Dan Slott and Valerio Schiti’s run on Iron Man begins this week, and we’re here to offer thoughts on their debut issue, as well as weigh in on that other big book of the week: X-Men Gold #30! All this plus a Spectacular Spider-Man Annual in this week’s packed Marvel Rundown!
Written by Dan Slott
Illustrated by Valerio Schiti
Colored by Edgar Delgado
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Alexander Jones: AJ, Joe! Tony Stark is back as Iron Man in the pages of Tony Stark: Iron Man #1! What were your initial thoughts on the armored Avenger’s brand new debut from Dan Slott and Valerio Schiti?
Joe Grunenwald: Howdy, gentlemen! Iron Man is a character I never had much interest in before Marvel brought him to the big screen, and I’ve still not read many solo Iron Man comics before this one. I thought this first issue was an entertaining introduction to Tony Stark and his world. It didn’t change my life, but I enjoyed reading it.
AJ Frost: I think Slott watched Pacific Rim 2 before writing this and thought it would be a good substitute for a dynamic plot.
Grunenwald: Harsh! Not even the first one!
Jones: This was a major letdown for me scripting-wise. Lots of the jokes were spread too thin and fell right on their faces. There was no inciting or dramatic moment for Tony Stark and no stakes established in this story. Everything inserted into the issue felt separate rather than coming together as an established whole. You could read this entire issue and feel nothing towards Stark at the other end. Do not get me started on the horrific Fin Fang Foom wordplay!
Frost Yeah, this was kind of a disaster all around I felt. I mean, hey, Tony Stark is back to being a person instead of some A.I. thing, but man, this was not the best way to re-introduce Tony to the comics public. It really just struck me as a limp character piece. And Fin Fang Foom…. I mean, come on. Reserve that character for something less serious.
Grunenwald: See, I enjoyed the not-seriousness of the whole endeavor. The issue starts with robots playing soccer. That sets a pretty light tone going in. I agree, though, Tony Stark is a pretty thin character throughout. There’s no emotional hook to him, but I thought it was fine for a stage-setting debut issue. There’s time to go deep into his psyche as the series progresses. And I will never object to seeing Fin Fang Foom in things, but I agree the relentless jokes about his name were a little much.
Frost: That’s a positive way of seeing this Joe. We’ve talked about not taking comics so seriously, but sometimes the story just doesn’t land. I feel this is one of those times.
Jones: The jokes fell flat for me to the point where I couldn’t even laugh. When I think about a book like The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, the title is pretty subversive and bears an odd tone infused with humor. We needed something else to accompany the tone and jokes which aren’t ‘un-finny, un-fangy and un-foomy.’ I still get a kick of Dan Slott pulling out the rolodex of Iron Man supporting characters and Marvel Universe oddballs.
Frost: I was going to say Fin Fang Foom is more of an off-the-beaten-path character and one which is more appropriate for those YA humor titles. It doesn’t help they make him off here like a damn kaiju or something.
Grunenwald: My primary exposure to Tony Stark is in the movies, where he’s a know-it-all jerk who has the benefit of being played by the walking charm of Robert Downey Jr. In this issue Tony’s kind of infuriating, particularly the way he treats the new hire who is essentially the reader’s POV into the story. Was anyone else frustrated by this?
Frost: The whole thing was frustrating. I mean, when we first meet Tony in the story, he’s a hologram. So, take that for what you will.
Jones: There is nothing remarkable about any character here for me. Each cast member is paper-thin and just feels like they are there to serve the plot or something. Marvel killed Stark during Civil War II because they couldn’t make him work in the comics and this title does not prove otherwise. I think Stark might be the wrong assignment for author Dan Slott who is best at using some the more traditional superheroes at Marvel like the Fantastic Four.
Frost: I think for Tony to really work, there has to be some existential drama. Here he was just empty yuks and misused dragon.
Grunenwald: I think Slott has the imagination for an Iron Man book based on what he brought to his run on Silver Surfer. As far as Tony’s characterization goes, I’m hoping it’s a case of Slott still figuring it out. I think the ship was somewhat righted by issue’s end and the “We are Iron Man” declaration.
Jones: Valerio Schiti’s pencils were really loose in this installment. The pencils were kind of so-so in regards to the figure work and anatomy of the characters. For the most part, everyone looks cool and there are a couple pages which are particularly striking, but this doesn’t live up to the high standards I have for Schiti’s bold talent.
Frost: Just middling art. Nothing to write home about. The second I put the issue down, I forgot about them. That doesn’t mean Schiti’s a bad artist, because this is not the case. It was just ordinary stuff.
Grunenwald: I don’t know that I’ve read any other books he’s drawn – if I have he didn’t leave much of an impression on me, and I’d say the same about his work here. It got the job done.
Jones: I can’t really tell if the colors have something to do with it, but the first couple pages look particularly bad and really loose. The first appearance of Fin Fang Foom is breath-taking and Iron Man’s proper debut page is incredible. The issue kind of starts to middle out again from there and I’m really not sure what is going on. This is an extra-sized comic after all with only one penciller attributed. Also, the cover does not reflect the actual content here.
Frost: Probably a really fast turnaround time to submit this work, which I think is understandable.
Grunenwald: There is a certain fuzziness to the art for sure. Not sure if that’s from the colors, the linework, or some combination of the two. And the cover doesn’t really reflect anything, honestly. It’s a pretty generic image of Tony Stark and Iron Man.
Jones: The covers tease a more serious tone in my opinion.
Grunenwald: I really did enjoy reading this issue, though. At least the second half of it. Once Fin Fang Foom showed up and the action began I was into it.
Frost: I’m glad one of us did because I was not having it.
Jones: Joe, I want to get more into your dissenting opinion as it seems AJ and I are of a like mind here. Did you like the humor? Did the action intrigue you? What was it about this comic did you find which AJ and I were missing?
Grunenwald: The humor was hit-and-miss. Nothing in the book really made me laugh but, Fin Fang Foom jokes aside, I thought it was clever. I liked how the action progressed and provided a spotlight for some fun new Iron Man variations. AJ mentioned the Pacific Rim comparison – the Jaeger-esque Iron Man suit definitely made me smile, and I liked the idea behind the microscopic Iron Man as well. I don’t know if you guys are missing anything about this issue as much as maybe we had different expectations for it. I went in with no expectations whatsoever. I will say again the beginning of the issue was legitimately frustrating – I was waiting for our POV character to completely lose it on Tony for being such a presumptuous jerk. But once this part was over, I thought it was a lot of fun.
Jones: He wasn’t very interesting and didn’t make for a good foil for Iron Man. Stark’s fancy suits of armor were not enough after all is said and done here. What are your final thoughts AJ?
Frost In a word: Ugh. In more words, this book just didn’t have anything going for me.
Grunenwald: I’d give this book a solid, middle-of-the-road BROWSE. It has some fun ideas in it and decent action, though the characterization could use some work.
Final Verdict: AJ and Alexander say SKIP, Joe says BROWSE!
X-Men Gold #30
Written by Marc Guggenheim
Illustrated by David Marquez
Color assists by Matthew Wilson
Lettered by VC’s Cory Petit
*SPOILERS FOR X-MEN GOLD #30*
Alexander Jones: AJ, For the first time in a long time I picked up an X-Men title and was immediately captivated. Thankfully I was able to avoid the spoilers this morning. What are your first impressions of the title and were you also able to avoid the information before opening the issue?
AJ Frost: Good to back with ya this week, Alex. Ok…well I must say I was spoiled about the twist in this book (thank you, New York Times… grrr!), but that didn’t lessen my experience with the issue. Throughout this whole engagement between Kitty and Colossus, I’ve kept my distance a bit. I haven’t been too invested in their relationship but found it pleasant enough. I can’t help but feel heavily-invested readers of this storyline must have had their emotional investment exploited by the events taking place in this issue.
Jones: To talk about this story any further I think I’m going to have to throw up a spoiler flag. They really tricked us with the wedding special one-shot and the flashback to Peter and Kitty talking about the Secret Wars fling. This issue actually felt real to me and had a pretty clear emotional investment right from the very beginning of the tale with the depressing scene which shockingly set the stakes really high for the whole cast. Were you able to identify some of those emotional stakes as well?
AJ Frost: Many elements of the issue felt real: the existential dread, the yearning, and the uncertainty of creating a dynamic for life. When X-Men is at its best, it is always able to channel these vital emotions and reflect them back through the lens of mutantkind. I was definitely able to identify with the emotional stakes of the story (though I’m currently single, right now, I might add!) because Kitty’s feelings are–at heart–universal feelings of self-doubt. One beat which really captivated me while reading the book is how vulnerable these super-powered beings are. Even if they can phase through solid matter, they can never escape from the weight of their souls.
Jones: I also feel this installment did a great job unifying the X-Men line by making the Rogue & Gambit mini-series also start to pay-off while featuring the tiny Wolverine cameo. Everything in the script really came together. I have to say something about the story could potentially be lost when the surprise factor is gone because the story hinges so strongly on the reveal. X-Men and X-Men weddings never lead towards good things and this development was a well thought-out story twist from the very concept of the comic. I’m shocked Marvel was able to pull this off so well.
Frost: As you know, I’m a sporadic X-Men follower. It takes a lot for me to get interested in any of the particular storylines. But, even with the one caveat in mind, there was something about this issue bearing a more elevated level of quality than the typical X-Men story. Perhaps it was the wedding aspect of it, or maybe it was the exploration of the emotional quandaries the characters felt. There certainly was a lot of interpersonal interaction going beyond what most superhero books would do. This isn’t merely surface level stuff, but also in the conversations reflecting deep problems of self-doubt and hope. The Wolverine cameo was interesting, but that’s only because I keep thinking he’s dead. But he always turns up. Maybe it’s a metaphor for something bigger afoot.
Jones: David Marquez was very well suited to the issue. It looked as beautiful as a wedding should and Marquez excellently captured the more dramatic material in the issue. The bittersweet moment towards the end of the comic with Peter and Kitty may not have worked as well with a different artist less skilled at conveying emotion. If every issue of X-Men Gold had this tone, vibe, and level of artwork I would have read every single issue. How great was the scene between Magik and Kitty on the roof? Or the ceremony itself?
Frost: Marquez’s art throughout was on point, though something about it reminded me of the art on the current Batman run. Maybe it was just the colors (kudos to Matthew Wilson). Either way, Marquez has a great eye for subtlety. It’s not always the big moments which should draw our attention, but the movement of an eyebrow or the wrinkle of a nose. In the scene you described between Magik and Kitty, all those moves are employed spectacularly. But then in other moments, such as the major twist at the end, the pathos Marquez imbues in the scene is top notch work. I’m curious, for you as a non-Jewish reader, what did you think of all the Jewish wedding accouterments? Was it confusing? Or did you just go along with it?
Jones: I read this very quickly and most likely missed them. I was also very surprised by the content of the story having not read the litany of spoilers. Would you care to point them out for me or speak on them?
Frost: Kitty and Peter were married under a wedding canopy–a chuppah in Hebrew–and there was, what I assume to be, a Reform rabbi present to officiate (it was an interfaith wedding after all). As a Jewish reader, I appreciated Guggenheim’s attention to detail. Kitty’s Judaism is oft-mentioned, but never really explored. The fact that there is some level of religiosity, even a minute amount, really helps lend to the verisimilitude of the whole affair.
Jones: As someone who doesn’t practice religion those plot elements flew right over my head. I am glad to know the creative team took those details, which I feel were not present in other issues, here on the page. I wanted to really hone in on a point made previously by yours truly. It is so rare a comic book storyline is able to win me over after I haven’t been invested in it for a long period of time. Even you were a little cold on the X-Men Wedding Special. What makes a story like this worthy of other people’s time and attention despite it being sandwiched in a consistently underwhelming series?
Frost: Yeah, I’m conflicted too. The execution of this issue is really well done. From a technical level, it looks like a well-produced piece of comic media. I guess the answer to your questions lies within another question: “Why wasn’t this level of emotional care present throughout the whole run?” I guess the easy answer is: Even if you’re a reader who was only mildly interested in what is going on presently with the X-Men, then this is the issue to go for. The beats are there, the emotion is there, the pathos is there. So, I s’pose for those reasons, this would be a book worthy of a reader’s precious time.
Jones: How about a final verdict?
Frost: This, in the end, is a BUY from me, but only because it stands out as a great single installment of an otherwise bland run. And even if readers are annoyed by the twist, the emotional stakes of this comic are top-notch, the writing goes beyond the norm, and the art is crisp and impactful.
Jones: I would give this a BUY seconding everything you mentioned in your post.
Final Verdict: AJ and Alexander say BUY!
Written by Chip Zdarsky and Mike Drucker
Illustrated by Michael Allred and Chris Bachalo
Colored by Laura Allred
Inked by Jamie Mendoza, Victor Olazaba, Wayne Faucher, Livesay and Tim Townsend
Lettered by VC’s Joe Sabino
Reviewed by Joe Grunenwald
One of the more interesting recent developments in the world of Spider-Man has been J. Jonah Jameson’s discovery that Peter Parker is Spidey. Jameson has been one of the most persistent thorns in the wall-crawler’s side since the character’s inception, but that relationship has done a complete 180 since JJJ learned Peter’s secret. Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1 puts the focus on Jonah in a way that’s both entertaining and heartbreaking.
Writer Chip Zdarsky has been the driving force behind Jonah’s transformation over the past eight months, raising the character’s profile and teaming he and Spidey up regularly. I say ‘teaming’, but as evidenced in this issue it’s more that Jonah is attempting to insinuate himself into Spider-Man’s adventures. As written by Zdarsky, Jameson is a man who (albeit begrudgingly) acknowledges the errors of his past ways, and is doing his best to make up for them despite not really knowing how to do so. His past haunts him in more ways than one in this issue, and Zdarsky does a nice job balancing the humor of the story with the pathos of Jonah’s situation. The final page of the main story is a gut-punch that beautifully, tragically reframes every moment of Jonah and Peter’s relationship.
The art on the main story is by Michael and Laura Allred, and really highlights what a shame it is that these two haven’t done more Spider-Man work in the past. Their work as always is stylized and clean, timeless without being dated. Michael Allred’s characters are expressive, if occasionally a little static. His Spider-Man in particular, with all of his leaping and bounding, sometimes doesn’t appear to be moving, as if he’s suspended upside-down in mid-air. This would be a complaint with any other art team but it really works in combination with the Allreds’ style. It adds to the dynamism of their consistently visually interesting work.
I didn’t realize going into this issue that there were two stories included, so the back-up story by Mike Drucker and Chris Bachalo was a nice surprise. It’s a story that doesn’t particularly break any new ground for Spider-Man, but it’s entertaining and clever enough that it doesn’t matter. Drucker’s script provides a light-hearted reflection on some of the more somber moments in Spidey’s history without playing the tragedy of his past for laughs. Bachalo’s art is solid as always, his exaggerated anatomy working well for the wall-crawler. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher that there were five inkers on this eight-page story, but that fact doesn’t detract from the quality of the art.
In all this Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man Annual presents an enjoyable pair of Spidey stories. The lead story combines humor and heart the way the best Spider-Man stories do, while the back-up story provides a nice complement to the lead. Any Spidey fan will likely be pleased by what they find here.
Final Verdict: BUY for JJJ shenanigans, excellent art, and a story with a solid emotional core.
Seeing double? Next week is the time for Multiple Man #1!
The Elite Beat Staff is a trained squad of ninja masters.