Wednesday, March 12, 2008

ultimate iron man

So after a blitz of reading heavyweight books like "Who Wrote the Bible?" and poems like "The Song of Hiawatha," I turned my attention this weekend to the first "Ultimate Iron Man" trade paperback, written by Orson Scott Card.

Despite his multiple Hugos and Nebulas, I haven't really been able to get into Card's work. Because it was so highly rated, I gave "Ender's Game" a try, and then read "Speaker for the Dead" and "Xenocide," but it never really clicked for me. Still, when I saw that he had tackled Iron Man for Marvel's Ultimates line, I was intrigued enough to give it a try, once I could find a copy that I could read for free.
Most of the actual origin was the standard throwaway stuff you find in superhero comics: A prenatal Tony Stark inadvertantly was genetically altered so that every neuron in his body functions as brain tissue, making him unnaturally intelligent and regenerating his body  from any injury. He also has a subcutaneous bioarmor that makes him impervious to blunt force trauma. The downside is that he suffers chronic pain because the armor eats his body tissues, which are constantly regrowing. Yada yada yada.

The comic depicts the initial meeting between Stark and James Rhodes, and shows their relationship growing from mildly adversarial to actual friendship as equals. It also provides a reasonable explanation for Stark's alcoholism. Because he's always in some moderate pain from that bioarmor, alcohol when he discovers it at a cocktail party provides him with the first meaningful release from that pain in his life.

I really enjoyed Obadiah Stane.

If you're a comics geek like me, you will remember Obadiah Stane from what is probably the greatest Iron Man story arc ever told, back in the early to mid-1980s. Stane was a ruthless businessman determined to complete a hostile takeover of Stark Industries, which he accomplished by driving Tony Stark, a recovering alcoholic, to the bottle through a series of orchestrated personal disasters.

As the story arc unfolded, Stark gave the Iron Man identity to James Rhodes and ended up drinking himself from being the millionaire CEO and principal owner of a major industrial firm to a wino out on the street who nearly froze to death in a blizzard.

Card brought Stane into the story right from the start, even before Tony was born. In his treatment, Stane's parents are Zebediah Stane and the first wife of Howard Stark, Tony's father. Obadiah Stane and Tony Stark are born around the same time, to parents who had been married, and make natural dramatic foils for one another while they are still young. I've no idea how this has played out since in the Ultimate universe, but the storytelling potential is tremendous.

The Iron Man comic went back to the library today. But if I see some time that they have a second volume, I wouldn't be surprised if I were to pick it up for a light read too.

I need something to do between the heavier tomes I've been reading.

Copyright © 2008 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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