Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Alex Maleev
I wasn’t sure what to expect from a second Iron Man title, or why we even needed one. Bendis’ Invincible Iron Man run has been fun so far, though hasn’t got really much to set it apart from other writers have done with Tony, seeming to mostly want to create an accessible book for movie goers. With International Iron Man though, Bendis’ plays to his strengths to create something that feels much more unique and scratched an itch I didn’t even know I had.
The comic stars Tony from 20 years ago, as he spends his time living in London attempting to distance himself from his parents. He soon meets a brilliant young woman named Cassandra Gillespie, and from there a web of spy intrigue and Bendis’ trademark banter work in tangent to create a great new take on the Iron Man franchise. While I was initially caught off guard by the younger Tony Stark actually feeling a little like Peter Parker (which further confirmed these characters have switched books), he soon settles into something much more familiar, but with enough differences due to youth that make him feel fresh. There’s a lot of Bendis snark that works well, giving Tony a lot of charm and allowing Bendis to play to his strengths. If you’ve had problems with his portrayal in the main book, it makes much more sense here. There’s a lot of room for the character to develop while simultaneously working in recent changes to the mythos (such as Tony being adopted), making me very excited to read future issues. The actual plot is a little thin, it’s mostly set up right now, but Bendis excels with character work and set-up, making not a page of this feel boring or slow. What does worry me though are the scenes set in the present day. While they tie in well and give a great twist ending, the flashback section is undoubtedly the highlight as it has the most unique stuff and room for growth. I hope future issues manage to maintain this balance, as too much present day stuff may make it seem too indistinguishable from the other book.
What really sold me however was Bendis reteaming with frequent collaborator Alex Maleev. Maleev’s grounded style suits the pre-tech Tony to a T, crafting a world that feels suitably unique from other Marvel books. It has a very fresh feeling to it in the scenes set in the past, while Tony doesn’t really look like Tony (it’s the lack of ‘stache in my opinion) he takes on his own look and personality that completely sells the character. It almost feels like he could work on his own as an entirely new character, but he’s well connected to theIron Man legacy. While occasionally the layout panel to panel can be a bit disorienting, the style suits perfectly enough that I’m willing to overlook this. As long as Maleev stays on this could be Marvel’s must beautiful book.
Overall, International Iron Man more than justifies it’s existence in this issue, and in fact, I’d say it’s much better than Incivible Iron Man and that this should be the one fans are picking up. The super spy angle while sounding odd on paper definitely works in adding some new depth to Tony outside the MCU portrayal. There’s a real sense of newness here, with Bendis finding new ways to examine the character without having to take a sledgehammer to him or bending him out of his established parameters. The young Tony Stark angle opens the door for great new storytelling potential without being chained to the image the character has now, one that needs to stay somewhat fixed given his newfound popularity. There’s a lot of potential going forward, with that vast majority feeling similar to Bendis’ early work like Alias. If you’re not a fan of Bendis, this most likely won’t change your mind too much, but with an open mind this is definitely a book to watch, and I recommend getting in on the ground floor.