Bendis botches Ironheart launch with Tony Stark fans

Iron Man fans know that the clock is ticking on Tony Stark. Brian Michael Bendis is relaunching Invincible Iron Man with a new character — Riri Williams — as the protagonist. This young woman, who Bendis said is “probably” smarter than Stark, will call herself Ironheart.

It is my belief that Marvel has once again botched an opportunity to diversity its stable of superheroes without annoying long-term readers. Check out my new YouTube video on the subject and let me know what you think in the comments section below.

Civil War II #1: Rhodey’s death a missed opportunity

Rhodey Thanos Civil War II

Marvel Comics’ Civil War II officially kicked off on June 1 with James Rhodes … kicking the bucket. Fans were given a hint of his fate in late may with Civil War II #0, but writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist David Marquez made sure by the end of the first issue that everyone knew War Machine just saw his last* battle. It is hard not to believe, however, that killing Rhodey instead of pitting him against his best friend over a complex issue was an error on Marvel’s part.

Here is what you need to know for Civil War II #1:

  • A huge cast of superheroes square off against a Celestial Destroyer. A tip by The Inhumans allowed Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Captain Marvel and the others to devise a plan that would send the entity to its home dimension.
  • Tony Stark throws a party for the “unqualified, top-to-bottom home run of a win.” The mood is spoiled when it is revealed that Ulysses, an Inhuman who “experiences” the future, was the one who provided intelligence on the Celestial Destroyer’s arrival.
  • Captain Marvel asks Ulysses if he wants a job with The Ultimates after Jean Grey fails to read his mind. Tony Stark wants nothing to do with the young man. He warns everyone that using Ulysses’ power to confront people over a possible future is dangerous and wrong.
  • Ulysses has a vision of Thanos coming to earth and tells The Inhumans to contact Captain Marvel.
  • The events of Civil War II #0 unfold. She Hulk is greatly injured and Rhodey dies.
  • Tony confronts Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel. She tells Tony what happened and his is livid. “I told you! I told you this would happen!” he screams. Carol says she did the right thing and that Rhodey would act no differently if he had it all to do over again.
  • Tony storms off to “make sure none of [the superheroes] play God again.” She Hulk wakes from a coma and tells Captain Marvel to fight for the future (“It’s our future, Carol. Not his.”) before her heart stops.  Doctors try to revive her and the issue ends.

The good thing about Marvel’s decision is that there are plenty of legitimate arguments to be made for killing Rhodey. Unlike turning Steve Rogers into a Nazi-sympathizing Hydra Agent, James Rhodes’ integrity was not violated in the decision-making process. Soldiers die. Every time a warrior steps onto the battlefield, he knows that he might not live to see another day. That’s just how it works.

The bad thing about Marvel’s decision is that it robs readers of a chance to see two friends battle over fierce ideological differences while ultimately finding peace in the end. Both Tony and James would respect the other’s willingness to die for core principles, and in the long run their friendship would probably be stronger for having gone through the ordeal.

A standoff between Tony and Carol has the potential to be powerful, but the better choice would have been Tony vs. James.

Civil War II 1 Iron Man Rhodey

In short, Civil War II appears as though it will be a good read if Marvel finds a way to avoid the mistakes of Civil War I (e.g., inserting partisan politics in the story to make on side look evil). It’s just unfortunate that Bendis missed an opportunity to dial up the dramatic tension by keeping Rhodey alive.

*“Last battle” until a Cosmic Cube, a magical gem, or a spell brings him back to life.

Iron Man Captain Marvel

Bendis debuts ‘Iron Maiden’ in Iron Man #10 while Tony goes deep undercover

Iron Man Franco

Brian Michael Bendis’ Invincible Iron Man has employed a cloak and dagger sensibility for ten issues now. Readers have more or less been treated to a solid tale of corporate espionage, but at some point in time even the most patient readers will move on. There needs to be a payoff to months of running around in the shadows, and luckily it seems as though IIM #11 will be the issue to deliver.

Perhaps the best way to describe IIM #10 is to liken it to a man at a talent show spinning plates. Bendis jumps around to multiple locations to keep his “Tony,” “Rhodey,” “Riri,” and “Mary Jane” plates moving long enough to get to his grand finale. What would be a total disaster in lesser hands (e.g., Jose Molina’s “point” issues in The Amazing Spider-Man) is handled well, and as a result it appears as though IIM #11 will be a must-read.

Before we move on, here is what you need to know about IIM #10:

  • Tony has gone under cover as the former Navy SEAL and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent “Franco.” Biohack ninjas in Japan take him hostage in the middle of the night because their leader wants to know more about him (he saved Yukio when her illegal gambling operation was raided).
  • Tony meets face-to-face with  Tomoe, aka “Techno Golem,” an Inhuman who can control technology. After proving his hand-to-hand combat skills with her biohack ninjas, she tells “Franco” (i.e., Tony Stark using advanced bio-technology to look like an aging Luke Perry) that he may be potentially valuable to her. She wants to take down S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra, Wakanda, Atlantis, and Attilan. She also wants to kill … James Rhodes.
  • Mary Jane goes to her apartment after receiving a mysterious package. A device with a button says “push me” and she inexplicably obliges. Tony’s AI assistant, Friday, emerges and pleads with her to take the job at Stark Industries. The board of directors is meeting to seize control of the company because they believe Tony is dead.
  • Riri Williams, the 15-year-old whiz kid from MIT, conducts a test flight in her Iron Man-like armor. She deems herself “Iron Maiden” and tells a friend, “You can tell no one what I am about to do.”
  • James Rhodes meets with the Avengers and says they need to figure out how to confront a tech-based terrorist group using only their “natural abilities.” He says all contact has been lost with Tony, which means things may “get very bad very quickly.”

Given what readers know, it is imperative for Bendis to bring serious action to IIM #11. Mary Jane will undoubtedly spend time attempting to defuse the situation with Stark Industries’ board of directors, but it can be stressed enough how much this title needs some high-octane butt-kicking, bullets, and giant explosions. It’s time. Make it happen, Mr. Bendis. Seriously.

Finally, one cannot talk about IIM #10 without wondering about Riri “Iron Maidan” Williams.

Riri Willaims Iron Maiden.jpeg

Who is she? Where did she come from? Is Bendis blatantly signaling this is just checking off a gender score card when she specifically asks her friend, “If Iron Man was a woman what would you call him?”

Fact: I want to like a superhero in Stark-like armor named Iron Maiden. It’s cool. I cannot deny that. What is not cool is blatantly beating readers with the message “I am doing this because every iconic male superhero needs a female counterpart — and if you roll your eyes then you’re kind of a bad person.”

Many readers, myself included, will give Riri Williams a shot — but if Bendis starts trying to guilt Iron Man fans into an instant love fest, then it is likely his efforts will spectacularly backfire.

Exit Questions:

  1. Mary Jane is supposed to be winking at readers in this cover photo, but why does it just look like Tony Stark gave her a black eye?
  2. Why would Mary Jane push a button from an anonymous stranger that looks incredibly bomb-like? She even covers her face with her left hand — as if that would somehow shield her from a giant blast. Did she not watch the old Ren and Stimpy episode with the “History Eraser Button”? Tsk, tsk, MJ.

Mary Jane Iron Man button

Stimpy Red Button

Bendis hopes Tony Stark fans take to Iron Riri … because Riri

RiRi Man

When Invincible Iron Man fans last left off, writer Brian Michael Bendis led them to believe Tony Stark, James Rhodes, and Spider-Man died in an explosion perpetrated by a mysterious enemy. IIM #9 picks up four weeks later and Tony Stark is still missing.

Investors want answers because a dead man cannot run a company. James Rhodes wants answers because he and Spider-Man apparently survived. MIT student RiRi, a teenage genius, is also looking for the billionaire in a suit she made from stolen parts because … why, exactly? The reasoning Bendis gives her is pretty flakey: Fate.


Before returning to RiRi, here is what you need to know about IIM #9:

  • Rhodey returns to Osaka, Japan, to press Yukio for answers on Tony’s disappearance. He threatens to shut down her illegal gambling operation if she doesn’t talk.
  • S.W.A.T.-type agents raid Yukio’s establishment when she refuses to help. An anonymous man beats up Rhodey and takes her to safety during the chaos.
  • Doctor Doom convinces Stark’s girlfriend, biochemical engineer Amara Perera, to illegally test her experimental Alzheimer’s drugs on humans.
  • The man who helped Yukio escape, “Mr. Franco,” turns out to be Tony Stark in disguise. He somehow faked his own death to get closer to the organization that tried to kill him.

James Rhodes

IIM is now nine issues into its run and, quite honestly, not a whole lot has happened. While Bendis does a good job laying out breadcrumbs for readers to follow, there is only so long one can walk before fatigue sets in.

At this point it seems like a legitimate question for fans to ask, “When will we get the payoff?”

True, IIM has had moments of action, but they still have not really brought readers any closer to knowing what is going on with Madam Masque, Doctor Doom, or bio-hacking ninjas. The slog may be worth it, but at this point Bendis is testing readers’ patience. Spending time on a character who appears to be just the latest effort by Marvel to fill out a diversity checklist (i.e., We’ve got a new Iron Man — but’s it’s an Iron Woman and she’s a minority. How do you like us now?) exacerbates the problem.

Tony disguise

Will RiRi be a cool character? Perhaps. It just seems as though Marvel is on a weird quest to make female and minority versions of countless established characters.

Peter Parker, meet Miles Morales. Thor, meet She-Thor. Steve Rogers, go be an old man and make way for Sam Wilson. Logan, meet X-23. Bruce Banner, step aside for Amadeus Cho. Tony Stark, meet Iron Riri.

Sometimes it works, as with Sam Wilson and Amadeus Cho, but at the end of the day Marvel would be much better served by creating diverse heroes who are not derivatives of the classics.

If you have been reading IIM, then you should give Bendis a few more issues to deliver a decent payday before possibly jumping ship. If you have not been reading IIM, then you should probably wait until “The War Machines” wraps up before investing in the title.

Invincible Iron Man #8: ‘Ninjas and robots and Rhodey…oh my!’


Say what you want about Brian Michael Bendis, but the man’s self-awareness is better than 95 percent of the rest of the writers employed by Marvel. When he knows a particular story is open to criticism, he tends to find ways to subtly acknowledge the problem within the issue as a way of disarming bloggers like yours truly.

Take, for example, Invincible Iron Man #8, which is bursting at the seams with all it’s trying to accomplish. It is busy, busy, busy — but at one point Spider-Man says of the situation, “Ninjas and robots and Rhodey in his embarrassing boxers, oh my!”

Touché, Mr. Bendis. Touché.

For those who have not been reading the story, it goes as follows: Tony Stark offered a job to Mary Jane, Rhodey disappeared in Japan trying to find bio-hacking ninjas, and Spider-Man was called to help find him.

IIM #8, again, is a very busy issue. Mary Jane appears to walk away from Stark’s job offer (we know that won’t last), Iron Man and Spider-Man look for Rhodey, and it all culminates in a battle involving a horde of ninjas and a gigantic Iron-Man-inspired suit that utilizes mysterious technology.

Question: Is it a good issue?

Answer: Yes — with one minor caveat.

The problem with writers who take on Tony Stark and Peter Parker is that sometimes they use the sarcasm button too many times in a single issue. Yes, both men are masters at the one-liner. Yes, both men use sarcasm to mask all sorts of fears and insecurities, but it is possible to overdo it. Using such a trait when it’s uncalled for makes a character come across as a jerk. Luckily for Bendis, he realizes that one way to add extra gravity to the book is to find a situation so dangerous that it finally shuts Tony up.

IronMan8 Tony

Whoever this new villain is, he or she found a way to leave Tony speechless by the last page. It was a welcome surprise after countless panels of Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Rhodey all basically blowing off what appeared to be a serious opponent.

In many ways IIM #8 was going to succeed or fail based upon what happened on the final page, and it is safe to say that Bendis … detonated it.

IM8 explosion

Invincible Iron Man continues to be one of Marvel’s most carefully crafted books. If you want stories by a “writer’s writer,” then you should check out Bendis. If you want “nuke the fridge” moments reminiscent of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, then I suggest checking out Dan Slott’s run on The Amazing Spider-Man.

Bendis Bonus:

If you’re like me, then you were glad to see that Bendis seems to feel the same way about Spider-Man’s stupid glowing spider on the new suit. In response to finding out that Iron Man’s suit has A.I., Spider-Man says, “Cool. My spider glows now for no apparent reason.”


IronMan SpiderMan