Iron Man: Enter the Mandarin
By Joe Casey and Eric Canete
When Iron Man hit the screens in 2008, no one knew what to expect. I had been a devoted fan of the monthly comic since its revival in 2005 and was a strong supporter of the Daniel Knauff run that followed Warren Ellis’ 6 part story which completely revitalized the character and brought him to the 21st Century. A number of mini-series and a new ongoing comic called Invincible Iron Man arrived and even as a fan of the hero, I was skeptical. So much so that I only recently read this mini-series in collected format.
Joe Casey is one of those writers who is hit and miss with me, but his Avengers work is always solid. Both of his Avengers Earth’s Mightiest Heroes comics were excellent and I also enjoyed his collaboration with Tom Scioli, Gødland. The connecting thread of Casey’s work seems to be working with fantastic artists and writing to their strengths. Either that or it’s a coincidence that he has written for such amazing comic book artists and produced stories that are both kinetic and smart.
Enter the Mandarin is a story that retells the first meeting between Stark and the Mandarin, a self-styled despot claiming to be the direct descendant of Genghis Khan. The Mandarin’s strength is derived from the Maklu rings that adorn his fingers, each with a unique ability such as super heat rays, cold blasts and control of gravity. The story opens with Chinese officials trying to appeal to the Mandarin’s national pride and swear alligence to something bigger than him. This enrages the Mandarin who has aims at ruling over the entire planet as its Khan.
Jet-setting playboy Tony Stark is meanwhile called into service by S.H.I.E.L.D. (pre-Nick Fury’s days as director) who want to send Iron Man to China in a fact finding mission. The trip turns bad rather quickly and Tony is nearly killed in combat, held captive and barely escapes with his life. The Mandarin is overjoyed that he may have found a suitable foe at last.
The rest of the book is a thrilling battle of nerves as the Mandarin employs cunning guile and brute force to achieve his aims and Stark’s resilience is challenged to its limit as he must design new suits of armor on the fly to defend himself. The Scarecrow is featured in an attempt to pilfer Stark’s secrets and it’s one of the best moments in the book. Like anyone else, I’ve never understood the point of Marvel’s Scarecrow, a kind of multi-jointed master thief, but Casey made it work. Likewise, Canete’s fluid linework brought the villain to life.
Of course the story all points toward a battle royal fought on the ground and in the stratosphere as the Mandarin enacts his master plan and Stark races to stop a space platform from striking the planet. It reads just like a feature film and thanks to the stunning artwork, you definitely feel the excitement.
In reading the Essential Iron Man collections, I have noticed the recurring moments when Stark’s heart would be taxed, his energy drained and our hero reduced from a noble armored knight to a weak man trapped in an iron casket. These are iconic moments of the early Iron Man comics that Casey understands well and revives in this series. There are many moments where Stark’s bravado and ingenuity save the day rather than repulsor rays, which is also in keeping with what made the classic book so popular.
Eric Canete, it must be said, is an acquired taste. Having read his work in Spider-Man and the recent New Avengers: Luke Cage book I was already a fan, but he really gets to stretch in this book. You wouldn’t think that an artist so devoted to fluid lines and motion would be the right choice for a book centered on a guy in a personal tank, but it does.
Whenever a comic book movie hits the screens, there are lots of tie-ins and I usually steer clear of them fearing that they are just attempts to cash in on a hot commodity, but I was in the wrong in this case. Iron Man: Enter the Mandarin comes highly recommended.
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