Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Iron Mongering Part 2: Extremis

3:44:12 pm

Next up on the Iron Man review front, we have Warren Ellis and Adi Granov's Extremis storyline which kicked off the fourth Iron Man ongoing series. Ellis took the opportunity to update Tony's origin so that he was blown up in Afghanistan instead of Vietnam. There's probably some other changes, but I'm not really sure. And, awwwwwwway we go:

Iron Man: Extremis (2005-2006)

Written by Warren Ellis

Drawn by Adi Granov

Featuring Iron Man, Mallen, Maya Hansen and Sal Kennedy

Unlike Demon in a Bottle, I've actually read Extremis before and liked it. When I read it originally, I had only read Heroes Reborn Iron Man (I'll get to that in another post) and a few issues of the third volume. So, I remembered most of the beats and still enjoyed it, but definitely not as much as Demon in a Bottle. On a sunnier note, though, there are a number of scenes in this book that they seemed to take inspiration from in the film, which is a fun little game to play.

Speaking of influence on the movie, they couldn't have picked a better artist to help design the movie armor than Adi Granov. His work on this book really jumps off the page. Sure there's a few panels that seem a little static, but for the majority of the panels, Granov really brings Iron Man AND Tony Stark to life. While still on the topic of creators, I've read a number of different Ellis books, liked some, didn't like others, so his name alone wasn't the big draw for me.

Okay, so on to the story. We open in an abandoned slaughterhouse where two kids inject a third (Mallen) with what turns out to be Extremis (more on that later). It turns out that a doctor at Futurepharm allowed Extremis to get swiped, so he shoots himself in the head, leaving Dr. Hansen to deal with the authorities.

Meanwhile, Tony Stark tinkers away in his garage laboratory (an image of Stark that I really like to see, he is a super-genius after all) and then gets interviewed by a documentary maker, in a very similar fashion than the ambush by the sexy blond reporter lady in the movie. It's a pretty great scene because it gives you a really good idea about who the man underneath the armor really is: one who feels responsible for creating weapons of destruction and wants to make right by the world. This goes on for a while, then we get a

snapshot of Mallen who looks like he's covered in a cocoon of tar.

Then back to Tony who's looking at his Iron Man armor, saying, "Hard to believe I used to be able to fit this into a briefcase." He then goes on for a few pages, briefly recapping his origin and explaining why he's Iron Man. It's a bit on the nose, especially after reading through the scene with Tony and the documentary maker. Anyway, Iron Man launches into the sky and flies around, remembering meeting Dr. Hansen who then calls him. Weird, huh? She tells him about Extremis and he tells her he'll be there ASAP.

On the way there, Tony has a video conference with his board of directors who are trying to convince him to step down from CEO to Chief Technologist, which he's having none of, mostly because they want to get back into the weapons-making business and Tony won't allow it. Also, they discuss a brand new Stark cell phone that sounds a lot like the iPhone. I remember when this project was first announced that Ellis said that, now that cell phones can do all this crazy stuff, that Iron Man needs an upgrade. It's kinda awesome that Ellis was able to call the next step in cell phone technology.

So, Tony shows up at Futurepharm, talks to Maya, uses a satellite USB drive to upload the entire contents of the dead doctor's hard drive to one of his computer techs and then heads off with Maya to meet up with Sal Kennedy to talk tech and the future while Mallen finally realizes what his powers can do and goes on a pretty awesome rampage. The juxtaposition of the scientists discussion of science and its place (along with theirs) in the world and what it means to be a genius against the misuse of science (Extremis) is a nice one, but it goes on for a bit too long, possibly. In my opinion, this whole six issue story could have been told in about four with little-to-no difference in quality.

Maya and Tony finally find out about the rampage and head back to Futurepharm on the plane, which gives Maya time to explain what the heck Extremis actually is. I'll let her explain it to you (though in a condensed version): "Extremis is a super-soldier solution. It's a bio-electronics package [that] hacks the body's repair center [rewriting it]. In the first stage, the body becomes and open wound. The normal human blueprint is being replaced with the Extremis blueprint. For the next two or three days, the subject remains unconscious within a cocoon of scabs." Get it? No? I'm not sure I do either, but I do like this brief call-out to the fact that this is all supposedly taking place in the Marvel Universe. It's about the only one we get, but it's a pretty good one. Basically, Extremis makes you awesome in just about every way, but how does it make you breath fire? Um...moving on.

Tony and Maya land, Tony heads to his hangar and talks to himself some more while Mallen remembers his redneck past, espcially the part where the fascist government (fascist because they didn't want these guys running guns, the jerks!). Makes sense right? Why not. Well, it turns out that the psycho, probably redneck (that's just what I'm picking up from this brief bit of dialog) apple doesn't fall far from the tree, as THIS seems to be the reason Mallen's such a d-bag. Well, his reminiscing gets interrupted by Iron Man, who slices the van that Mallen's being driven in in half. So, yeah, they fight and it's cool. There's even a scene that they seemingly borrowed for the movie where the bad guy holds up a car full of people to smash Iron Man with, but IM blasts them with his chest beam and then catches the car. The fight's pretty brutal, with Mallen winning, but then running away, leaving Iron Man under a car.

All of which leads us to the big deal aspect of this whole story. A broken and bloody Iron Man gets taken back to Futurepharm where he reveals his ID to Maya and asks her to inject him with Extremis because he wants a better, thinner, quicker operating system to run the Iron Man suit. Maya, of course, initially refuses, but Tony reminds her that he'll probably die without it, so she agrees. Tony makes his own alterations to Extremis (no fire breathing necessary) and then injects it, which leads to the re-telling of his origin. This time in Afghanistan, as I mentioned above. The Iron Man movie seems to have, again, used this origin as a blueprint for it's action packed escape sequences and Granov seems to revel in making the clunky gray armor look both realistic and kind of terrifying.

After this flashback, Tony comes out of the scab cocoon and reveals that he programmed Extremis to hide the under sheath of his armor in his bones and that he can now also see through satellites, oh and open briefcases from a distance and put his armor on without touching anything. Again, I'm not all too sure how all this works. If Extremis is supposed to make a human as good as it can be, how does that relate to circuitry and technology? I'm not sure and it's very possible that I completely missed something here, but I still buy it. Why not? These are comics after all and few heroes need an upgrade more than Iron Man (skate boots anyone?).

So, now we're treated to an issue's worth of fighting between Mallen and the brand new Iron Man (who doesn't actually look all that different than he did in the first issue). It's a great fight scene, one that, again gives us a look at who Tony really is. He admits to killing a number of people when he escaped in the original armor, something that I didn't know. Iron Man even tells Mallen why he's so scared of him: "You're my nightmare: the version of me that couldn't see the future." This reads to me as Tony admitting his dilemma. He's terrified of what technology can (and probably will) do to the world, but it's the only thing he's good at. He's also cursed or blessed with the ability to see how things will play out, he's always looking at the big picture, which means that he's working on a level that most people probably can not understand (which explains his actions during Civil War).

In the end, Iron Man ends up killing Mallen and revealing that Maya helped release Extremis. THE END.

Like I said before, I would have been happy with this being a four issue series (maybe five). Unlike Demon in a Bottle, in which so many crazy things are going on, many of which don't pertain to the main story on the surface (but, of course, ended up playing out later on), Extremis seems a little too focused. There isn't a lot else going on besides the main story. And that's not bad, it's just not as interesting to me as a denser story.

I do wish that Extremis was better explained. Calling it a technological super soldier serum doesn't really explain how Tony was able to use it with the armor or how Mallen was able to breath fire. Like I said above, though, I can dig it. But it does take away from the story, that such a big element isn't made very clear, especially when there aren't many subplots to get wrapped up in.

Also, I would have liked to see Iron Man find another way to stop Mallen besides killing him. I can understand him killing some people while escaping for his life, but one of the most brilliant men on the planet (possibly the universe?) SHOULD have been able to figure out a better way to stop him than cutting his head off. It also takes a potentially great arch-enemy for Iron Man of the table (well, until someone resurrects him).

Overall, Extremis is a pretty good read, looks beautiful, has some great fight scenes, establishes Tony Stark as a character and re-establishes his origin, but it doesn't have the same sense of shared universe and history that Demon in a Bottle had. It also reads very much like a mini-series instead of the beginning of an ongoing. If it WAS a mini, I don't think most of these things would bother me as much.

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