CHRONICLES OF COMICS – INVINCIBLE IRON MAN ANNUAL #1 – THE STORY OF MY LIFE

The Man Wit No Voice and The Pure Mood dig out and review a comic from their expansive back issue collection. It could be a pivotal story, a forgotten classic, or even a giant mistake not worth the staples binding it together. From the ’40′s to the ’00′s, come by every week as we take an in-depth look at comics history in CHRONICLES OF COMICS!

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Cinema is propaganda, right? The incredible power of images, specifically ones our eyes perceive as moving, combined with the potential for narrative, and therefore interpretation…well, it’s bound to be able to rile some like minded people up. The movies have had an incredible history with not only propaganda at it’s most blatant and unashamed, but manipulation. In fact, a lot of people would argue that a movie can’t even be made without giving yourself over completely to this guiding force. However, cinema is also revolution, and INVINCIBLE IRON MAN annual #1 takes a deep look at the power film has in shaping reality, while also being an interesting examination of how superhero comics talk about and to their own history. And, while clearly carrying the mark of his comics influences, makes a strong argument to what makes Matt Fraction so unique a writer at Marvel.

Jun Shin is one of the greatest film makers of his generation, a man who can bring to the screen the unique state of the contemporary Chinese soul, while also speaking to a larger, global audience about the pain of being human in lush, operatic historical action dramas. It’s awards night, and Shin’s newest film is awarded the grand prize, when of course, everything goes wrong – he and his wife Chuntao are kidnapped by the Mandarin. A sincere fan of the man’s work, the Mandarin wishes to see his life made into the greatest movie spectacle of all time.

invironman_01With his wife held hostage, Jin has to agree – but Mandarin’s delusions complicate things. The story of his life seems to shift from moment to moment, with none of the details being quite clear – and most dubious of all, the movie must end with the death of his arch nemesis Tony Stark, a man very much alive. As Jin gets closer and closer to the truth, discovering that the Mandarin comes not from a lineage of nobility and aristocratic wealth, but instead is a former janitor and son of a drug-addicted prostitute, he plans revolution – in secret, he will create a real film, the way Tony Stark created a suit of armour in a cave to begin his own revolution so many years ago.

I think it’s impossible to argue that the movies are only escapism – they have a power over us. Whether you think of them as the language of your dreams or the ultimate communal art form, it’s clear that they have a way shape public perception and pop culture trends in a way larger than any other medium. Fraction is running a complicated story structurally in this issue, telling a dual narrative of the best and worst of what film can be – one man making a shallow, overwrought and inaccurate tribute to an evil overlord, the same man making a secret, underground piece of truth.

Comics writers, more than any other artists, seem to resent when critics or bloggers confuse the creator with the work, but it’s hard not to see some sort of personal message in that. INVINCIBLE IRON MAN won an Eisner for telling a story about a rich boy with toys that was also an uplifting but painful rumination on addiction, alcoholism and the shallowness of a ‘party-boy’ lifestyle. I think Fraction’s Marvel work has always had that element of sneaking the soldiers in the Trojan Horse – he can tell entertaining superhero stories, but his personal humanistic struggles are always not far from the surface. Jin may be creating something false and crass, but there’s a real piece of art happening in secret.

invironman_02I don’t think the story is just about movies, pop culture as art or even Matt Fraction – Mandarin’s habit of revising history on a whim seems to speak directly to readers who have seen Marvel or DC reset, reboot or ignore their own fictional continuity at any fancy. I’m hardly a die hard continuity freak (my knowledge of these things is sort of like an indirect result of reading the stories, I find), but it did seem hard to ignore the fact that a comic which makes no mention of Mandarin’s previous changes in IRON MAN: DIRECTOR OF S.H.I.E.L.D. ans makes it clear that most of what we did know of the character was a lie is also a story about the manipulative power of art.

Interestingly enough, way back in the long ago of 2009, this was the first comic Marvel offered to be released digitally on Comixology the same date as the print version. It seems appropriate that a story about the movies, the biggest combination of technology, commerce and art, would be the first story available to read on an iPad.

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN annual #1 is one of Matt Fraction’s best works at Marvel. Grant Morrison may have made a career telling us how fictional superheroes were influencing our real lives, but this issue was almost a more layered and rewarding build off from that – the superheroes need stories to sell themselves the way they want to be sold, which means they need an art form viewed by many people, which means there needs to be movies,etc. The Mandarin isn’t a character I’ve ever been particularly interested in, but Fraction used a lack of characterization and identity to define the character as a lost soul ashamed of his own heritage and sense of self. Though the story may end on the bleakest of notes, you get the sense that Jin achieved a sort of ultimate victory – he caused the Mandarin to doubt his own story.

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