Friday, April 30, 2010

Ultimate Iron Man: Armor Wars by Warren Ellis and Steve Kurth

Manhattan has been devastated by a tidal wave, and Tony Stark is back there to get something he left behind in one of his hidden labs beneath a Stark Enterprises office building. He's not the only one going back to get something dangerous- Even Reed Richards has to close down his dimensional gate to ensure that what remains of New York remains safe.

Tony is so happy to be retrieving his stuff that he's even narrating a podcast about it, but in the depths of his office, he finds out that he isn't alone- there is a woman there, a woman with supernatural powers, and Tony recognizes her. It's Justine Hammer, the daughter of one of Tony's business rivals. She's in his office looking for a shot of Stark nanites, and Tony quickly surmises that her father has been doing some work on nanites himself, and injected her with them looking for a way to make superpowers work. But Justine is dying, and she needs Stark nanobots to heal herself and hopefully keep herself well and alive.

Tony agrees, but first he has to retrieve something from his lab. That's when Happy Hogan breaks through and says there is someone in the building with Tony- not near him, but way down below, in the hidden lab. Tony tells Justine to hold on and heads down to see who it is, and runs into an armor-suited figure like himself, making off with the one piece that Tony had come there to retrieve. He and the intruder fight, and Tony is nearly killed by the figure, but Justine throws herself between them, taking the shot for Tony.

It doesn't kill her, but the Ghost gets away as Tony, grateful to Justine for saving him, decides to save her first. But he's angry that someone seems to have stolen his armor designs and decides to go after them and remove elements of his armor from people who have stolen and used his ideas.

After he and Justine share a bed, she uses the computer on board the plane to tell him that information on his suit moved through Berlin, and a man named Dr. Faustus. Tony goes to see him, but realizing that using the Iron Man suit would be overkill, tries out a new idea, a light combat armor he calls iMan, and for protection, a repulsor gun.

After a conversation that turns into a fight, Faustus reveals that he sold the information on the armor to a man named Bram Velsing, who has used it to construct his own armor. Here, Tony dons his Iron Man suit once more, and goes toe to toe with Velsing. Though he's told Justine to remain behind this time, she shows up to help him when things go south, and saves his life, and he hers.

He puts the boot on Velsing, and learns that Velsing, in turn, sold the armor tech to England, for use in their riot-prevention team armor, which is being used even as Tony and Justine, who have become far, far closer, arrive. Tony sets Justine a mission even as he takes on the men in armor.

It's closer than Tony would like to think, but instead of killing him, they eventually back off- the government is convinced that their tech is stolen and surrender it to Tony. But then who should show up but the man Tony has dubbed "Ghost", and he attacks Tony, nearly killing him before running off when the forces of England come to Tony's rescue.

Tony isn't upset, because he doused the "Ghost" with a special tracking liquid, and once again, he's grateful to Justine for saving him. He asks her to stay with him after all this is over, and she tells him she can't just be a throwaway lover. She has to have him forever, or not, and he still wants her to stay.

But when something attacks Tony's plane, he must jump into the armor and take to the skies to defend himself. But the forces against him are overwhelming, and when he wakes after the battle, he finds himself naked and imprisoned, and Justine is there, too. Finally, all the answers about how Ghost was breaking into lockboxes sealed with Tony's DNA are revealed, and a stunning betrayal will leave Tony reeling. But can he derive any sort of victory from what he is forced to do?

When I first saw this graphic novel, I missed that this was the Ultimates version of Iron Man, and thought to myself... "Haven't I seen this before?" Well, yes, there was an incident in the original Iron Man when he realized that his tech had been stolen and used to construct many different versions of battle and combat suits around the world, but it was a longer, more involved Saga, at least as I remember.

This one is a bit shorter, and different, and the outcome is wildly different from the original Armor Wars. I certainly wasn't expecting Justine Hammer, and even though the writers were trying to lead me to expect that Tony and Justine would end up together, permanently, knowing the history of the non-Ultimates Tony Stark, I wasn't expecting it to last for long, or to come to a sad or bad end. Let's face it, Tony is a playboy- he doesn't allow himself to get caught for long, and if he is, something bad usually happens to the woman he's involved with.

Letting you know what happens would spoil the ending, so I can neither confirm nor deny, so to speak. I will say that this Ultimates version of the story was both shorter, but equally good as the old "Armor Wars" of the original Tony Stark. And yet, in a way, I found it somewhat disappointing, as if the Warren Ellis had to do Armor Wars (because the Ultimates line is a reboot and distillation of the essence of all the Marvel Characters), but didn't really care to do that good a job on it.

In this one, Stark is much less focused and vengeful when it comes down to tracking down those who had stolen his armor designs, and much less paranoid. The story ends just about as well as the original Armor Wars, though Stark doesn't have any knock-down drag-out fights with Supervillains or even heroes like Captain America. It's an intriguing story, but feels a little... lacking. Recommended.

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