author: Peter Davidpublisher: Titan Books (paperback, rrp £6.99)
Tony Stark, billionaire industrialist and international playboy and his alter-ego, the invincible Iron Man, have been an integral part of the Marvel Universe since the 1960s. A founding member of the Avengers and now director of S.H.I.E.L.D, it was only a matter of time before he followed the Hulk, Spider-man and the Fantastic Four onto the big screen. Whilst Jon Favreau directs the movie, the task of turning the script into a novel has fallen to Peter David, a man who seems to be ‘Mr Comics’ at the moment.
With his long association with writing for many of Marvel’s heroes in the comic books, especially his award-winning run on The Incredible Hulk, David is the perfect man for the job and has managed to produce a playfully enjoyable read that complements the movie release.
Considering the Iron Man origin story was spawned in the post-Korea and mid-Vietnam era, the story needed to be updated and made more relevant. So the action begins in modern-day Afghanistan where an egotistical, inebriated Stark has come to demonstrate his latest military hardware. However, he’s caught in a surprise attack and seriously injured by weapons manufactured by Stark Industries. Captured by the enemy and with life-threatening shrapnel lodged in his chest, the playboy’s made to work on new weapons for the enemy…
Instead, he builds himself a suit of armour that will both preserve his life and create an invincible new weapon. Once back on US soil though, he undergoes his own Damascus experience and publicly announces that Stark Industries is pulling out of arms manufacturing, which doesn’t go down well with everyone, especially his senior business colleague, Obadiah Stane. And what happens if certain rebel leaders are out for revenge too?
The author tells the tale with directness and a good grasp of character, especially in turning his leading womanizer into a sympathetic, flawed hero rather than a spoilt businessman, who reaps what he sows. David brings his own brand of wit to the proceedings, which readers would be familiar with through his recent work on the Hulk, Capt Marvel and X-Factor. But he’s also an author in his own right, as well as having written several Star Trek: Next Generation novels. Whilst he may usually be writing to accompany pictures, he relies on his power of words to convey what’s happening. Equally, with the film full of hi-tech action sequences, David condenses screen time into pacey description.
The joy of the story is its willingness to embrace many elements of the Iron Man mythology, which will please long-time fans. So not only is the clumsy silver armour introduced, but it also evolves into the trademark gold and red armour that has labelled him the Golden Avenger. And there’s a cast of characters that respect the character’s history too – his bodyguard, ‘Happy’ Hogan., his PA, Virginia ‘Pepper’ Potts, and his right hand man, James ‘Rhodey, Rhodes. Equally both the genial Yinsen and the steely Obadiah Stane come from Iron Man history.
The appearance of S.H.I.E.L.D brings the Marvel World into the story and there’s even an appearance by a certain familiar character who utters the immortal word, ‘Excelsior!’. That’s the big advantage that David has over the film, he can flesh out the characterisation, and embellish some of the smaller incidents, without losing the film’s core energy.
For extra suspense during Tony’s time in captivity, he neatly adds sequences of Rhodey’s search plans. When Stark’s in armour mode, David takes us into his thought as he battles missiles, jets and the mighty Iron Monger. Such character development and mental action are a trademark of his best superheroic comic books, so it’s good to see him introduce them into the novel too.
Whilst it may serve only as a taster for the movie and it faithfully follows the plot, the novel does provide an engaging entertainment in its own right. An iron-clad read.