Marvel Comics Review – The Invincible Iron Man Vol. 1: Extremis

reading Iron Man comics

Publication: 2005

Writer: Warren Ellis

Odin’s Judgment:

Quality: 5 out of 5

Importance: 4.7 out of 5

Recommended Reading For: Your very first Iron Man comic! A great entry-point to the character this decade.

One of the major problems with comic book continuity is that many of the major characters are at least partially connected to their original timelines. The current Marvel universe is deeply indebted to the characters and storylines Stan Lee created in the 60’s (give or take), but as we move further into the 2000’s, these 60’s connections make less and less sense. Personally, I’m not an advocate for getting too hung up about issues of believability in comics – how many times have you seen a man burst into flame on voice command? – but when it comes to issues of timeline, I at least like an explanation. After all, if Captain America had just showed up in the 60’s without aging a day, and nobody bothered to explain, that wouldn’t make for a very convincing Avengers. And, frankly, that’s what some of the best Marvel comics come down to: making the unbelievable believable. Convincing readers that this world is real as long you continue reading and wish it to be.

This was the task assigned writer Warren Ellis as he sought to rewrite the world of Iron Man for the new millennium. Saying he absolutely nailed it is a bit like saying I absolutely nailed Scarlett Johansen…

In a dream one time …

OK, several times…

And if Scarlett’s out there, I apologize because, yes, I agree, that was filthy…

Anyway, point is, it’s all a bit of an understatement. In Iron Man Vol 1: Extremis, Ellis updates Tony Stark in ways you can’t imagine. And then some…

The biggest hang-up for the character of Iron Man has to do with his origins in Vietnam. If you’re not familiar with the character, I’ll save you from any spoilers, but just know that Vietnam is too damn long ago to make sense for the character anymore. If Iron Man stuck with that history, the Tony Stark of the 2000’s would be almost 80. And if I wanted to see my grandpa in a sweet suit, I’d just look at old wedding photos.

In Iron Man Vol 1: Extremis, Ellis is able to update this contradiction with a grace and style that works wonders. Updating a beloved comic book hero’s past is always a dangerous game. I come from a household where my dad would absolutely hate any changes from the original comic books. You’ve surely met the type. The sort who craves a pure and indubitable adherence to original comic book history. My dad even has reservations about Wolverine because he isn’t one of the original X-Men. Clearly there is a point where these comic book fundamentalists go a bit too far.

That doesn’t mean they don’t have a point, though. Re-imagining beloved characters is only successful, in my book, when they stay as true as possible to those overarching, central traits of the character that fans have come to love. If a re-imagined Peter Parker isn’t a quirky, dorky high school science geek who gets bit by a radioactive spider, then he is simply not Spider-Man.

Like Grant Morrison with the New X-Men, Ellis knows this and stays as true to Stark’s personality and origins as possible. If you’ve seen the first Iron Man movie, then you already have an idea how he achieves this. If not, just know that Ellis has secured Tony Stark’s character for the new millennium with a great entry-point and introduction to the character.

Of course, all of this is only one, potentially small facet of Iron Man Vol 1: Extremis, depending on your prior relationship with the character. The magnificent storyline itself transforms Iron Man in even more ways than I would have thought possible. I won’t spoil anything, but let’s just say Iron Man becomes so much more than a man in a suit after the events of this run. One consistent trait of new Marvel comics that I have noticed – of the best ones at least – is that the writers are doing an incredible job transforming known characters beyond their previous limitations or structures. And they’re staying true to the characters while they do so. As a comic book fan, there’s nothing better than this: transformative, exciting change without a deranged disconnect.

All in all, Iron Man Vol 1: Extremis is the place to start for comic book readers looking to get started with Iron Man. Everything about volume one is worthy of my nerdy raving. Even the artwork, and I say ‘even’ because I’m about as qualified to judge artwork as Paris Hilton is to baby-sit, is astounding. I’m one of those comic book readers that mostly just likes artwork that works with the storyline and isn’t a hinderance, but there were several panels within Iron Man Vol 1: Extremis that had my stopping in admiration. I really don’t do that very often.

I could go on, but you’ve already gotten the idea: GO READ Iron Man Vol 1: Extremis!!!

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