Thursday, March 11, 2010

Super-Powered Prose: Iron Man Femmes Fatales

When Iron Man heated up the box office two years ago, I expected a flood of mass market tie-ins over the next year or so. I got... a little. Lots of t-shirts, a few strange collectibles, and all the collections Marvel could figure out to produce.

It wasn’t until a few months ago that we finally got the first original Iron Man novel in over a decade. The author, Robert Greenberger, is probably familiar to long time comic fans as an editor at DC, most notably on their line of Star Trek comics. Since those days he has wrote several Star Trek novels, and that apparently made Del Rey and Marvel pick him as the best bet to write Iron Man: Femmes Fatales.

The first thing I want to say is I don’t really no the plural to femme fatale, but even if it is femmes fatales, that seems rather awkward. I would choose Femme Fatales and let those who know better nitpick while the rest of us don’t have to look at what seems like a very strange title.

That aside, Iron Man: Femmes Fatales, takes an interesting ploy to its production. It is cleary an attempt to tell an “untold tale” of the Marvel Comics Iron Man from very early in his career. He is helping SHIELD through its formation and armament which includes meeting the likes of Nick Fury, Dum Dum Dugan, and Gabe Jones for the first time. This fits in to silver age continuity, albeit a bit awkwardly, as when SHIELD first appeared, Tony Stark was their weapons provider. But if feels very strange to establish Iron Man and the Avengers in a world where SHIELD hasn’t yet formed. Perhaps it’s the movie or Ultimates continuity twisting things around, but it seems like SHIELD should come first, but I digress.

Tony’s involvement with SHIELD brings Stark Industries under attack by two separate threats, both lead by a beautiful young woman in disguise. One is the woman known as Madame Hydra, a.k.a. the future Viper. She has taken control of a faction of Hydra in Strucker’s absence and is bent on bringing it as much power as she can muster. Meanwhile, Madame Masque uses her mastery of disguise to sneak in to Stark Industries and steal technological secrets for her father Count Nefaria and his Maggia.

These two incidents cause repeated problems for both Tony Stark and his alter ego of Iron Man, but one of this novel’s biggest flaws is that the threats never seem big enough. Iron Man has been established as immensely powerful, but he rarely fights anything past skilled soldiers and terrorists in this book, A more powerful or technological threat would have done wonders.

The other flaw is the huge continuity hole Greenberger acknowledges in his afterword. Despite being a clear attempt at insertion in to regular Marvel Comic, Greenberger decided to drop Tony’s secret identity, much like the film did at its completion. In the comics, Tony would not reveal his identity for several more years (or decades in real world time). It comes off as very disconcerting for any long time comic reader.

Iron Man: Femmes Fatales is a mixed bag. The storytelling is good and Greenberger can write spy intrigue quite well. But the meat of the plot and character progression feels hollow at best. The story’s tendency to wander between characters at random occasionally causes problems as well.

All in all, Femmes Fatales isn’t a bad novel, but it never really strives to achieve any level of greatness. If you’re a true blue, dyed red and gold, Iron Man fan I would say go get this one. Otherwise go pick up one of the new Wild Cards novels instead. Not Recommended (unless you’re an Iron Man fan).

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