Iron Man: Extremis by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov
First off, let us talk about the art. I waited for the trade because I knew there would be one, but it was also nice to read this in one sitting without having to wait for the delays seemingly caused by Granov in creating the work. The style is a little unusual but strangely beautiful. The people look very smooth, with no facial creases or lines in their clothes, but the Iron Man suit looks perfect: the metal casing really looks like segments in an armour and the effect is exactly how a modern technological iron suit should look. Ellis keeps him to a regular grid layout for the most part, allowing him so leeway here and there for important stuff, but he lets him design the narrative clearly and well and keep the story focused.
Warren Ellis sets things up efficiently and cleanly – a man vomiting blood after his colleagues inject him with something in a warehouse; the oddness and genius of Tony Stark; a scientist shooting himself in the head after he has released a dose of ‘Extremis’ – with the dialogue crackling and fizzing, because dialogue is what comics have when there is no action to entertain.
Ellis also examines the heart of Stark’s character by having him be interviewed by a documentarian, who immediately asks about his arms dealing (which allows for a glimpse at the updated origin – not Vietnam but Afghanistan and Al Qaeda for the landmine accident and skirmish). What does Stark think about the military applications of his inventions? Stark knew that this conversation was going to happen because he is that smart, an aspect that is nice to see rather than just the inventiveness, so that he could answer that he has done bad things and is trying to improve the world. He asks the documentarian if all his investigative journalism of 20 years has actually changed anything; he says he doesn’t know, and Stark says he doesn’t know either. This is a great dialogue scene, giving out information but showing Stark as intelligent and haunted, a man with intellect who realises that the military funding was a necessary evil but that doesn’t mean he likes it.
This scene is then counterpointed by showing Tony as Iron Man and enjoying flying – because a man using technology to propel himself through the air is fucking cool – so he should be laughing out loud at the delirious wonder of it.
A flashback scene introduces us to Maya Hensen, who Tony met at a tech conference, who is calling Tony for help. Meanwhile, the man who was injected with something violent is still alive …
The start of the second issue sees Tony talking to his board of directors, who want him to take Chief Technologist role rather than being in charge so they can run the company. However, Tony knows that they will take military money, which he doesn’t want – and why should they, when they’ve just invented the best cell phone on Earth?
Tony meets Maya, who is the woman who found the scientist who killed himself in the first issue; it his her work that is the stuff that is missing, robotics microsurgery. The scientist’s computer is encrypted but holds answers; Tony will download (and crack) the hard drive by zipsat, to which Maya says, ‘I really can’t imagine that makes girls lay down …’ Tony replies, ‘It makes me lots of money. I usually find that does the trick.’
They go to see Sal, a futurist friend living in the woods. He talks truth at them (in a very Ellis way), saying that they are schills for the corporate/government who haven’t really done anything. He also talks about DMT, another Ellis fave, and the way the brain is designed to take and process it so that you can see the body’s operating system, which is all a bit of real-world background to what will be the eventual comic book plot mechanics. While this talk is going on, a man is entering FBI Houston and is starting to kill people without weapons.) Sal calls himself the ‘Wise Man of the Forest. The Old Shaman’ because they want his advice. He gives questions and analysis: ‘What’s Iron Man for, Tony?’ (By now, the unkillable man is murdering innocent people in the FBI building by breathing fire on them – it turns out to be the injected man with Maya’s Extremis.)
Issue 3 sees Maya explain Extremis: a super-soldier solution in a few billion nanotubes in a carrier fluid, it hacks the body’s repair centre and rewrites it, building new and better organs. The dead scientist gave Extremis to some local militiamen, domestic terrorists.
Cut to a flashback of Mallen, the Extremis subject, seeing his folks being killed by ATF when they were buying guns illegally.
Iron Man engages Mallen (the repulsor rays look particularly good coming out of his hands). However, Mallen is fast, strong and practically invulnerable. Iron Man is in trouble.
The fourth issue sees Iron Man blast Mallen with his chest repulsor, which stops him and causes him to run off, fast. However, Tony is in trouble. He gets himself airlifted to Maya’s lab building, where he reveals his identity to her. He is banged up and asks for the Extremis injection, reconfigured to link his armour directly into his brain. He doesn’t need the powers, he just needs to ‘be’ the suit and grow new connections. He wants to do this with an experimental suit, made of memory metal that snaps into shape with electric charge, which compresses to 90% working volume. It’s tougher, faster, lighter. It just needs the Extremis to make it work, and the Extremis to fix him from all the internal injuries sustained by Mallen’s beating. Tony wants this so he can be the test pilot for the future, so takes Extremis.
The fifth issue sees the flashback to the revised version of the Iron Man origin. He is in a terrorist camp with shrapnel in the heart getting closer all the time. The terrorists want him to make a weapon – this is all explained to him by Hu Yinsen, a medical futurist, also captive. Tony was already working on an exoskeleton, so could build one that will stop the shrapnel. (He is having this dream while his body is being repaired by Extremis and watched by Maya; obvious comparison between the two.) This leads to a great full-page shot of the first Iron Man armour, all grey and boxy, before he goes to blow shit up good.
Tony wakes up – he has supercompressed and stored in the hollows of his bones the crucial undersheath of the Iron Man suit, wired directly into his brain (he shows this off by calling Maya’s phone with his brain). Iron Man’s back and he’s new and improved.
The final issue has the big fight. Iron Man is superior to Mallen and doesn’t want to kill him. The fight scenes are nicely designed and dynamic, with suitable explosive quality. In the end, Iron Man has to kill him by blowing his head off, but it is also a symbolic fight, of the past versus the future, Mallen being the nightmare version of Tony.
The kicker to the story: it turns out that Maya helped give the Extremis to the militiamen, so that she could have a field test because the military had pulled their funding. Tony has her arrested when he works this all out.
This is a very enjoyable story, with a radical update of Iron Man (as far as I’m aware – I don’t read the character regularly); I’m amazed that Marvel let Ellis do this. But is a great modernising of a character who is supposed to be at the cutting edge of technology and keeping him there with Ellis the perfect tool to do that, fascinated with the future and body modification as he is. I think this is a great set-up for Iron Man of the future, in a sharp story that is well executed. Shame about all the Civil War stuff that was to come, eh?