The Invincible Iron Man: Extremis #1-5

Neil Kenyon

Is Marvel planning to revamp their other mainstay heroes? Was the Ultimate line of comics not created to make these characters more relevant to new readers and re-origin the characters?

The Invincible Iron Man

Publisher: Marvel
Subtitle: Extremis #1-5
Contributors: Adi Granov (Artist)
Price: $2.99
Writer: Warren Ellis
Item Type: Comic
Length: 32
End Date: 2006-03
Start Date: 2005-01

Erratic scheduling is always the bane of a comic fan. Case in point: The Invincible Iron Man: Extremis. Who knows when the sixth issue of this series is likely to appear and conclude this first story arc? An issue one which premiered in November 2004 has seen a scant four more issues since.

This Iron Man, effectively a reboot, sees Tony Stark in reflective mood. Writer Warren Ellis interprets Tony Stark as a Bill Gates like maverick who, having made his fortune through weapon designs whilst benefiting the military and allowing Stark International to grow, has also seen considerable collateral damage where those weapons have been applied. As one journalist aggressively interviews Tony's arms-dealing history and his landmine known as a Stark Sentinel:
"Do you think an Afghan kid with his arm blown off by a landmine is remotely impressed by an Iron Man suit?"

From the outset it's evident that Tony is in a quandary. He is not proud of his early inventions and while trying to justify the good intent in this interview (which takes a good proportion of the first issue), he is almost trying to justify the good he has done to himself. It's a talky affair but Ellis pulls it off with aplomb.

The Extremis storyline kicks in with Stark coming to the aid of an old friend at Futurepharm whose experimental drug (Extremis) has been stolen and is being applied with devastating results. It's a storyline that has huge implications to Stark, the man, as he himself takes a decision in issue 5 that has an outcome that is sure to surprise many Iron Man readers.

It's around this time that the Iron Man origin is touched on: Ellis reinvents it to an accident in Afghanistan caused by one of Stark weapons (the rest is the standard fare of the creation of the Iron Man suit to stop shrapnel moving close to Tony's heart).

Now granted, moving this origin to Afghanistan and the Taliban (from the Korean War) makes the timeline more realistic in the 21st century. Yes, Tony Stark would be far too old in 2006 if he was hurt in the Korean War. But it raises the question: is Marvel planning to do this for their other mainstay heroes? Was the Ultimate line of comics not created to make these characters more relevant to new readers and re-origin the characters? Don't we already have an Ultimate Iron Man? It just causes me to scratch my head as I wonder about the Infinite Crisis possibilities which could soon become evident.

In fact, with Ellis are we reading the equivalent of a DC's Elseworlds tale (re-imagining characters in different times and social settings) as the events in this Iron Man (man 'meets' machine) have yet to be circulated in (for example) Brian Bendis's New Avengers title. Intriguingly we are also in a world still oblivious to Tony Stark being Iron Man, but I suspect this could tie more into the Avenger Disassembled storyline of a few years ago.

Adi Granov, who seems to be the real villain of the piece for Iron Man fans -- taking the majority of blame for the non-prodigious and heavily delayed publication output -- is a very talented artist. He combines highly computerised photo realism artwork with gritty tones and ably interprets Ellis's set pieces. He also seems to have been given the remit by Marvel Comics to make Stark look more like a movie star; he satisfies the persistent internet movie casting rumour by developing the comic more and more like a storyboard for Tom Cruise's agent to show the actor what he could sign up for.

The prolific Warren Ellis is one of the headline comic writers in the industry. DC (more specifically Vertigo) is where he made his name, and he is responsible for the Vertigo classic Transmetropolitan as well as Wildstorm's Planetary. His current comics also deserve attention, including the limited series Desolation Jones (a very adult sci-fi nightmare), Image's Fell and the more mainstream fare Jack Cross for DC comics.

Is it worth the wait? After the initial issues I was very positive, but now I'm not so sure. Giving Warren Ellis a mainstream superhero is what attracted me to the title. Undeniably he has in 5 issues put his stamp on the title with events that should have storylines spinning out of it for many years, although given its scheduling problems that could only be two issues!

However what's most disappointing is while comic fans have stuck with this title, it appears Ellis and Granov have not. After setting up so much, Ellis is to depart after six issues and rumours are that Granov will swiftly follow. If this is the case most fans would have settled for this being a mini-series or original graphic novel rather than a premature end to an ongoing series with other writers and artist having to pick up the pieces.

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