Always Early #3 – Comics, Movies, & Iron Man, Too

Anyone who’s seen a comic movie and read any amount of comics realizes that there are at least two ‘realities’, to use the term loosely. In Iron Man’s case, there are at lest four different fictional continuities. There’s the movies, which overlap with other Marvel films like Thor, Captain America, and the Avengers. There’s at least one animated TV series. Plus there are two distinct comic universes, the long-running regular Marvel universe and the newer Ultimate universe. Confused? You probably should be. In one case, Iron Man has a brain tumor and the armor keeps it in stasis. In all others, he built the armor to keep his heart from being pierced by shrapnel. Although, in the comics that originally happened in Vietnam and in the movies it happened in the Middle East. Oh, except that now in the comics it happened during Gulf War I. Plus, in one of the comics, his armor is stored inside his body and in the other is a gigantic suit with it’s own team of handlers. Whew, I don’t even know what’s going on after writing this.

The point is that stuff that happens in the comics has no bearing on stuff that happens in the movies. You don’t have to have a PhD in Marvel continuity to understand what you are watching. Most of the time, you get movie versions of previously published storylines. Often, years worth of stories are condensed into two hours like in the case of the Phoenix story from X-Men 3. Sometimes multiple different storylines are combined together such as the way the first Hellboy movie merged several different comic series. Probably one of the most great examples is the first X-Men movie. What happens there is not how Wolverine joins the X-Men or how Rogue grows up. The X-Men lineup is fairly accurate but in the comics the team changes quite often and I’m not sure if those X-Men were ever on a team together for any length of time. In Daredevil, the Kingpin is black but not so in the comics. Even within comics, these sorts of changes happen. The Nick Fury movie goers meet at the end of Iron Man is played by Samuel L. Jackson, but that’s the Ultimate version of Nick Fury whereas the Marvel universe one is an old white guy who’s been around since World War II. I hope you’re keeping up.

Comic Iron Man has had one heckuva roller coaster the last decade or so. He’s nearly died only to be reborn with Extremis. He’s turned on friends and led a government initiative to register heroes. And he’s sacrificed his mind, his company, and his fortune to protect their secrets. Oh, and now Tony Stark comic version and Tony Stark movie version are closer than ever as Marvel preps readers for the movie and movie goers for comics.

Why is this so important? Well, I can tell you from personal experience that there is a really big disparity between movie attendance and comic readership. As I pointed out recently, attending an Iron Man movie no more makes you a comic fan than seeing Lord of the Rings movies makes you a fantasy novel fan. Obviously, they just aren’t the same things. At the same time, though, comics publishers and retailers clearly want to try to take advantage of all the attention that a movie generates. I remember sitting in the theatre during the midnight showing of Spider-Man 2. I was at one of the theatres here in Fargo and they had sold out nearly every screen. I think I remember hearing that there were over 1,000 people there. Well, that’s interesting since Paradox sells about 50 copies of Amazing Spider-Man each issue. Now, unless the other comic outlets in the area are selling 950 copies, we’ve got some serious audience to reach. I think the point here is that there was a time when Marvel only published comics but over the last twenty years, that’s changed. Marvel has a brand that it presents to people and the more similar each incarnation of that brand is to the others, then the easier it is to promote. Otherwise you have TV viewers, video game players, and comic readers running around totally confused.

With that in mind, one of the major problems that comics have is that after a movie goer sees the movie, they hopefully want to find some comics but the comics are often bogged down in ongoing continuity. This is natural for comics because they are a monthly medium that updates story 22 pages at a time. Great if you are a regular reader, but not so great if you are jumping in. There are lots of graphic novels and trade paperbacks that collect entire stories in one volume. So when it comes to monthly comics, it can be very hard to find a starting place. Most comic companies try very hard to build bridges between the two. DC Comics put out a bunch of movie prequel comics before the latest Sueperman movie. When Dark Knight came out, they had lots of special issues with stories about the Joker and Two Face. This is also why you frequently see retellings of character origins and official index books and reboots to characters.  Now, it’s Marvel’s turn to once again find a way for you to check out one of their characters.

Invincible Iron Man #25 is the first piece of that puzzle. This issue redefines Tony Stark and his role in the Marvel Universe. It kicks off a new storyline “Stark Resilient” that finds Tony at the bottom once again needing to work his way up. Much like the first Iron Man movie, this story has Tony dealing with the consequences of his weapons development business. He has decided to go in a new direction, like the movies. But there are dangers everywhere. A broken company, no money, and lots of enemies everywhere including his own government and fellow businessmen. Sound familiar? It should. It’s an extremely similar story to the first movie.

How did we get here? Iron Man began, as most Marvel comics did, in the 1960s. For over 40 years, there’s been an Iron Man story almost every month, often more than one if you include mini-series and Avengers titles. But I think the history most fans should be concerned with starts about eight years ago in a story called ‘Extremis’. Tony faces off against a villain who has taken a new drug that enhances his body to super-human levels. Tony nearly dies at this guy’s hand and his armor is trashed. On his death bed, Stark sees no choice but to take the drug, called Extremis. Extremis transforms Tony’s mind and body, re-growing all his internal organs and creating an organic link between man and armor. In fact, a sheath of the Iron Man suit is stored within Tony’s own bones. This sheath is made of lightweight molecules and is kept within the hollow parts of his skeleton. Newly rebuilt, a true man of the future, our hero defeats the man who nearly killed him. Tony has now become something new, the ultimate combination of man and machine.

This sets the stage for Iron Man’s role in Marvel’s biggest comic event of all time, Civil War. Due to an incident in which a super-villain causes the deaths of hundreds of school children, the U. S. government passes a law requiring all super-powered beings to register their identities and registered heroes can operate legally as agents of SHIELD and part of the Avengers 50-state Initiative. Iron Man sides with the government in favor of the act, convincing fellow heroes like Spider-Man that this is the right thing to do. But Captain America leads a rebel band of Avengers and others in protest of this act and a war breaks out between the two sides. This highly controversial story pitted long time friends and allies against each other and cast characters like Iron Man in a fairly fascist, but not unsympathetic position. Ultimately, Cap surrenders in the face of all the collateral damage his campaign is causing and Tony is vindicated. Stark becomes the new director of SHIELD and the personal protector of all registered identities.

Things don’t go well. Eventually, Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin, becomes the leader of SHIELD, transforming it into the more offensive HAMMER. Tony goes rogue to protect his friends’ secret identities. In the recent storyline ‘Stark Disassembled’, Tony shuts down his own mind and company to prevent Norman from acquiring the identities. He is in a coma and his body is hidden away. Then his friends reboot his brain but he has lost the memories of everything that has happened recently. He has no memory of Civil War and now only knows about it by reading news stories on the internet.

That brings us up to right now, this very week. That issue of Invincible Iron Man, #25, I mentioned earlier, hit stands the last week in April. It’s a double-sized story that’s perfect for movie fans and comic fans alike. The dark road of the last eight years if over and a new future is beginning. This is where Paradox comes in. We’ve got over one hundred copies of #25 in stock and have both the Extremis hard cover and the first volume of Invincible Iron Man all on sale for 25% off cover. At the Fargo Theatre, we are offering 2,500 copies of this year’s Free Comic Book Day Iron Man / Thor one-shot plus a coupon to redeem your movie ticket for a second free Iron Man comic, Invincible Iron Man #1. Basically, it’s Iron Man 101 around here. You will never get a better chance to get started with the armored avenger than this.

Well, that’s that. If you’ve got any questions about Iron Man or other Marvel characters, I encourage you to come down to Paradox and check out all our great trade paperbacks and comic books. I and my staff are avid comic readers and try to keep a diverse knowledge of events at all the major comic publishers.