J. Caleb Mozzocco
Ready for the penultimate installment of our re-reading of writer Matt Fraction and artist Salvador Larroca’s impressive five-year, 60-ish issue run on The Invincible Iron Man? Well, if not, you can always come back later when you are; it will be right here waiting.
Today we look at one official part of the run, and two more collections worth of Fraction-written Iron Man comics, which aren’t necessarily labeled as part of The Invincible Iron Man, because Marvel moves in mysterious ways.
Vol. 8 Unfixable (#501-503, Free Comic Book Day 2010 Iron Man/Thor, Rescue #1): With this volume, the drifting of the narrative glimpsed in the previous volume becomes more pronounced, with the bulk of the collection devoted to the next chapter of the Invincible Iron Man storyline and ending, mid-book, with a “Continued In FEAR ITSELF!” tag, and a pair of one-shots that sorta distract from the ongoing story (but certainly needed to be collected somewhere, if only for us wait-for-the-trade types) filling up the rest of the book.
In the title story, Stark is busily pitching his repulsor technology’s consumer applications, when he’s interrupted by “the post-life crisis ” of Spider-Man’s villain Otto “Doctor Octopus” Octavius, who, in the Spider-Man books of the time, had developed a terminal, degenerative disease and turned himself into a barely recognizable cyborg of sorts, his arms folded and legs tugged up like some sort of mummy awaiting burial, while a mass of mechanical arms did all his moving for him.
Today we continue our look at Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca’s The Invincible Iron Man run with the next three volumes, which contain another new direction for the series, and the several instances of people other than Larroca drawing the series for the first time.
Vols. 4 and 5: Stark Resilient Books 1 and 2 (#25-33 ): Like the 12-issue story arc “World’s Most Wanted,” “Stark Resilient” is such a long story arc that it takes up two trade collections.
When we last left Stark, his friends and allies had just reinstalled a back-up of his brain into his body after he was left in a vegetative state by his heroic efforts to deny Norman Osborn access to his most dangerous secrets. While the first two years of the book were devoted to following the Iron Man through-line of the publisher’s massive Civil War-to-Siege storyline, with the 25th issue Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca essentially get to start over.
Oh, good, you came back. Today we’re going to take a look at the first four collections worth of Matt Fraction, Salvador Larroca and company’s The Invincible Iron Man, which accounts for the first 24 issues of the series and two of the several completely different (but narratively and thematically connected) directions the series took.
The Invincible Iron Man, Vol. 1: The Five Nightmares (#1-7): As I mentioned Tuesday, this title launched the same summer that director Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, opened, and writing a new, second title with Iron Man as the hero must have seemed a rather daunting task, given that Downey and Favreau’s cool, charming war profiteer turned warrior for peace bore little resemblance to the Marvel Universe version of the character of the time, whom writer Mark Millar had turned into the publisher’s greatest villain during Civil War and its aftermath.
With regular old prose books, it’s easy: If you want to read the books that inspired big-budget summer movies like The Great Gatsby or World War Z, you need only pick up the novels with the same name.
Comic-book superhero movies, on the other hand, are a bit more tricky, as they rarely adapt a single, standalone story, but rather cherry-pick characters, plotlines, designs and images from several different comic books by various creators and published in various decades, all blended together in a rebooted, remixed mélange of an adaptation.
So if you walked out of a theater in the early ’00s wanting to read the comics that Blade or X-Men or Spider-Man or Daredevil were based on, well, you’d have to do some research first, and you’d end up with a whole stack of comics for each, none of which really replicated the same tone, world or experience of watching the films starring those heroes.
Cognizant of that, Marvel gradually got better at producing new comics to sell to fans of its movies. Some of these attempts to align comic books more closely with their cinematic versions have been better than others, of course.
The best of these was probably The Invincible Iron Man by writer Matt Fraction and artist Salvador Larroca, the 60-issue series that debuted in summer 2008, around the time the original Iron Man movie was in theaters, and concluded in fall 2012, just six months ahead of Iron Man 3, which, depending on contract negotiations, could end up being the final Iron Man film (it was certainly constructed as the end of a trilogy of films).
If money is power, can a superlative amount of money be a super-power?
I don’t mean here in the real world, where the answer to that question is a rather obvious yes, provided we’re using the word “super-power” metaphorically, and referring to things like saving lives and effecting positive change in general. No, I mean in a fantasy world where super-powers are real, like the DC Universe, the setting of The Green Team: Teen Trillionaires, a new series that seems to be positioning itself to explore the question.
Certainly simply being very, very rich has been a key part of plenty of superhero origins, but Bruce Wayne still had to do an awful lot of studying and training to become Batman, even after buying all those gadgets and vehicles, and Tony Stark still needed to be a super-genius to invent and maintain his very expensive suits of armor.
At least one member of the new Green Team seems to be interested in buying his way into the life of superheroics, a potentially interesting angle for the new series and probably a necessary one, given the state of the comics market and DC’s place in it.
There are just two things I didn’t really like about Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, the new young-adult graphic novel by writer Prudence Shen (making her comics debut) and artist Faith Erin Hicks (Friends With Boys, The War at Ellsmere, Zombies Calling, other stuff). And they are minor things — quibbles, really — but I’m going to go ahead and lead my review with them anyway, as otherwise I have nothing but gushingly nice things to say about the comic, and I would hate to lose my reputation as a hard-to-please critic.
First, the supporting character Ben (second from the right on the cover) looks so much like actor Richard Ayoade that I found much of his panel-time during my first reading distracting, as I kept trying to place where I’ve seen him before.
Second, two other supporting characters are twin roboticists, and, naturally, when I think of twins who are also roboticists, I think of Kyle and Ken Katayanagi, Ramona’s fifth and sixth evil exes from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series. While the designs of the two sets of twins are pretty different, I think Hicks’ style bears a close enough resemblance to O’Malley’s (a little in the eyes, a lot in the manga-influenced action scenes) by dint of the two artists sharing similar influences, that the feeling of “Hey, haven’t I seen these guys before?” may be exacerbated. At least among the younger, more casual, more mainstream comics readers that this book is likely to appeal to (and by that I mean this is a comic that readers will be finding in bookstores and libraries more often than the comic book stores they visit once a week; it’s a comic for people who don’t already have a life-time habit of comics, in addition to those that do).
It’s 2013, and headlines reading “Comics aren’t just for kids anymore” have been cliched for about 25 years. Art Spiegelman’s Maus is a classic, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is widely read and widely taught. The late Harvey Pekar’s name is, if not a household name, as close to one as those of most prose authors get in America. Thanks to Joe Sacco and Alison Bechdel and Jeffrey Brown and John Porcellino and Joe Matt and Chester Brown and dozens of other cartoonists, journalism, autobiography and memoir are successful, respected, even commonplace genres for the graphic novel, which, it’s worth highlighting, is a term that exists now.
In fact, autobiographical graphic novels are so mainstream that Jess Fink’s We Can Fix It reads like an outlier — a subversive, transgressive reversion to the good old bad days of comics. Her new memoir, with its fictive premise, is differentiated from most in the genre by the prominent inclusion of elements from the medium’s trashy superhero and humor past. Its protagonist wears a skin-tight bodysuit, she travels through time in a big, goofy time machine that goes ZIPPITY ZAP, and there’s a sixth-grade lunch period’s worth of scatalogical humor.
Despite the embrace of the low-brow aspects of comics history — We Can Fix It looks and reads like an autobiographical comic book, not an autobiographical graphic novel — Fink’s new work ultimately ends up in the same thoughtful, dramatic, epiphany-having place that the slicker, more obviously literature-focused comics works do. This is a very funny comic book that is functions as an effective piss-take on the autobio genre while, remarkably enough, simultaneously being one hell of an autobiography.
Letting It Go (Drawn and Quarterly): When we last saw Miriam Katin, it was in the pages of her We Are On Our Own, her 2006 graphic memoir about how she and her mother survived the Holocaust, hiding out from the Nazis in the Hungarian countryside. Her new memoir continues that story, by skipping ahead to her current life as a middle-aged artist living in New York City and harboring the deep and bitter prejudices against a city, a country and a people that her childhood understandable instilled in her.
The subject matter is awfully heavy, but it’s presented quite lightly — this is a fun, funny comic about a grown woman coming to terms with the irrational prejudices and bias born of the irrational prejudice and biases of others.
When we meet the Miriam of Letting It Go, she and her husband are seemingly living an idyllic artistic life, he in a room playing his clarinet, she procrastinating starting to draw something. When her grown son says he wants to move to Berlin, she reacts negatively instinctively, and gradually comes to terms with it, visiting him in Berlin, and then returning a second time almost immediately in order to see some of her art hanging at a show there, learning the word vergangenheitsbewältigung (coming to terms with the past) and how to start doing it … if not how to pronounce it.
Katin’s graphic novel is border-less, the “panels” implied ones formed by the consecutive, often overlapping images, giving the artwork a winding, rhythmic flow that moves over the pages like water. That and the somewhat-sketchy nature of the art, in which you can see each and every line that goes into the drawings, gives the book an incredibly intimate feel, as if a reader has simply discovered Katin’s sketchbook, rather than something mass-produced.
IDW may be one of the Big Five publishers in the direct market — that is, one of the five publishers whose titles are listed separately from those of the hoi polloi in Diamond Comic Distributors’ Previews catalog. But unlike the Biggest Two, IDW’s line consists mainly of comics based on a variety of licensed concepts*, and therefore do not feature shared settings like the DC Universe or the Marvel Universe.
You’d think that would prohibit the company from doing the sorts of line-wide crossover stories that DC and Marvel have been pumping out with regularity, but IDW has found a pretty clever way to have its licensed comics cake and eat its intra-company crossovers as well, by dreaming up a fairly generic threat, and then having that threat appear in a bunch of unrelated comics whose characters never really meet.
Rather than all the characters teaming up to fight the same threat on the same battlefield at the same time, as in your Crisis on Infinite Earths or Civil War or whatnot, IDW’s crossovers are a bit more like individual battles in large-scale wars taking place in different dimensions.
So, for example, 2011′s Infestation crossover pitted zombies from the publisher’s Zombies Vs. Robots comics against characters from G.I. Joe, Transformers, The Ghostbusters and Star Trek, in two-issue miniseries set in different universes. That was followed by Infestation 2, in which Lovecraftian space-god-monster-things invaded the home universes of G.I. Joe, Transformers, Dungeons & Dragons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and 30 Days of Night.
More recently, IDW published a much smaller-scale, simpler crossover story of sorts in Mars Attacks …, in which the little green skull-faced men of the 1960s Topps collectible cards (and 1996 Tim Burton movie) “invaded” comics featuring a comically diverse group of licensed characters. For the more patient among us, it arrived in trade format this month, in a collection titled Mars Attacks IDW.
The title of Tom Gauld‘s You’re All Just Jealous of My Jet Pack, a collection of the Goliath artist’s comic strips from The Guardian, comes from the punchline of one of his many gags about literature (you’ll be hard-pressed to find another collection with half as many jokes about Charles Dickens as this one). A small circle of dull-looking people identified with an arrow as “Proper Literature” are tut-tutting, while an astronaut with a rocket-shaped jet pack, shooting out fire, billowing black smoke and little star-shaped sparks, identified by arrow as “Science Fiction,” diagnoses their problem with him (a comic strip is, of course, worth a thousand of my words; see above).
If sci-fi’s great advantage over proper literature is its cool stuff, like jet packs, then comics’ great advantage over prose is that we can not only imagine jet packs, but we also get to see what they might like look like as filtered through the imagination of an artist with a unique and compelling style. Someone like, oh, say, Tom Gauld.
This week’s new comic book releases included such noteworthy publications as the final issue of Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly’s drama based on UFO folklore, Saucer Country, the latest installment of Marvel’s line-wide crossover-event series Age of Ultron, the one-issue return of some of Marvel’s fan-favorite Runaways characters in the tie-in Ultron #1, the latest issue of the best superhero comic book on the stands, Hawkeye, and the final issue of the Mark Millar-written comic-as-movie pitch series Secret Service, maybe better known as “What Dave Gibbons has Been Up to While DC Published Before Watchmen.” And those were just the serially published comic book-comics.
The comic I heard the most about this week by far, however, was Saga #12, the latest chapter in Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ deservedly popular space fantas. And the reasons this particular issue was so talked about? Early in the week it seemed as Apple had rejected it for distribution for a couple of images of gay sex (although Wednesday afternoon, comiXology CEO David Steinberger said the move was actually due to his company’s mistaken interpretation of Apple policy).
I’m a somewhat-casual consumer of comics news these days, and yet I encountered iterations of this story over and over this week. And in the time between the story’s initial reporting and Steinberger’s clarification, I’ve seen stories on numerous comics news sites and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s blog. A Google News search for “Saga #12″ and “Apple” brings up 9,370 results, the top two being for The Washington Post and NPR, so obviously the mainstream media bit on the story as well.
Having actually read the comic book, though, the content that earned the mistaken, temporary pre-banning was so small and inconsequential, I probably would have missed it. (Note: Some images below may be not safe for work.)
It seems like only last year that artist Lisa Hanawalt’s illustrated reviews/reactions to movies like War Horse and The Vow at online magazine The Hairpin were making me laugh and grab the closest person to the computer to cajole with “Dude, you have to read this!”
And now Drawn and Quarterly has released a beautifully designed collection of some 120 pages of Hanawalt’s work, including those illustrated humor pieces, comics and straight-up “fine art” artwork.
What’s that? It was only last year? Wow. D+Q sure didn’t waste any time on putting a Hanawalt collection together, but anything that brings the artist to the attention of more readers is fine with me — it will cut down on my cajoling friends, family and co-workers.
My Dirty Dumb Eyes assembles a great deal of Hanawalt’s previously published work from all over, meaning you can find much of it online for free, but the book format doesn’t bombard you with a low dose of electrical radiation, and is therefore much safer to read.
Something like a cross between fan fiction and minicomics, doujinishi are most often defined as self-published parodies, extrapolations or fantasies revolving around popular, existing (and generally copyright-protected) characters and franchises. They’re generally created by fans for other fans, although the doujinishi culture is so pervasive in Japan that the phenomenon is tolerated and, in some cases, even encouraged and participated in by professional creators (and copyright holders).
Western otaku have likely seen more than their fair share of doujinshi, but more casual Western comics fans likely haven’t had any real exposure.
Enter Dark Horse’s recent Neon Genesis Evangelion: Comic Tribute, an officially sanctioned, professionally curated and created, $11, 170-page doujinishi-style anthology, produced and published in the digest-sized tankobon format made familiar to American manga fans over the past decade and a half or so.
But what is it, exactly? A bunch of different manga creators, the most prominent among them probably being Sgt. Frog‘s Mine Yoshizaki, providing short, parodic riffs on various aspects of the Evangelion franchise. Think of it as the manga equivalent of a celebrity roast.
I like interpersonal melodrama and physical conflict between people possessing fantastical powers and wearing unusual costumes as much as the next guy, even here on ROBOT 6 at Comic Book Resources, where pretty much everyone likes such things a whole lot.
As fond as I am of the superhero genre, however, there’s room in my heart for other genres, like that of Giant Monsters Wrecking Stuff. Obviously, there are many more superheroes comics than giant-monster comics, as comics are the superhero’s home medium, and the giant monster belongs first and foremost to film. That said, there are still a goodly amount of giant-monster comics, many of which are good giant-monster comics.
Here’s one, for example: Kodoja Terror Mountain Showdown #1.
Kodoja is a super-slick, self-published, black-and-white giant-monster comic by writer Keith Foster and artist Rory Smith. The title character is the monster, a 15-story-tall man-made “mondroid” (as one character calls it, only to be told, “Technically, the correct term is ‘DNA Droid’”) that was apparently built by the United States military and then decommissioned for being a little too good at destroying things.
If one were writing a history of film, 1961′s Gorgo would barely merit a footnote, if that. Even if one were writing a history of monster movies, Gorgo likely wouldn’t get much attention, perhaps only being mentioned in relation to King Kong, Godzilla or the original Lost World, all of which obviously influenced parts of the film.
So if it’s such a relatively minor work in its own medium, what makes it important to comics art scholars and connoisseurs? Well, it earned its own comic book series from Charlton between 1961 and 1965, much of which was drawn by Steve Ditko … at the same time he was co-creating Marvel’s flagship character Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, during what was one of the most fruitful periods of American mainstream comics-making.
That’s the subject of Steve Ditko’s Monsters Vol. 1: Gorgo, an IDW Publishing/Yoe Books effort that collects about 200 pages of the Joe Gill-written, Ditko-drawn Gorgo comics, after a fairly thorough introduction by Craig Yoe contextualizing them. (Those Gorgo comics by other artists like Joe Sinnott and Vince Colletta are likely also worthy of revisiting, but outside the scope of this book, which is devoted to Gorgo as part of Ditko’s career, not the other way around.)