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J. Michael Straczynski’s (and Ron Garney’s) Run on the Amazing Spider-Man – Civil War (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Spider-Man is a pretty important character in the whole Civil War event. Indeed, he’s probably the event’s third most important character – aside from Captain America and Iron Man. So it makes sense that J. Michael Straczynsi’s extended run on The Amazing Spider-Man would stop and engage with the massive crossover spanning the entire Marvel Universe. And, from a logistical “structuring a comic book crossover tie-in so it makes any sense to a reader picking up the book” point of view, Straczynski does a great job. You can read The Amazing Spider-Man without needing to even pick up the Civil War miniseries.

However, as a piece of writing on its own merits, Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man tie-in is a mess. Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man run has been collecting trouble aspects for quite some time, particularly when Straczynski seemed to brush up against the editorial demands for the book. Sins Past was perhaps the most obvious example, but with Civil War the comic entered a phase where it was pretty much an editorial means to an end. Everything from this point on was pushing towards One More Day, an event that would wipe decades of continuity from the title. (Including Straczynski’s run.)

Civil War really gets the ball rolling on these sweeping editorially-mandated changes, but that’s not the only problem with the story arc. Given Spider-Man’s importance to Civil War, and his role as defector from one side to the other, it seems like Spider-Man would really be the perfect lens through which Straczynski could explore the issue. Unfortunately, it quickly becomes clear upon which side of the issue Straczynski comes down.

A tangled web...

A tangled web…

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Archie Goodwin’s (& George Tuska’s) Run on The Invincible Iron Man – The Invincible Iron Man Omnibus, Vol. 2 (Review/Retrospective)

To get ready for Iron Man 3, we’ll be taking a look at some Iron Man and Avengers stories, both modern and classic. We hope to do two or three a week throughout the month, so check back regularly for the latest update.

The second omnibus contains both the tail end of Stan Lee run on Tales of Suspense and the Archie Goodwin run on The Invincible Iron Man. To make matters easier, I’ve split the review in half. This half covers Archie Goodwin’s Iron Man.

Archie Goodwin is one of the best editors to work in comic books. During his time working at DC, the editor was responsible for The Long Halloween and also James Robinson’s long-running Starman. While Goodwin was an exceptional editor, he was arguably a weaker writer. As his run on The Invincible Iron Man demonstrates, Goodwin has a very clear idea of what concepts work and won’t work with the character, and how to start “fixing” some of the more obvious flaws present in the character from his inception during Stan Lee’s Tales of Suspense run. However, Goodwin isn’t quite as deft when it comes to story construction or plot mechanics. He lacks Lee’s flair for soap opera angst and interpersonal drama.

However, his run on The Invincible Iron Man remains quite impressive, and just as influential and formative as anything written by Stan Lee. I’d argue that Goodwin’s conceptual model of the character is a lot closer to the modern version of Iron Man, and that his version of Tony Stark bleeds through the work of later writers and also into the massive billion-dollar film franchise as well. So Goodwin’s work on The Invincible Iron Man is quite iconic. It’s just some of the nuts-and-bolts scripting that seems to catch him, from time to time.

That's why they call him the Invincible Iron Man...

That’s why they call him the Invincible Iron Man…

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Non-Review Review: Iron Man 3

Where do you go after The Avengers? Marvel brought together four separate superhero franchises to produce one mega-blockbuster last summer, producing the most successful film of 2012 and one of the most lucrative films in the history of the medium. It’s a tough act to follow. If Iron Man 3 is any indication, it seems like Disney and Marvel understand how they want to progress from here. Shrewdly deciding not to compete with The Avengers on scale, Iron Man 3 is instead a character-driven action thriller specifically tailored for the character of Tony Stark, with writer and director Shane Black very clearly having his own idea for the hero who first launched Marvel’s shared universe.

While Iron Man 3 isn’t quite perfect, it’s a solid superhero blockbuster, and perhaps second only to Kenneth Brannagh’s Thor as the best superhero film produced by Marvel Studios.

Who da Iron Man?

Who da Iron Man?

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Iron Man by David Michelinie & Bob Layton (& John Romita Jr.) Omnibus, Vol 1 (Review/Retrospective)

To get ready for Iron Man 3, we’ll be taking a look at some Iron Man and Avengers stories, both modern and classic. We hope to do two or three a week throughout the month, so check back regularly for the latest update.

It’s hard to believe, given the high profile the character has attained since Robert Downey Jr. first played Tony Stark in Iron Man back in 2008, but Iron Man used to be one of Marvel’s second-tier characters. Of course, like any other comic book character, Iron Man has had his ups and downs. There have been solid runs by great creative teams, and disappointing stories told by writers and artists unsuited to the character. However, Iron Man never really had one of those iconic comic book runs of the seventies and eighties, the kind of high-profile character-defining run like Walt Simonson’s tenure on Thor or Frank Miller’s work on Daredevil or Chris Clarement’s extended run on the X-Men franchise.

Perhaps the closest to such a run from the Bronze Age is the work by David Michelinie and Bob Layton, who actually enjoyed two extended runs writing for the character at the end of the seventies and into the eighties. This gigantic omnibus collection includes the first of those two runs, which were bisected (mostly) by Denny O’Neil’s extended time on the title. While it’s not as cohesive and solid a run as any of the aforementioned examples, it still demonstrates a solid understanding of Iron Man, and features two of the character’s most iconic stories.

You have to whip it...

You have to whip it…

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Matt Fraction’s Run on The Invincible Iron Man – Vol. 2 (Hardcover) (Review/Retrospective)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.” Today, I’m focusing on one in particular, Iron Man.

Read our review of The Avengers here.

In many ways, Matt Fractions’ Invincible Iron Man run feels like a spiritual counterpart to Ed Brubaker’s celebrated Captain America tenure. Of course, there’s similar thematic ground covered by the character arcs, with both leads dealing with the fallout from Marvel’s crossover-driven continuity, but there’s something more fundamental in the style and goals of the works. Indeed, both read better in big chunks, with each of the “acts” in Brubaker’s Captain America saga conveniently broken down and released in their own omnibus collections (his opening Captain America run, The Death of Captain America and Captain America Lives!). I can’t help up feel like perhaps Matt Fraction drew the short straw when it comes to collected editions, with the release of his material dictated by Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2 and Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, as the two hardcovers seem strangely structured, creating a second volume which seems to contain the end of one act and the start of another.

It's got a lot of heart...

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Iron Man: Extremis (Review/Retrospective)

John Pillinger says the Iron Man suit is a military application. I told him he was wrong. I’m trying to decide if I was lying. I’ve never sold any element of the Iron Man to the military. It’s used for extraordinary rescue and response situations. Iron Man saves lives. Iron Man used to represent the future.

– Tony Stark considers his legacy

What’s the Iron Man for, Tony?

– Sal cuts straight to the heart of the matter

The more Iron Man stories I read – and the more movies I see as well – it appears that Tony Stark as a lost individual isn’t a metaphor, it’s more of a metaphysical observation. He’s typically well written and carefully considered (of course, there are glaring exceptions), but he rarely seems to find himself involved in any particularly strong narratives. His appeal is centred entirely on the character’s charm, charisma and pride of place as one of fiction’s most famous and prestigious futurists. I don’t mean this as a slight on Extremis by any means – in fact, Warren Ellis’ revised mission statement for the true man of tomorrow may be the best Iron Man story I’ve read.

What is Tony Stark made of?

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