Iron Man Madam Masque

Regular readers of this blog know that I have been following the relaunches of Invincible Iron Man and The Amazing Spider-Man. Since one features Tony Stark and the other features “Tony Stark light,” it is interesting to see how each writer handles his respective superhero. One thing readers will get from writer Brian Michael Bendis’ Tony Stark that they will not from Dan Slott’s Peter Parker is a clear understanding of the character’s inner being.

Take Stark’s conversation with his new love interest, Amara Perera, for instance:

Perera: Don’t you have superhero friends that you can commiserate with when things like this happen?

Stark: In my line of work…there’s always somebody with a much worse story. ‘Oh, man. I almost died tonight.’ ‘Yeah? I was almost eaten by Galactus.’ ‘Oh Yeah? I died and was resurrected as my own child.”

Perera: And you found yourself thinking about me?

Stark: I might not actually have a lot of friends.

Perera: You do.

Stark: I know a lot of people. But…people don’t want to hear me talk about any of my problems because, well —

Perera: You’re rich.

Stark: I can see their eyes glaze over. I can hear the ‘Aw, poor baby.’ Like my problems aren’t problems.

Perera: Money can’t buy happiness? That is disappointing to hear.

Stark: Sorry to be the one to break it to you.

Perera: Maybe you don’t know a lot of people that challenge you intellectually.

Stark: A few. But they are very, I want to say…

Perera: Cocky?

Stark: Insane.

Bendis’ Stark is a character who has psychological meat on him. Slott’s Peter Parker literally died and was resurrected, yet he treats the experience like a bad trip to the dentist.

Bendis’ Stark is surrounded people, but lonely. He is rich, but not happy. He wants to become a better person (as demonstrated in another conversation later in the book), but he never can find the right mentor to help him begin the journey.

Anyone can fill a comic book with fights and gadgets and zingy one-liners, but none of that matters if the characters are one dimensional. Bendis’ heroes and villains have depth and breadth. They have gravitas, which makes the magic and the mystery and the fight scenes exponentially more satisfying than anything you will find in The Amazing Spider-Man #3.

Iron Man Doctor Strange

For those who are not up to speed, the story breaks down as follows:

  • Madam Masque is on a mission to collect rare magical artifacts that have essentially slipped through “dimensional cracks” and found their way to earth. Tony does not know why she is doing this, since it does not fit her psychological profile.
  • Doctor Doom wants to help Tony on his mission, but won’t explain why.
  • Tony wants to become the kind of man who “deserves” to be with famous biochemical engineer Amara Perera.

Invincible Iron Man3

It is comforting to read a mystery where the writer methodically lays out a bread trail for readers to follow. Each crumb Bendis places before his audience is there for a specific reason. Whereas Dan Slott lets his imagination toss him around like young bull rider, Bendis controls his imagination like a seasoned rancher overseeing the herd.

If you get a chance, then check out Invincible Iron Man. It’s shaping up to be one of the few books worth a $4.00 cover price.

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

13 comments

  1. It’s been quite a number of years since I stopped reading Iron Man. Your clear informative review, may just persuade me to check out this current run. Bendis for me has been one of those hit & miss writers, but always with many more hits than misses. A conscience-stricken Stark would make for some interesting stories.

    1. I was just telling my brother over the phone yesterday the very same thing about Bendis: Sometimes he’s off the mark and I’m just like, “Ummm, no.” But, as you say, he has “more hits than misses.”

      I’ll continue to read the book in case you need a few more reviews before making a decision. I think Mary Jane is going to make her appearance in the next issue. That should be interesting.

  2. Another issue, another hit for Bendis. This is probably the most grown-up Tony has been in a long time, and yet Bendis is giving him some youthful spidey-esque elements too (the amusing “facial hair bros high-five” to Strange)

    1. I debated taking a screenshot of that moment and sharing it, but decided against it. The book has its serious moments, but then it also has moments of levity. In both cases, Bendis has been pulling off that push and pull to great effect. I’m impressed.

  3. If you’re enjoying Invincible Iron Man so much, I highly recommend you go back and check out Superior Iron Man. I read through the trade and it was excellent. It’s only 9 issues but it’s a great story. I thought it was a silly idea to apply the “superior” title to Iron Man as though that was a thing now, but man, Tom Taylor shows the potential in the idea of an “evil” superhero and just runs rings around Slott.

    Here’s an example of the excellent dialogue to whet your appetite, between Daredevil and Stark:

    “What gives you the right to play God?”
    “Please. Being a god can’t be too hard. I mean, if Thor can do it…”
    “You think this is a joke?”
    “I’m the most intelligent, capable person on the planet. I’m not playing God.

    All this time…I’ve been playing human.”

    1. There was a comment by Chuck Haynes not too long ago that is related to my concerns with Superior Iron Man:

      I loved Wolverine for years, before he became ‘popular’ for putting his claws into things. Claremont wanted to write him as a man that is overcoming his bestial nature, and saw the bestial nature not as a good thing but as something that dragged him down. Wolverine started in X-men as basically a savage screw-up, and slowly developed into a noble warrior, who checked himself at his best but was willing to kill if necessary…from a military family, this was something I could relate to.

      Then the Dan Slotts of the world got to him…

      DUDE I WANT SEE WOLVERINE GO APESH*T!!!! One of his worst moments was the age of ultron event…man that things was a steaming pile…but really…cutting Pym up to ‘save the future’ it’s hard to believe this is the header for a recent popular movie.

      I want to see a cocky Stark with a chip on his shoulder. I want him to realize that on some level he should try to be a bit more humble. I don’t want to read a version of Stark that embraces his own narcissism and hubris, so much so that he is only a shade different than Doc Ock. I can recognize that the writing is good for a title like Superior Iron Man, but not want to read about the character.

      I’ve never really liked anti-heroes like The Punisher, Deadpool, etc. Even if they have a stellar writer on board, it’s just not my cup of tea. At the end of the day I want to feel, “This is a guy I want to root for.” If their brand of heroism would make me feel dirty and weird if it happened in real life, then I usually pass.

      I think Daredevil would be downright awesome if they ever had a writer on board with a proper understanding of the Catholic faith. They’ll hire a Muslim writer for Ms. Marvel to ensure quality control or whatever, but Daredevil’s faith is basically shoved to the background. Interesting… I could see some really cool DD stories that delve into spiritual warfare and bring in Doctor Strange, but oh well.

    2. Well, that’s an excellent point, Douglas. The good thing about SIM is that evil Tony isn’t portrayed as a good guy. It’s clear that doing the right thing for the wrong reasons or with the wrong attitude is wrong. It really is like a villain has taken over Tony’s life too, but in his case the villain is himself — the worst version of himself he always had the potential to be.

      In the end, SIM wins, but loses everyone close to him. Pepper dedicates herself to fighting him until she can get the real him back. He’s obsessed with image, but she promises that she’ll make sure everyone knows what he’s really like until he’s all alone and no one will want to be around him.

      What I was hoping for was a subsequent arc that would see evil Tony reverting willingly back to the normal version. I wanted to see his redemption. But unfortunately, due to Secret Wars, it won’t happen (though it’s possible that it wasn’t going to happen anyway).

      What you were saying is reminiscent of Chesterton’s Heretics:

      Much has been said, and said truly, of the monkish morbidity, of the hysteria which has often gone with the visions of hermits or nuns. But let us never forget that this visionary religion is, in one sense, necessarily more wholesome than our modern and reasonable morality. It is more wholesome for this reason, that it can contemplate the idea
      of success or triumph in the hopeless fight towards the ethical ideal, in what Stevenson called, with his usual startling felicity, “the lost fight of virtue.” A modern morality, on the other hand, can only point with absolute conviction to the horrors that follow breaches of law; its only certainty is a certainty of ill. It can only point to imperfection. It has no perfection to point to. But the monk meditating upon Christ or Buddha has in his mind
      an image of perfect health, a thing of clear colours and clean air. He may contemplate this ideal wholeness and happiness far more than he ought; he may contemplate it to the neglect of exclusion of essential things;
      he may contemplate it until he has become a dreamer or a driveller; but still it is wholeness and happiness that he is contemplating. He may even go mad; but he is going mad for the love of sanity. But the modern student of ethics, even if he remains sane, remains sane from an insane dread of insanity.

      But the truth is that the ordinary honest man, whatever vague account he may have given of his feelings, was not
      either disgusted or even annoyed at the candour of the moderns. What disgusted him, and very justly, was not the presence of a clear realism, but the absence of a clear idealism.

      Thankfully, SIM does have some good people in it (Pepper and Daredevil), which puts it well above SSM, which almost totally lacked them (or made them idiots). Unfortunately it does the same trick of having the new version argue successfully with the old version, as though the imperfection of the past was as bad as the outright evil of the present, but at least it has other contrasting characters.

      I can see your point, Douglas. It is great to have a really likable version of Stark to enjoy, which the latest incarnation offers. I’ve had a lot of issues with Bendis at times but it seems like he’s got a winner in the latest Invincible Iron Man (the “awesome beard bros” thing was a little silly and slightly out of character for Stark and Doctor Strange, but it was such a fun and charming moment I have to give it to him). Hopefully he’s got good things in store; it definitely seems like he knows where he’s going with this initial arc.

    3. Based on your recommendation and follow-up analysis, there’s a good chance I’ll pick up the TBP of SIM around Christmas or early into the new year. I usually pick up a couple throughout the year, and this seems like one that is worth a read and review. Thanks for the suggestion! 🙂

    4. Well, I can see not being interested in it, now that you explained your reasoning. I would say it has sort of the attitude of a modern slasher flick — it’s rooting for the bad guy, but it still sees him as the bad guy, if that makes sense.

      SSM was half-hearted about that; it never really acknowledged that Ock was a villain. It tried to pretend that he was a semi-hero even though he apparently wasn’t, and it never really made a decision about whether it was on his side or not. (It was actually weird when he went full villain in Spider-Verse considering that he never really did that before or “after” that point.)

      SIM is clear: he’s an absolute bastard. He’s clearly a villain. But it sort of revels in his victories, too. So keep that in mind. If you’re looking for something about heroic heroes then you can skip it; Daredevil isn’t the hero of the book. Pepper is the closest thing to the hero, but the book really isn’t about her.

    5. Interesting. Well, maybe I’ll read it for a few minutes while drinking some hot chocolate in Barnes and Noble and if it’s too anti-hero-ish for me, I’ll just go all out for that Attack on Titan collection I’ve been eying. $60 is a little steep, though. We’ll see…

    6. I was going to recommend that course of action — I’d hate to steer you wrong! Those trades can be expensive. It’s well written and interesting but may not be what you’re in the mood for. Here’s hoping that IIM can continue to be as good as it’s been so far and that the mysteries pay off well.

    7. Oh yeah, make sure to write a review or something if you do read Superior Iron Man. It would be interesting to hear your thoughts and to contrast it with SSM, since you’ve compared the current incarnations of Spider-Man and Iron Man already.

    8. I’ll definitely do that if I read the book. I almost did a similar thing with Silk. I checked out the first couple of issues and, in a strange way, thought she had a lot of potential. Under Dan Slott, she was nothing more than “pheromone girl” (who just so happened to be as good or better than Peter at the superhero thing despite, being locked up in a bunker for years). In her own book, she was given this little thing called “characterization.” 😉

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