The Comic Book Club: Iron Man #500, Supergirl and Wolverine/Jubilee

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up discussing what we picked up. This week, Evan Narcisse, Graeme McMillan and Douglas Wolk talk about The Invincible Iron Man #500, Supergirl #60 and Wolverine and Jubilee #1.

EVAN: Y’know, I didn’t love Iron Man #500 when I first read it, and then I read it again. And again. And again. Two things happened: The rhythm of the labyrinthine structure became more apparent each time, and I was able to push aside my own fanboy biases to really enjoy what Matt Fraction and company put together.

(More on TIME.com: Iron Man: All the Anniversaries)

DOUGLAS: I liked it right away, and after my own multiple re-readings, I like it even better. This is Fraction’s own “Days of Future Past”–between this and the Mandarin story last year, he’s setting up a lot of stuff for the long haul, dropping a ton of seeds for stories to come. (Who’s the Mandarin’s “master”?) I also think it’s pretty fascinating that Iron Man 2.0–the Nick Spencer/Barry Kitson War Machine title that’s previewed here–is so obviously indebted to the look and feel of the Fraction/Larroca Iron Man.

GRAEME: Yeah, the Spencer/Kitson IM2.0 preview felt very much in keeping with Fraction’s take on the franchise, which is itself in keeping with the movie version. Synergy in action, I guess, although it also really reminded me of Spencer’s opening to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1. The guy likes cross-time cutting with mysterious forces, I guess.

I’m with Evan; I wasn’t that impressed with this on first read, and only warmed up to it after multiple re-reads – and even then, I still think I’m probably getting less out of it than you two. I appreciate its ambition, but also may be too close to where the ambition has been taken from, all too recently, I think (Morrison’s Batman #666, anyone?).

DOUGLAS: Well, the granddaddy of all of those is the Adult Legion story, back in the ’60s. But it can be done well or badly–Justice League of America #0 is maybe the textbook instance of “badly”–and I also thought this was a pretty neat story on its own, beyond all the setup for future stories.

EVAN: I initially was turned off by the lack of any recognizable Marvel Universe trappings in the alternate future segment, but what sold me on the story is how classical that part feels. We get the House of Stark divided against itself–daughter Ginny fighting as part of the underground resistance against son Howard, who’s leading the War Machine kill squads–on an Earth ruled by the Mandarin with Tony Stark as his personal slave. Fraction’s made Iron Man a really tragic figure, and this story highlights the main throughline for that tragedy, which is how the intellect of his Tony Stark is a fearsome, double-edged thing with practically a life of its own. The other consistent part of Fraction’s execution has been how it’s impossible to put any technological genie back in the bottle in this hyper-connected age. It gives things this sense of inevitability that even someone as smart as Tony is hard-pressed to handle.

DOUGLAS: I read the plot a little bit differently–what I got, and I may have been wrong, is that Howard is Tony’s son (named after his grandfather), and Ginny is Howard’s daughter (perhaps named after her grandmother–she’s got red hair, and Virginia is Pepper’s real name), and that they’re not quite as divided as they look (“the charade is done, dad, let’s make it look good”). And, by the way, if Tony’s 77 years old in the future sequence and 35 now, and Howard’s 41 in the future sequence, it’s entirely possible that Howard was conceived very recently. Perhaps even during “World’s Most Wanted.” Oh boy.

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GRAEME: Count me in for Douglas’ reading. Doesn’t Ginny even call Howard “Dad” during their chase sequence? Also, it continues Fraction’s running theme through Casanova, Thor and most definitely Iron Man, of children acting out against their fathers. (So far in IIM, we’ve had the children of Obediah Stane and Justin Hammer, so obviously the son of Stark had to make an appearance; bringing his own daughter in just completes the cycle. Also, in a metaphorical sense, all of the post-Stark tech the villains are using make them the children of Iron Man, in a way.)

DOUGLAS: And “The Bastard Sons of Wilbur Day,” on top of that!

GRAEME: Howard being conceived during “World’s Most Wanted” is a great catch, and now I’m going to wait and see if Pepper starts getting sick in the mornings. I initially assumed it’d be a Stark/Hammer sibling, for some reason.

EVAN: So, I probably got the lineage thing wrong but it all still works thematically. And yeah, it really has snuck up on me how much kids are figuring into Fraction’s Iron Man run.

DOUGLAS: As the idiom goes, you can’t unring a bell, and one thing we keep seeing in the Fraction/Larroca Iron Man is that everything Tony has ever done has unleashed demons of one kind or another, and they keep coming back in even more dangerous forms. That’s the key to their version of the character, I think: that he’s brilliant and intensely motivated to do good, but it’s always a short-term fix that makes things worse in the long term, and the short-term fixes always involve out-thinking his former self and causing a lot of collateral damage.

GRAEME: It’s a take that really makes sense – that all tech is the atom bomb, or has atom bomb potential, and that it forces Stark to continually face his demons without really facing up to them. I find it interesting that one of his five nightmares is someone doing terrible things with his tech, but it takes Peter Parker to come up with the “So build in something to shut down the tech.” Stark has no problem coming up with the great power, but really has to fake the great responsibility bit.

(More on TIME.com: The Comic Book Club: Batman: The Dark Knight and Hellboy)

EVAN: The Spider-Man stuff took me by surprise, and I especially dug how those sequences illustrated how Peter Parke’sr a different kind of smart from Tony. The fact that Peter came up with the design breakthrough in the story shows how his braininess is a more instinctual, improvisatory thing compared to Tony’s more reckless genius. And the identity reveal fake-out made me laugh out loud.

DOUGLAS: Me too. I think it’s pretty brass-stoned of Fraction to make Peter Parker a significant supporting player in Iron Man–this and #7, which also guest-starred Spider-Man, are really the only two stand-alone issues we’ve seen in the series, and Fraction’s version of Peter is fantastic (and probably closer to Bendis’s than to anybody else’s interpretation).

GRAEME: Are we supposed to assume that Tony worked out that Peter is Spider-Man? Because, after “Remember the Spider,” I feel like he’d have to be pretty dumb NOT to.

DOUGLAS: Look at the first panel where Tony gets back to the hotel room: Peter is still putting on his shirt over his Spider-Man costume.

GRAEME: Also: The reveal of what “remember the spider” meant in the future sequences was really well done. It worked for me in a way that a lot of the rest of the writing this issue didn’t, making sense without being forced or the writer being all-too-present.

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Can we say something about the art? Nathan Fox’s Paul Pope impression was a lot of fun, even if he brings half-Pope this time around (the linework, but not the layouts) and the coloring muddies it slightly, and Kano’s light, delicate line really made the Ginny sequences for me. I’m not so on board with Sal Larocca’s current day stuff, which still looks too static and photo-referenced for my liking, and Carmine Di Giandomenico’s future Tony really didn’t work for me. I think it was the moustache.

EVAN: But, really, that cover gallery?! “Let’s reprint every Iron Man cover at an impossible to read size! That’s a great idea!” No, a great idea would’ve been pin-ups and a link to a slideshow with all those covers so you can see Heck, Bright and all the great IM artists of the past at a size that does ‘em justice.

EVAN: There’s something more “European” about Bernard Chang’s artwork in Supergirl #60. The detailing in the inking, maybe, or the body language of the characters. I’m not sure just how to elaborate on it, but it works with Nick Spencer’s approach to playing inside a superhero world. The plot idea here has the earmarks of that deconstruct-then-reconstruct thing that seems to be so decidely British.

The hero-spotting Flyover app is a clever, clever thing. It might be too of-the-moment but I found myself enjoying the fresh angle it put on things. Same with the kid jumping off the building just so Kara would save him. Spencer seemed all geared up to do a big, from-the-ground-up arc on Supergirl, which makes the reports that this run’s been killed in its crib all the more puzzling. My only complaint about the issue is that ’tweren’t quite enough Supergirl in it for me, but surely he was going to get to that in future issues.

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DOUGLAS: Which now, of course, he isn’t: this is the only issue he’s (co-)writing. Spencer’s got a lot on his plate right now–the aforementioned Iron Man 2.0, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Morning Glories (which also came out this week), whatever other Image miniseries he’s doing, the Jimmy Olsen serial-oops-we-meant-one-shot, etc. And Supergirl really seems to be a hot potato of a book; aside from the Gates/Igle run, it’s mostly been a creative musical-chairs book from the get-go, hasn’t it? I can see why, if Spencer had to drop something, it’d be this: as you note, there’s not a lot of Supergirl herself in it, and there’s not really an indication that he’s got much of an affinity for her: this is a Metropolis/Daily Planet story that just happens to have Supergirl dropped in for a couple of fight scenes.

And yes, Flyover is clever, although I think I’d have enjoyed it more as a bit of background business than as a HERE IS THE PLOT WE ARE DOING SUPERGIRL AS “THE SOCIAL NETWORK” DO YOU SEE thing. Also, if I’m remembering correctly, Lois’s big “newsworthy” revelation was the premise of every story Project Cadmus has appeared in in the past 23 years.

GRAEME: Yeah, the “Social Network” thing is really heavy-handed – Isn’t it actually called out in the dialogue at one point? – but it still works as an idea, in part because Flyover is such a great idea… better, I think than the “Superheroes are holding humanity back” one, which we’ve seen countless times before, especially in relation to Superman.

You’re also right that the Project Cadmus story is pretty much the only Project Cadmus story we ever see, Douglas. Also, someone needs to be an editor over at DC, because Cadmus was shut down and dismantled during the Robinson/Gates/Rucka era of the Superman books, as far as I remember. I wonder if we’ll see Dubbilex, who was killed at the same time, just to reinforce that those stories have been undone?

Overall, it’s a fun enough story, with good art – Chang’s Supergirl double-page splash is lovely, and really following on from the work he was doing with Wonder Woman and the New Krypton stuff for Superman – but it’s not really a SUPERGIRL story just yet, and I can’t help but wonder what’s going to happen without Spencer.

EVAN: Man, I really liked Wolverine and Jubilee #1 more than I was expecting to. The vampire nonsense in the recent X-books seemed the height of trendy foolishness, but Kathryn Immonen ties down one little piece of it to really great effect. Much of what makes this book work is the characterizations: an even-tempered Wolverine, a bitchy yet non-evil Emma Frost, and the soap-opera angst of the younger X-Men. It doesn’t feel as histrionic as the X-Men can sometimes feel.

That this comes through a story focused on Jubilee is especially great. Once you got past the giggles of the way her character design riffed on Robin, she was kind of a throwaway character. To me, anyway. Making her a slightly vampiric rageaholic doesn’t seem like such a bad thing, as it gives opportunity to have her characterization become a little bit more mature and self-aware.

But, man, Phil Noto’s interiors are insane! I don’t remember the last time I saw him do sequential art, but his storytelling and draftmanship are amazing. The scenes he renders are by equal turns glamorous, gory and tense, filled with great facial expressions and effective color. Amazing stuff.

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DOUGLAS: Noto’s been doing lots of interior art, just mostly on low-profile projects, which seems weird given his obvious talents–he did that Superman/Supergirl: Maelstrom miniseries in 2009, last year’s Batman/Doc Savage one-shot, an issue of the World’s Finest miniseries, and most recently the Avengers: The Origin miniseries with Joe Casey.

I’ve liked just about everything Kathryn Immonen’s been writing at Marvel–her Hellcat miniseries was super-fun, and Heralds was a very interestingly ambitious mess. (And I haven’t gotten to read her Pixie Strikes Back mini, but I like the character so much from her brief scene here that now I want to.) I have a hard time following a lot of the X-titles, but I latched right on to this one: a limited cast, a specific scenario, the kind of story that there’s not room for in one of the big ensemble X-books but that connects directly to them rather than being a sort of “oh man who haven’t we done a mini with lately? Colossus!” kind of scenario.

GRAEME: Add me to the lovefest. I seriously disliked the story that this spins out of, which just seemed like a mess unlike almost any other but, like Douglas, have loved Kathryn Immonen’s other work (including her sadly canceled Runaways run), so had mild hopes for this that she easily surpassed. She has a great take on character, and manages to make everyone here someone that I want to read more of, even Wolverine. Noto’s art is amazing, especially his coloring, which is more understated yet more present than a lot of his other work – this really is a surprise, but it’s the book of the week for me.

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