Even though Secret Wars still isn’t over, Marvel can’t simply put the line on hold until Jonathan Hickman’s oft-delayed cosmic epic concludes. So, welcome to the “All-New All-Different” Marvel Universe. There’s an eight-month gap in-story between the ending of Secret Wars and the first page of Iron Man #1, and in that time some things have changed but some other things have not. (DC tried this same trick with its “One Year Later” initiative following 2005-06’s Infinite Crisis, and it didn’t set the world on fire then, either.) What hasn’t changed is that Marvel is still desperate to sell Iron Man comics in numbers befitting his status as the company’s most popular movie star.
In interviews and press releases leading up to the relaunch, Marvel was quite frank about this. Iron Man may very well be the most popular superhero in the world. Does it make any sense that his series is almost always a midlist fixture? It’s not like Marvel hasn’t tried—many of the best creators in the company’s stable have had a crack at Tony Stark over the last decade. But Marvel is through messing around: for the new relaunch, it’s drafted Brian Michael Bendis (along with frequent collaborator David Marquez), essentially the biggest gun in Marvel’s armory.
With so much on the line, does it work? Well, it’s certainly an Iron Man comic book. If you’ve already read hundreds of Iron Man comics, there’s nothing here to recommend this “bold new direction” as anything of the sort. If you aren’t a regular Iron Man reader, you will recognize the character on display here as a working simulacra of Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of the character from the films. The problem here is the same as with the character’s later cinematic appearances, after Downey Jr.’s charm wore off: This guy’s annoying. He’s smart, yes, but he’s also a jackass, smug and repellent in equal measure. It’s often difficult to root for him.
And this cuts to the core of why Bendis’ approach falls flat. Iron Man has always, since 1963, been a character defined by challenges and limitations. For much of his first decade he had a heart condition; he’s been an alcoholic since the late ’70s; he spent some time in a wheelchair in the late ’80s. Without some kind of humbling mechanism to play against—physical impairment, addiction, or simply the consequences of his own relentlessly bad decisions (fertile ground for much of the last decade)—he’s the guy you see on the news complaining that the capital gains tax is too high before leaving to spend the week on his yacht. Maybe there’s another shoe about to drop, but based simply on the evidence of this first issue, there’s no real hook to Bendis’ approach to the character, other than to make him as much like the movies as possible. No one is obligated to stick around, mind you.
Little of the blame for this lies at Marquez’s feet—although his action sequences may seem static, he has a flair for design and an eye for the level of sumptuous detail in clothing and technology that the character needs. The new armor redesign, however, is lacking, and appears to be as much a product of compromise as inspiration. Perhaps taking a break from Adi Granov’s dominant influence over the character’s look might be necessary. And as for that big last-page reveal? Without spoiling anything, perhaps the company has misjudged just how much interest there is going to be in that character for the foreseeable future.
Will this be the volume of Iron Man that finally overtakes Amazing Spider-Man as the company’s perennial best selling solo hero? Eh, probably not. Sorry, guys. [Tim O’Neil]
Have you ever wondered what the worst-case scenario future for corporate comics would look like? It could very well resemble KFC: The Colonel Of Two Worlds (DC), a New York Comic Con exclusive that features industry veterans toiling away on a story about a fast-food mascot. (It’s also available for free on Comixology for those that missed the four-hour window when these were given away at the convention.) Writer Tony Bedard, artist Tom Derenick, inker Trevor Scott, and colorist Hi-Fi have worked in superhero comics for decades, and they have the unenviable job of turning PR content into a palatable narrative set in the DC Universe.
Bedard shares a story credit with Shaine Edwards, a copywriter for Wieden+Kennedy, the agency responsible for KFC’s current Colonel Sanders-centric ad campaign, and the comic has all the craft you’d expect from a 20-page piece of fast-food propaganda. That doesn’t mean The Colonel Of Two Worlds is devoid of entertainment value. It’s hilarious in its absurdity, and Bedard leans into the ridiculousness as he incorporates blunt corporate PR material into a superhero story about Colonel Sanders facing off against an evil alternate reality version of himself. Captain Sunders of Earth-3 wears all black, has an unsettling wave hairdo wholly inappropriate for a man his age, and is fixated on doing everything the easy way.
The villain hires Flash rogues Captain Cold and Mirror Master to work in his Easy Fried Chicken fast-food joint, which is actually the home base of a criminal organization that has led to a 400 percent increase in neighborhood crime. When Colonel Sanders sees his evil doppelganger besmirching his public image, he teams up with The Flash to put an end to Easy Fried Chicken, singing the praises of KFC’s practices as he beats up his alternate self. (Green Lantern is also there for some reason, but he doesn’t do anything.) Bedard’s script embraces the camp potential of the concept, understanding that nobody is reading this comic for a serious superhero story. Easy Fried Chicken is equipped with guns that shoot frozen chicken nuggets and a hose that spits pink slime, and when Sunders is stopped, Sanders offers Captain Cold and Mirror Master jobs at KFC refilling ice and cleaning windows.
Before putting the smackdown on Sunders, Sanders pauses to break down the “hard way” of making fried chicken, explaining that KFC freshly prepares its chicken with the Colonel’s secret blend of spices, then hand-breads and pressure-fries the meat. “Sure, there’s easier ways, but none better.” It’s an idealized interpretation of the KFC experience, one that ignores the reality of receiving a piece of fried chicken that has been sitting under a heating lamp, drying out as it waits to get thrown in a bucket for a drive-thru customer. KFC may be guilty of pumping saturated fat into neighborhoods, but it doesn’t actively encourage mass crime, so it’s obviously the good guy. [Oliver Sava]
The long, winding history of the Nick Furys is one that most casual fans don’t seem to be particularly interested in. The basics are pretty simple: Nick Fury Sr. is a white guy who survived World War II with Captain America and the Howling Commandos. Nick Fury Jr. is a black guy who runs/ran S.H.I.E.L.D. Father and son both need eyepatches. But rarely do either of them get a spotlight of their own, more often sharing it with the rest of a team.
As part of the celebration of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s 50th anniversary, both the Furys got their own one-shot courtesy of writer David F. Walker, artist Lee Ferguson, and colorist Jason Keith. Walker’s name has been coming up more frequently since the end of his run on Shaft and the beginning of Cyborg this summer. He has a penchant for books with a statement to make, and it’s great to see that skill turned to a new set of characters in Fury #1 (Marvel). The issue begins juxtaposing Fury Sr.’s experience watching the Watts Riots while Fury Jr. wonders what’s at the heart of the police-centered racial violence of 2015. This back and forth would not be possible without Ferguson’s clean, compelling lines and Keith’s colors. Other books may switch perspective after a page or even a few pages, but the Furys mirror each other almost exactly at first, with pages split vertically and panels that are neatly delineated by color palette and character, making it possible to determine what’s going on and when. Their skill in this book will hopefully bring a lot more work in the future, because they both do an incredible job with a complex and very short story.
Fury Jr. ends up in Fury Sr.’s time through shenanigans that are so quintessentially comic book trope that it might be meta-commentary, and Fury Jr. has to figure out how to communicate with his dad and save the day without impacting the timeline. This is where Walker shines. In this single issue, both Furys are confronted with issues of loyalty and responsibility, not to mention racial privilege. Gabe Jones, whose parts in both the MCU and recent comics have been minimal and bland, is given an opportunity to be the voice of contradiction and anger, a military man who’s tired of seeing people who look like him assaulted and oppressed by people who work for the same government he does. Fury Jr. and Jones both push hard against the expectations that Fury Sr. and the reader might have about anger and bigotry.
It’s a complicated book that unravels at a good pace, revealing the villain’s ultimate plan (and his intended target) late enough to be a real surprise. The choice to make Hate-Monger the antagonist is inspired: Without any superpowers or the support of Hydra, he’s just a racist asshole, but even so he’s in a position to wreak havoc on the world. It’s a subtle reminder that ideas have immense power, sometimes more power than actual superheroes, and watching two guys with bad depth perception save their world’s future with nothing more than their brains and their training is gratifying. It’s been decades since cape and cowl books were this political, and Walker’s inexorable march forward with absolutely necessary messages is a welcome change. It also makes the recent announcement of his return to Shaft and the new Power Man And Iron Fist book all that much more exciting. [Caitlin Rosberg]
Carefully composing his pages with intricate interplays of blues, whites, and yellows, Morgan Jeske approaches something that is more poetic than narrative in ●●●● Vol. I (self-published). Emphasizing mood and atmosphere, ●●●● follows an androgynous person traveling through space in the decaying body of a whale. It is simply hypnotic. No one will accuse Jeske of the diagrammatic cartooning of Chris Ware, whose complicated formalism has become the standard for “high art” in comics. But where that work is cold, Jeske’s is affecting; where that work is removed, his is visceral. The beauty of his brief, unadorned comic lies in the subtleties of his cartooning.
The cover alone: an incredibly detailed portrait, each strand of the subject’s hair separated and distinguished; each drop of the water running down their face is given a specific glint, a particular sheen, pooling and separating along the body’s natural curvatures; the lips, lopsided and cracked. The background is a striking block of yellow—the hue of freshly cooked macaroni and cheese—but there are spots and scratches where the color is worn and the primer is beginning to show. This opening salvo is indicative of Jeske’s pages, these still, solemn images composed of dynamic, intricate noodling. He relies on these simple, chiaroscuro relations between opacities: a white mass of cratered bones so large that it could very well belong to God, blue whirls of the ocean, and the red heart of a space whale. However, he blends and swirls the colors as the story progresses—grays and greens become more frequent—and the colors begin to hint at some deeper pathos hidden within the fantastical journey. Viewed as a gestalt, ●●●● Vol. I is more polyptych than modern comic book; its work is done in the gutters and it relies, like a montage, more on the abstract relationships between images than on a literal, linear progression of actions.
Jeske has admitted a similarity to the improvisational Airtight Garage series by the legendary Moebius, and there is certainly an overlap, though more in effect that in intent. Both comics feel very casual, interested more in the journey than in the destination. Fortunately, if the goal of a comic, or any work of art, is to immerse the reader in an experience, this seems to be the most effective way of accomplishing that. The polymerization of the quotidian and the sublime—turning one into the other and the combination into neither—and the simple, casual presentation of that fusion makes for comfortable reading that enraptures and engrosses.
Both ponderous and soothing, Jeske build on, and with, these nuances and rich, multifarious textures, and he miraculously constructs something whose affect oscillates between that of an Andrei Tarkovsky film and an aroma therapy candle. [Shea Hennum]