love that this take on Tony Stark is far more in line with what I would prefer seeing his character like. It’s definitely much more compelling to my eyes and, with the praise you give it here, a story I’ll have to look into it for sure. I do remember coming across this volume in the past but it’s the computer-generated look that scared me off from picking it up. But I think your positive thoughts on it is enough for me to take the risk.

    • Thanks Lashaan! It’s because of stories like this that I was initially disappointed with the MCU take on the character, who has always been a fave of mine (Iron Man was one of the first comic title I started reading) – it always leaves me wondering what a Christopher Nolan-esque Iron Man film would be like!

      I can see how the computer generated art would be an acquired taste but you soon become accustomed to it, I hope you do eventually check “Extremis” out my friend as I’m confident that you’d appreciate it.

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