Saturday, April 26, 2014

Review: Iron Man #324

Iron Man #324, "So Far to Fall," Cover Date January 1996
Written by Terry Kavanagh and Dan Abnett, Penciled by James Calafiore and Mark Bright, Inked by various, cover by Jim Cheung

Iron Man 324 Cover Cheung

We begin with a touching scene, as murderous psychopath Tony Stark is back at his arctic base, where he snaps Machinesmith's neck, detaching his head. But this time, he's helping, as the narration boxes explain he's gently repairing the robot, destroyed by Masque last issue. Marianne Rodgers, who a few issues ago was trying to kill Tony, sheds an empathetic tear for the fallen robot. Maybe she really needed psychiatric care after all?

Iron Man 324 Stark Marianne Rogers
Good news, kids, your favorite hero has been manipulated by a super-villain for years!

Back at the smoldering wreckage of Janet Van Dyne's house (I hope she has a good insurance plan, since Tony bankrupted her), Hawkeye is back to his cavalier self, questioning Masque's motives in coming to them. She explains how she escaped Tony's bunker, when Black Widow, Century and Moonraker pop in via teleportation. They link up a communication line with the Force Works base, where Scarlet Witch lets them know the Force Works base is fighting them, and they only have 21 hours until a time bomb kills them all. Oh, and Tony killed their PR person. Crystal and Quicksilver have been looking for Luna, apparently forgetting her future brother kidnapping her earlier in the story.

Iron Man 324 bunker
An unironically cool moment in an Iron Man comic.

Back at Tony's bunker, he continues to work, as Marianne feels bad for him. Tony cryptically opens up a bit, saying "he broke me, he broke me from the very beginning," when an alarm goes off. A group of Avengers have teleported to the base's front door. Vision says the door is programmed to only open for Tony's hand, but tries to phase his hand through it, when the feedback zaps him. Suddenly, a bunch of laser turrets and cannons move on the outside of the bunker, then begin firing at the small team. The group recovers, avoiding lasers and protecting the unconscious Vision, even as Marianne, trapped in another room, tries to psychically reach Tony. She apparently realizes he's being controlled, as she pops her eyes open and goes "oh!" in surprise. Marianne tells the Avengers to leave via telepathy, and says that "there was a time when he was younger that he was free of (evil) taint!" The Avengers suddenly realize they lost Moonraker in teleporting back to New York, and wonder what happened. We cut to Chronopolis, where Kang and Mantis gloat over Moonraker, who is blind for some reason again. He asks why she's doing this, and she just says "he'll never understand," and calls him a traitor-father. She also uses the pronoun "I" a bunch more, setting the stage for later ret-cons. To be continued!

Iron Man 324 Vision Century Hercules
It turns out, comic book artists have to draw a lot of human faces.

You've Got Mail: Along with two positive letters (don't ask me how anybody could be positive about Iron Man at this time), we get one letter from issue #321 asking if the "real" Tony killed Marilla, saying he was "sick of this clone crap," and complaining about the necessity of multiple artists on the book. I hope he enjoyed the army of inkers that worked on this issue! The response says not to worry, that that was definitely the "real" Tony Stark we saw murder those people. Oh, that's reassuring.


Well, we're starting to hit the last lap of this crossover, as this issue tells me I only need to read four more issues of this until we're through this awful event (actually five, but it also told me to read last week's Force Works #20). Narratively, this issue does a pretty decent job of setting up where the story's going, as Marianne's cryptic hints are clearly leading us towards the "teen Tony" we've all been demanding. As many stupid, inconclusive battles as this crossover featured, at least this one makes sense, as the Avengers make a tactical retreat and Vision is injured, but seems to be okay. It's certainly preferable to the team being punked out by a little blue man named Neut. The total destruction of the Iron Man character continues, as Tony continues to insinuate that Kang has been making him evil for years, which is just the stupidest story development ever. Also, the downside of this crossover's awful pacing is that now they have to deal with evil Tony and Kang and Mantis, and to this point, the only thing the Avengers have accomplished is... discovering that Tony, not Hawkeye, was the killer in their midst. And Quicksilver and Crystal lost their baby. A well-conceived crossover probably should have had the team dealing with Iron Man, then the "true" villains, but the Avengers have spent so much time fumbling around that we're just going to have a big showdown next month and call it even. Keep in mind that over 10 parts into this story, we're still not told why Mantis and her new husband are doing this, why Mantis is so out of character, or what their end-game even is. Is it just to set off the time-bomb under Force Works HQ? If so, why? Kang said in Avengers that he's fighting a losing battle against someone, and that Mantis somehow jeopardized his plans by revealing Tony as a sleeper, but what's his plan? Who's he even fighting?! These are questions.

Art-wise, the book is still pretty much a mess, although I have to give whoever did the full page splash of the bunker's guns coming to life credit, as that page was pretty good! For the most part though, deadlines and 4 separate inkers mean the book is hugely inconsistent, as faces change shape, and characters are extremely off model. In one egregious example, the team recounts Wasp's injuries in Avengers by showing her cocoon with Hank at her side, but the artist drew Hawkeye there instead, complete with his costume and coloring. This continues to be the step-child of the Avengers books (not counting Avengers Unplugged, obviously), but at least all the pieces are in place for some kind of final showdown.

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