Comics in digital format are making up an increasingly large part of what I read. While having a physical edition of what I’m reading is great, there are times when it doesn’t make sense to buy a comic in that format for two reasons. One is that they’re on sale, and the other is that they retail for a far more appealing price than what I would pay for them in print. That’s the case with the new “Invincible Iron Man” series and the latest volume of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Both are from Bendis and continue the trend of the writer’s comics at Marvel being published in an expensive hardcover format before coming to paperback after six months or so. Normally I’d wait for the paperback edition, but both of these volumes were retailing from comiXology/Amazon digitally for less than what I’d pay for these volumes down the line. Which is a good thing too. I’d probably be feeling much less charitable towards these titles if I had to pay more for them.
Bendis’ new “Iron Man”title was positioned as the flagship for Marvel’s “All-New All-Different” line post-”Secret Wars.” So you’d expect that “Invincible Iron Man vol. 1: Reboot” would carry a certain amount of weight in that regard. You’d also be wrong. The most meaningful thing this volume contributes to the current incarnation of the Marvel Universe is what it does with Doctor Doom and his newly-reconstructed face. No longer the ruler of Latveria, the good doctor has realized with this change that he was meant for greater things. This includes becoming best bros with Tony Stark whether the superhero futurist wants it or not.
That’s only a subplot to the main story as Stark is forced to contend with his old flame/enemy Madam Masque and her efforts to secure items of considerable mystic power for her own ends. While he’s pursuing her, our protagonist also finds the time to banter with his A.I. gal Friday, strike up a romance with brilliant scientist Dr. Amara Perera, hang out with his awesome facial hair bro Doctor Strange, fight some cyber-ninjas, and offer Mary Jane Watson a job at Stark Industries. It all makes for a fairly engaging read from the writer as well as a more focused one since he’s just dealing with one main character and his supporting cast. Bendis also has a good handle on Tony’s character, making his arrogance come off as charming rather than off-putting and even have him display some vulnerability at key points.
The writer’s take on Doom isn’t as successful even if there are some interesting aspects to it. There is a certain kind of blandness to the character’s new look, with him coming off as generically handsome more than anything else. However, Doom’s sense of superiority remains intact and makes for good fun as we see him forcefully ingratiate himself into Stark’s life. I’m not sure if Bendis is going to go anywhere interesting with Doom’s statement that he’s meant for better things, but it’s a completely believable turn for the character to put on airs like that after he’s lost his monarchy.
With regards to the women, they come off fine. More or less. Friday makes for a good foil for Stark’s character as she’s able to rein him in and get the man to focus in a way that only her inspiration (Pepper) was able to do in real life. I do recall some concern that the addition of Mary Jane to this series would eventually lead her to become another notch on Stark’s bedpost, but that doesn’t appear to be the case here. Aside from becoming an employee at Stark Industries, her actions ultimately save Stark and Doom from certain annihilation at Madame Masque’s hands. Masque, by the way, makes for a pretty generic villain here even with the demonic possession angle. I liked her ruthlessness when dealing with humans, but the woman’s motives and goals aren’t defined well enough to make her interesting here. More likely to wind up as a notch on Stark’s bedpost is Dr. Perara. At least I get the impression that she’s going to make the man work for it and get there on her terms based on what I’ve read here.
Bendis’ collaborator on “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man,” David Marquez, provides the art for these five issues. As his work on that series showed, he’s great with character drama and superhero action and that hasn’t changed here. In fact, these five issues show a level of detail above what he was doing there, making the proceedings even more pleasing to the eye. The only real negative I can think of is that there are some visual tricks that come off somewhat pointlessly -- like imposing a 24-panel grid on a double-page spread that doesn’t need it -- but these five issues show that Marquez is a first-class superhero artist. If nothing else, “Civil War II” is going to look great.
These five issues are good fun and actually have me looking forward to seeing where Bendis goes with the title character’s adventures. That said, if you were expecting more than just an enjoyable superhero story based on the push that Marvel gave this book then I can understand why you’d be disappointed. The stakes and scope of this volume are relatively small scale and while that’s not a bad thing on its terms, you expect more from a title that’s pushed as the flagship of its line. I’d also say the events here are slight for a $25 hardcover. For a $12 digital purchase, they feel just about right.
“Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 1: Emperor Quill” was even cheaper at $10 digitally. Which is good because it left me rolling my eyes at the way Bendis disposes of the promising status quo that he left Peter Quill in at the end of the previous volume. To recap: Quill is now the (elected) Emperor of Spartax and living a respectable life. His fiancee, Kitty Pryde, and the rest of the Guardians decided that this life wasn’t for them and continue to seek out high adventure in the galaxy. (Ben Grimm is also part of the team now. Why? “Because reasons.” His salt-of-the-earth persona at least makes for an entertaining mix with the other Guardians, so that’s all the complaining I’ll do about this addition.) After an explosive encounter with the Chitari, the Guardians come across something in a box and decide to exploit their connection with Quill to get the Spartax to open it up and find out what’s inside. Their reunion with the former Star Lord is cut short as Hala, Last Accuser of the Kree, shows up on the planet to avenge the destruction of her home as a result of the machinations of Quill’s father in the “Black Vortex” crossover.
Lots of fighting and banter follow. Compared to “Invincible Iron Man,” it doesn’t make for the best use of Bendis’ skills with all of the characters mostly reduced to shouting quips at one another over the carnage. I will readily admit that all of this carnage looks great under Valerio Schiti’s pencils as his style has an energy and detail to it that’s immensely appealing. That’s ultimately not enough to counter the fact that setting up Quill as the Emperor of Spartax turned out to be a complete non-starter as a story. By the end of the volume, he’s a member of the Guardians again and leaving behind a ruined Spartax as he has been made a scapegoat for Hala’s attack. That’s not only predictable, but not that satisfying either.
I’d rather have seen Quill be an irritating thorn in the side of the politicians who set him up for the role and loved by his people in the process. Then, when Hala attacks, his and the Guardians’ efforts to defeat her are applauded by the people as they realize that the reason this happened in the first place was because of Quill’s dad. Stuck with a popular ruler who they can’t stand, the politicians then suggest Quill team up with his former companions on a goodwill tour to make up for all of his dad’s other transgressions. Tired of being stuck on the planet, Quill agrees and the status quo of the series is restored.
That’s the story I’d have liked to read, and the fact that the story Bendis wrote inspired me to think it up should tell you what I thought of the one he gave us. At least it had some great art, and was cheap. I’m not sure if that combination will be enough to get me to come back for future volumes.