Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
By Daniel and Charles Knauf (Writers), Roberto de la Torre (Penciler, Inker), Jonathan Sibal, Karl Kesel, Cam Smith (Inkers), Dean White (Colourist); Marvel Comics; 2007
Tony Stark, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s day one of a new role for Tony as he takes up the mantle of the missing Nick Fury to lead S.H.I.E.L.D. into the 21st century! But what does this mean for the future of Iron Man? As a global wave of terror reaches its climactic peak, Tony’s ability to lead the world peacekeeping taskforce is called into question by the powers-that-be. Can he trust even those closest to him within S.H.I.E.L.D., or is he exposing himself and the world to an even greater, more unspeakable threat from the villain behind the worldwide carnage?
Yet another book I own from the distant past of the mid to late 2000s, I believe I first picked up this book during the Dark Reign banner at Marvel Comics. My intention was to read a select series of books starting with Civil War to more or less get myself caught up with continuity through key stories. I lost interest in this idea however, leaving me with a few narrative artefacts from this time of Marvel’s, like this book.
This book collects issues #15-18 of Iron Man (Vol. 4), which was an ongoing comic book series published from January 2005 to January 2009. These issues pick up immediately after the end of Civil War. Issue #14 of Iron Man, which is the last that ties in to the Civil War event, deals with the death of Tony’s best friend Happy Hogan, which goes seemingly unmentioned this entire book. The death of Captain America occurs before this book starts as well.
A mistake on part is that this isn’t quite a jump-on point. Well, it is and it isn’t. There’s been an apparent paradigm shift in how Tony operates, with him becoming the new director, that does help give the reader a foundation to build from. However, it carries with it a history that I did not have the benefit of reading (more fool me). For instance, Extremis, a viral substance that I only gained a middling understanding of in this context, is often mentioned and plays an important role in past relationships and story developments going forward. This series started with a story arc focused precisely on this, so I clearly had some context missing.
The plotline of this book was actually pretty elegantly straightforward. Terrorist attacks carried out by small splinter groups of various organizations are all linked by a mysterious bio-technology provided by an unknown source. Tony and his team try to pinpoint the origin of this threat at great cost, giving prominence to this enemy moving forward.
What I liked a lot was how Tony’s role is handled with more subtly than expected. A lot is apparent in what we see Tony doing rather than what we’re told. Namely, he’s not acting like a director ought to at all. He’s constantly throwing himself in the fray, leaning on his own abilities rather than his team to complete operations. This is communicated by Dum-Dum Dugan for the reader’s convenience early on (it would be easy to mistake his heroics for appropriate military leadership), but it is primarily conveyed visually. We see him behaving like a superhero, but that’s not what he is anymore. Him throwing himself into research and the field seems to be his way of coping with the added responsibility of his position — as well as avoiding some of it. We rarely see personal moments of him not engaged with something, and when these times happen its clear that he’s troubled.
The major downside to the story was that just as the plot started to get most interesting it ended. For a book about the beginnings of Tony’s role as new director of S.H.I.E.L.D. they cut things quite short. It could have done with a little more involving Tony himself, regardless of my praise for what we did see.
Roberto de la Torre’s art strikes a good balance between gritty and polished. The technology is slick and highly detailed, but in darker, drearier places the art is muddier and less clean-cut. There’s even an instance of some pretty disturbing body horror going on, that he captures grotesquely well. His figures, even background characters, also had particularly distinct features to me. Sometimes artists’ styles produce a bit of a “same-face syndrome” where characters have a tendency to look vaguely similar. It’s a small detail, but I found this to rarely be the case with Torre’s art.
The line work was a little inconsistent for me at times. Between panels images at times went from smooth, well defined lines to a sketchier style. I found this more jarring than evocative in any way.
This book is actually packed full of a lot more extras than I expected: the main story is about half as long as the thickness of the book suggests. Included are two reprints of vintage stories, including the first ever “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” story from Strange Tales #135 (1965) and Iron Man #129 (1979) which sees Iron Man teaming up with Fury.
Additionally, there is an interview between Spotlight and the writers Daniel and Charles Knauf, as well as extensive sections on the backstory of Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D.
Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a solid story with great art, the only real shortcoming being its length. Also unfortunate is the fact that I started here. I went into it thinking it was more of a connective story to the goings-on of the Marvel Universe at the time, but this is not the case. It is an Iron Man story first and foremost. It was a worthwhile read without the benefit of context, but I would recommend reading the books leading up to it first.
This will be the last Mighty Thursday of 2016. Thank you to all who read and enjoyed it!