Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Iron Man: Deadly Solutions by Kurt Busiek, Sean Chen and Patrick Zircher

Tony Stark is back, but his corporation, Stark Electronics, has been taken over by the Japanese Fushikawa Syndicate, and now, he must what to do with his life. Should he fight to take back his company, start another one, or just do something else?

But while he decides, he is using part of his fortune to build a massive building that will help the community. But when he foils a kidnapping with attempted extortion, the criminals are no match for his armor and its capabilities. This doesn't prevent the leader from swearing vengeance against him. And later, after leaving a party, he stops by the building that he is constructing, and is attacked by a mercenary group called "The Death Squad". He fights them off, but the fight destroys the building, leaving him shattered and angry that what he tried so hard to build is now gone.

Knowing that his old friend Rhodey is now in a business of his own, Rhoades Recovery, a Marine Salvage-type business, Stark calls a Press conference the next day and announces his decision. He will not seek to reclaim his company. He is announcing that he is going into the consulting business, Stark Solutions. He will apply his great mind to any problem that anyone has- but his fees will be high. Most of the fees will be going to the Maria Stark Foundation, where they will be used to build, not to destroy. And, of course, his bodyguard, Iron Man, will still be around to protect him, no matter what he is doing or where he is.

One of the things that Tony doesn't know, is that two of the people who work for him, Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan, who used to be happily married, have divorced while he was away. He hires them both for Stark Solutions, obviously assuming that they will be happy to work with each other, and for him, again. For him, yes, but with each other, not so much. Nonetheless, they do try to get along for the sake of the company.

Meanwhile, Tony is on his first Job for Stark Solutions, in Zermatt, Switzerland. He's been hired by an old friend, Countess Stephanie De la Spirosa, to look into some problems in her company. But strangely, she doesn't seem to be all that anxious for him to get to work, something that makes his intuition tingle a bit. When he puts on his Iron Man armor to scout the weapons company she inherited from her third husband, he is attacked by armored men who are out to kill him. He manages to take them down with a little avalanche, but he knows something isn't right about the situation.

The next day, he confronts Stephanie with what she's been doing, and her lies about what is really going on in her company. She doesn't appear shocked so much as fearful, and her two bodyguards turn out to be more like prison guards, deciding to kill her because she wasn't able to keep Tony complacent and ignorant. Tony distracts them by setting off two explosive charges he planted on the mountain the night before, and knocks them out with a blow from his briefcase, He takes their guns, tells Stephanie to go to her room, lock the door, and call the Police while he whistles up Iron Man. Soon, he's in a battle with more armored men like the ones he fought the night before- only this time, he doesn't have to hold back.

Meanwhile, an oriental-looking woman warns her master that his supply lines have been breached by Iron Man. The master, hidden in the shadows, says this was not unexpected. She must activate the failsafes and kill everyone involved. Back in the Alps, Iron Man continues to fight the men in armor, but they receive an unexpected boost when Dreadnoughts show up, and threaten to kill both him and the Countess. Tony uses his head, decoys them into fighting each other (since they are A.I.'s and not humans in armor, and flies back to the Chalet, which has been leveled. But the countess and her butler survived, having taken shelter in the basement.

He flies her and her Butler to safety, and goes back to the site of the battle, to find nothing but some rubble and metal buried in the snow. Back at the Chalet, Stephanie tells Tony about a man named Andreas Kapelos, who, after her husband died, wanted her to sell the business to him, and threatened her when the wanted to keep running it for the sake of her dead husband. She was scared of him, saw Tony's press conference and called him, but then Kapelos's men said if she said anything to him, they would kill Tony, then her.

Tony is interrupted by a call from Pepper, who tells him that the Dreadnoughts had been lately used by a criminal known as the Arms Merchant. It's quite obvious to Tony that Kapelos is the arms merchant. After Pepper and Happy fight over a new employee named Doreen, who has been very nice to Happy, Happy decides to see if Doreen wants to go out to dinner, leaving Pepper alone. But as Tony fights to keep the Dreadnoughts from Killing Stephanie, can he overcome them and the Arms Merchant as well, or will this fight be just a little too much for him?

Next. Tony hypes a new Web Browser software called Web Voyager, created by both his new company and his old one, Stark-Fujikawa. The meeting at which he announces the program is in a conference room on the island of isla Suerte, a Carribean island better known for play than work. Tony, feeling flush and happy, invites Pepper and Happy down to join him for a swank vacation, whereupon Happy confesses what has happened between Pepper and himself, and why they divorced. Tony is very sad to hear this news, and hopes Happy can forgive Pepper for what went on. But Happy says he can forgive her anything. She can't forgive herself.

Tony is depressed, especially when Happy says not to think about his and Pepper's problems. Tony stares off sightlessly in a funk and doesn't even realize he's been starting at a very beautiful women- until she smiles at him. That night, at a meet and greet in one of the hotels, he meets her again, to find out that she is the granddaughter of Kenjiro Fujikawa himself, Rumiko. Fujikawa introduces them, and Tony is forced to tell her that he didn't mean to be staring at her, he was lost in thought. She claims to be injured by the news, but then drags him off to have him show her the lagoon, rescuing him from a predatory businesswoman named Sunset Bain.

Outside, Tony wonders why she dragged him off like that, and Rumiko tells him she did it to drive her parents crazy. He finds that incredibly childish. But she is twenty seven, and wants to work in the company, only her parents won't let her because she is female, so she has been doing all she can to get out from under their control. But as they are talking, a group of villains led by a man in some kind of armor and sheathed in fire, attacks the island. Tony tries to fight the flaming man, who calls himself Firebrand, but Firebrand can throw around an awful lot of heat. and he seems to be more interested in destroying the island than in fighting Tony. Tony manages to damage his armor, when Firebrand, terrified, reveals it isn't armor, but a containment suit, and breaching it lets out a huge jet of fire that nearly cooks Tony in his armor. Tony takes Firebrand for a dip in the ocean to cool them both off, but by the time he gets out, Firebrand is gone, and the island is in flames.

Tony goes on to help rescue people, and finds, to his shock, that Rhodey is on Isla Suerte as well. Rhodey is surprised to see him as well. But when Tony expresses his shock over seeing Rhodey, Rhodey tenders an explanation that Tony knows to be false. But since Rhodey is his friend, he doesn't pursue it. Instead, he finds that Rumiko has taken a bullhorn and is ordering everyone around- moving the wounded to where they can be taken care of, getting people out of the rubble, safe and fed, and so on. Seeing that things here are taken care of, he lets people know he took Tony Stark to a neighboring island, where is he contacting the outside world and seeking help.

Of course, Iron Man *is* Tony Stark, but even though there is a radio blackout dome covering the island, since he can fly, all he has to do is fly above it to contact Pepper Potts. She looks up information on Firebrand and discovers his real story, only for Tony to be attacked by him again, and in their conflict, the island's formerly-dormant volcano begins erupting, thanks to Firebrand. Once again, Tony contacts the outside world, asking how to stop a volcano. He's put in touch with the expert in charge, who basically tells him- there isn't a way- all he can do is provide an alternate channel for the lava to flow from. Tony's armor isn't powerful enough to do this, so how will he drain the magma chamber on the volcano and save the island and people of Isla Suerte? Can he convince Firebrand to help him, or will he have to resort to other means to get what he wants?

Then. Tony is contacted by Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, who needs the help of Iron Man to find some missing scientists. She doesn't necessarily want Iron Man, but Tony Stark, brilliant inventor. A bunch of brilliant scientists have gone missing, and The Black Widow wants to find them, and since Tony's specialty is the same as the missing scientists, she wants him to be the bait. But for it to work, he is going to have to go in as himself- no armor.

Eventually, Tony agrees, and follows Natasha to Sydney, Australia, where they make a big splash together. But when she runs into an old enemy from Russia, she leaves Tony to try and find out what the man is up to. While she battles her old foe, Tony is kidnapped. He wakes up elsewhere, somewhere in a desert, and finds that the woman in charge of the facility is a Native American looking woman named Araoha Tepania. She dresses in some kind of space suit or body armor. Her face has tattoos or piercings (or both), and she makes it clear to Tony that he will follow her orders or suffer.

He doesn't like working for Tepania, and manages to make a sub-etheric homing beacon that will attract Natasha, even though the homing beacon she planted on him earlier was discarded. But as she attacks the facility, Araoha reveals her true form- a dragon-like creature, and takes them both on. But can Tony and Natasha defeat her and free the other scientists?

Finally, Tony seeks out Carol Danvers, Ms. Marvel. She hasn't been having a good time of it lately as a hero. In fact, she's taken up with one of Tony's old demons- Alcohol. Recently, the Avengers found out and kicked her off the team. Tony has come to try and help her, but she is in denial about her dependence on Alcohol. When she won't admit to having a problem, he leaves to take another consulting job, thinking she hasn't quite hit rock bottom just yet, she thinks that Tony was behind the Avengers kicking her off the team and takes off to confront him- after more than a few adult beverages. But when the company is revealed to be working with the Skrulls, can Iron Man and Ms. Marvel team up to take them down?

Normally, I like Iron Man books, and this one was pretty good. But let me get one thing out of the way. The interior dust jacket mentions Tony Stark is coming back. But never says *where* he is coming back from. Is he coming back from putting himself into a coma from Norman Osborn wanting to drain his brain? Coming back from losing his company yet again? Or something else? I don't read the comic on the stands, so I honestly don't know. I suspected the first condition, but there is a scene early on where Norman and Tony are talking at a party, and it didn't seem like he wanted to whack Tony over the head and drag him off to drain his brain, so I was confused as to what the heck was going on.

Another thing I found interesting but not really bad, is that so far, all the people who use him and need his help are female. (I don't count Isla Suerte, because the real story in that incident isn't really as a result of someone requesting his help. But all the other stories are about him helping a woman.) I know women are supposed to be the weaker sex, but I'd like to see them avoid making every other story a "rescue the Princess"-type story. Yeah, Tony is a womanizer, but sheesh!

Other than those things, I really felt that there were few flaws in this graphic novel. Okay, the story with Araoha could have been longer. Basically, Tony is talking with a miniaturization expert about the possibility of making a sub-ether transmitter disguised to look like part of the goggles they are constructing, and the other man is like "design that all in your head and build it? Impossible!" and it's quite obvious that Tony did just that just a page or two later. It could have been better if there was just a little more buildup to that scene. Yes, Tony Stark is just that good. But it comes off like a "Pull it out of your butt"-type deal.

So, this book has some problems, but on the whole, the stories are still very good. i would have liked to have known what Tony Stark was coming back from, but the stories were entertaining, and mostly well-drawn. Firebrand is drawn strangely. Maybe it's just the armor, but he looks like the Sta-Puft marshmallow man, only with various hardware strapped to him and on fire. Maybe that's what they wanted, but he looked like the Blob. There's also scenes with Pepper, Happy and a new Chick that are setting up to be significant in the future. Still, I do recommend it. A fun read.

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