Wednesday, May 17, 2017

This Armor Wars Has A Lot Less Armor In It Than I Expected

I picked up a trade of the Iron Man: Armor Wars II trade, by John Byrne (writer), John Romita Jr. (penciler), Bob Wiacek (inker), Paul Becton and Joe Rosas (colorists), and Michael Heisler and Chris Eliopoulos (letterers) because I remembered owning issue #259 as a kid. Which involved Iron Man fighting the apparent ghost of Titanium Man, and also struggling with losing entire days he couldn't account for.

As it turns out, the "ghost" is actually the Living Laser, trying to prove this was the original Iron Man, so it would mean something when he killed him*. The lost time, meanwhile, is the result of A Alexander DeWitt, who took advantage of Stark suffering spinal damage sometime earlier to "repair" Syark's nervous system by actually replacing it with a parasite of sorts. One that enables him to remotely control or shut down Stark's body whenever he chooses. He's also doing this with the funding of Desmond and Phoebe Marrs, who were prominent adversaries in Byrne's Namor run for awhile, until I think the Punisher killed Desmond for being connected to coke dealers. But DeWitt hates Stark anyway, though Tony doesn't seem to have any idea who he is.

Stark gets around his body being hacked with a system to remotely control his armors through his thoughts. So even when his body is being controlled, if he's in the armor, he can still moving by controlling it mentally (since the suit is much stronger than his body), but this is putting a considerable strain on his body, and may end up killing him before he can deal with it. There's also a build-up to the Mandarin regaining his full power and unleashing Fin Fang Foom to help him conquer China, and James Rhodes trying to help Tony out, while struggling with his own fears about getting back in the armors again. That's a lot of stuff for 9 issues, at least it would be by today's standards.

The Marrs don't seem particularly important to the story, except maybe as an explanation for how DeWitt has the resources to manage this, but still not be someone Stark would be aware of. Answer: he's being bankrolled by someone else with the financial resources. But otherwise, they're largely irrelevant and only notable to me because I've read Byrne's Namor run (the first two years of it, anyway, when he was drawing it, too).

I think Romita Jr. came to this book immediately after leaving his run on Daredevil with Ann Nocenti. Bob Wiacek seems to go easier on the inks than Al Williamson did on that book, which gives the art a slicker feel. Not as heavy with the shadows, characters don't feel as thick, as weighed down. Which is appropriate for Iron Man, it probably should be a little glossier. Romita hasn't progressed to that point of making everyone really big and bulky that he would get to in a few years, although he seemed to make the boots of the Iron Man armor enormous, compared to how Mark Bright drew them when this model of the armor was originally introduced.

Byrne wisely gives Romita Jr. multiple either full-page or double page splashes for Fin Fang Foom, and Romita Jr. typically fills them with the dragon, to the point where any other figures are not much more than small, vague outlines of people. And the dragon still usually doesn't fit all in the panel, an excellent way to convey how enormous and powerful it is. Heisler and Eliopoulous also add the effect that Foom's speech bubbles don't have a little tail connecting them to his mouth. So it functions as almost a disembodied presence that is everywhere, a voice so large it seems to come from all sides.

The Living Laser design is mostly a featureless human shape. There's some Kirby crackle-like dots, and some shading that suggests the shape of the mouth or where the eyes are, things like that. But Rosas and Becton help by making it a very colorful battle. There are dozen or bright pinkish lines going all over most panels as the Laser goes all out trying to kill Iron Man (though at one point when Stark loses control of his body, the Laser lets him live because he doesn't want an "easy" win, which felt pretty weak). But the longer the fight went, the less distinct, the more blurred the Laser's features gets. There's more crackle, like he isn't maintaining as coherent a structure as he gets more pissed and pours more into the battle. It's a nice touch.

There's a bit in here where Stark hires a bunch of professionals to figure out what's wrong with him, and when they all pronounce him fit, is positive they're wrong. Not simply because of the strange paralysis, but because, as he puts it, he was an alcoholic for years, and that had done all sorts of damage to his body. Damage which couldn't have all simply vanished. Which isn't something I feel like is addressed much in Iron man comics. There's frequently references to Tony's drinking, how it cost him his company, how he struggles against temptation, the "will he/won't he" in moments of stress. Don't usually see a lot about the physical toll that I can recall, which is curious given how long the comics relied on Tony's heart condition as a way to generate jeopardy. Maybe Byrne was trying to bring that back in a new form, or maybe he was annoyed Micheline had Tony shot and put in a wheelchair, then gave him some super-science escape clause 5 issues later. So he turned the cure into a trap.

Or maybe the two of them had that planned all along. I don't know.

The subplot about Rhodey struggling with whether he could get back in the armor didn't work quite as well as I'd hope. Maybe because I came into this knowing Rhodey is going to don armors a lot in the future. But part of it was that when he does come to Tony's rescue, the suit he's wearing looks so similar to Tony's, I thought at first Stark was remote controlling another suit while mentally controlling the one he was in. Granted there's dialogue coming from the rescuing suit, which should have been a big tip off, but it just didn't land as well as I think it was meant to.

Also, reading this story arc, I found out James Rhodes is meant to be smaller than Tony Stark. Which is not how I've ever pictured them. Go figure. Also, I think the armor design Romita comes up with for the suit DeWitt ultimately fights Tony with, got cribbed/homaged/stolen by whoever was drawing Bloodstrike. There was a giant robot/cyborg guy called Shogun that looked a lot like the design here (especially the lack of feet, just big, round cylinders for legs). Oh, it was Rob Liefeld, what a surprise, he said completely insincerely. At least the head regions on the two designs are different.

Overall, not exactly what I was expecting, and certainly not as much armor warring as you'd expect with the title, but not bad. I appreciate that the Laser trashing Stark Industries is independent of the other problems, rather than it all being interconnected. Sometimes a lot of random bad shit can happen all at once.

*This was back when they were still maintaining the old line about Iron Man being Stark's bodyguard, and that the Iron Man at the time of this story was a new guy, replacing the one who supposedly went rogue and was killed in the first Armor Wars story.

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