This post was originally published on my now defunct site, New to Comics.
New to Comics is a segment where I look at various comic-books, explaining their background, reviewing them, and breaking them down for readers unfamiliar to the medium. The title is a reference to a former university project that I carried on as its own site for several years before laying it to rest.
This week’s posts come a bit later than usual, as I’ve spent the last week in Budapest. But now, I’m back, and with me comes a new New to Comics post. This week, we’re looking at the armoured Avenger, the Invincible Iron Man; particularly the story that changed the way Tony Stark took on his duties as a super-hero and would later inspire the movie Iron Man 3.
It’s Iron Man: Extremis.
Published by: Marvel Comics
Written by: Warren Ellis
Art by: Adi Granov
Real Name: Anthony Edward Stark
Affiliation: The Avengers
First Appearance: Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963)
Genius. Billionaire. Playboy. Philanthropist. Former weapons designer Tony Stark often found himself at the centre of all heated conflicts across the globe, providing munitions to the military and more covert organisations like S.H.I.E.L.D., alike. But when that heat proved too extreme, and Stark was mortally wounded and kidnapped by terrorists, he used his genius to build himself a suit of armour that would keep him alive, and allow him to escape captivity. Returning to the western world a changed man, Tony Stark, aided by his butler Jarvis, his assistant Pepper Potts and his chauffeur Happy Hogan, started continually upgrading his armour, forgoing his former bloody path as an arms dealer, instead hoping to make the world a better place as the invincible Iron Man.
WHAT’s THE STORY?
Extremis was published in 2005 and 2006 and is significant for increasing Iron Man’s power levels substantially. Although Iron Man has always been a powerful hero and prominent member of Marvel’s A-List super-team, The Avengers, Extremis saw Tony Stark become one with his armour – bridging the gap between a man in a suit of armour and a man with super-powers.
In later years, the flashback elements of the comics would influence both the story and design of the 2008 film Iron Man, while the main bulk of the story was the basis for its later sequel, Iron Man 3.
The story is seen as a new starting point for Iron Man, and the writer Warren Ellis (who writes a lot of good stuff; if you ever get a chance to check out his work, I would definitely suggest you go for it) purposefully opted not to read a ton of Iron Man’s back issues so the story could be read as a first Iron Man story. Similarly, the artist Adi Granov had similarly little prior experience with Iron Man and used his realistic art style to redefine the character not just as a hero in a suit of armour, but as a pilot wielding a weapon plucked from a techno-thriller.
Granov would later work on the Iron Man movie, helping design the suits of armour seen on screen.
WHAT’s THE PLOT?
A simple and down-to-Earth story, Extremis follows Tony Stark in his day to day life, as he struggles with his self-loathing and investigates a new attempt to create the ‘Super-Soldier’ Serum that birthed Captain America, called Extremis. As he confronts figures from his past, Iron Man is drawn into a conflict with a terrorist called Mallen.
Enhanced by the Extremis virus, Mallen is able to out-power and outmanoeuvre Iron Man at every turn. Facing death and the idea of becoming obsolete, Iron Man takes steps to become a new, evolved superhero, one with the power to be the hero 21st century America needs.
As he prepares to upgrade the Iron Man like never before, Tony also looks back to his past, remembering the events that made him the armoured Avenger and his life as a weapons designer that made him, to quote the film Iron Man, a ‘merchant of death’.
IS IT ACCESSIBLE?
You might worry that what with Ellis having neglected prior Iron Man stories to prepare for his job, that it may not embrace the history and mythos of the hero as most good comics do. And yet, it works perfectly, and is, out of the comics we’ve looked at thus far, the most accessible out of all of them, alongside Ultimate Spider-Man.
You require literally no knowledge of prior events to understand this comic. In the six-issue run, you’re introduced to Tony Stark as a character, informed of his background, shown his super-hero origin and see a demonstration of his powers.
Bar passing mentions of the Avengers and his dragon-esque foe, Fin Fang Foom, very few references are made to other Marvel material. It seemingly exists in its own bubble of the Marvel universe, and yet, is hugely influential on everything that happens to Iron Man post-2006.
To be honest, if you wanted to know who Iron Man is and could only read one comic, I would definitely say to read this one. Here’s why…
WHAT’s THE VERDICT?
Although, as a long time comic book fan, I do love stories that take old or obscure elements and craft them into a new interesting narrative, I’d probably say Extremis is one of the better comics I’ve read recently, despite the fact it does none of that.
The story is not too long, keeping things simple and to the point. It tells you everything you need to know about Iron Man in just a few pages.
No. Scratch that.
It shows you everything you need to know about Iron Man in just a few pages. His character. His trials. His regrets. His powers. Everything that makes Iron Man who he is is shown in beautiful and subtle ways. The book isn’t bloated with unnecessarily expositional dialogue. It understands that people may not have been reading Iron Man comics since his appearances in Tales of Suspense (ie, the sixties). But it tells a story that is welcoming to comic-fans new and old, by not getting stuck in the past but crafting essential elements of Iron Man’s future.
This is done, in part, by the superb art by Adi Granov. While it may not be for some, Granov’s hyper-realistic style is an alternative and welcome addition to comic books; stepping away from the usual cartoony, pop-y style, and giving us something that conveys a serious and important tone. It’s glamorous and striking; perhaps the closest you can come to see a movie in comic-book form (which is why it’s not surprising that this story had such a strong influence on the Iron Man movies).
Through this art, and Warren Ellis’ excellent writing, we see Iron Man take on a threat that is both world-threatening, yet, at the same time, personal and contained. The villain, Mallen, while pretty sparse on development, is threatening and direct. He may just be a guy in his civvies, but his power levels make you genuinely wonder how Iron Man is going to get out of their conflict alive.
And the conclusion, while admittedly brief, presents untold possibilities for Iron Man’s future (now-past, what with us being over a decade on from this story). It successfully opened up his world in new ways, which, really, is what a lot of other comics strive (and often fail) to do, and for that, I salute Warren Ellis.
Basically, what I’m saying is, Extremis was the comic-book landmark that bridged the gap between this…