Review: Rescue #1

“Rescue Me”

Writer: Kelly Sue “Supersonic” DeConnick
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Colorist: Jose Villarrubia
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover: Travel Foreman & June Chung

Oh, if only I could stay a while
what am I afraid of?
All this psychic damage
of all the years I’m made of

-Ted Leo & the Pharmacists,
“Bottled in Cork”

Forgive the indulgence of opening with a song quote, but it seems fitting given the previous connections we’ve made between Ted Leo and Invincible Iron Man. That particular quote, too, sticks out in my mind– not only for being (in my opinion) the best turn of phrase to be had on The Brutalist Bricks, but also fitting for where Pepper Potts stands at the opening of Rescue.

Set just before the events leading up to the climax of Siege, Pepper finds herself a fugitive on the run. She’s temporarily gone to ground, hiding out in the basement of a school somewhere in Oklahoma. Once she’s got a few minutes to herself, the lack of sleep and the surfeit of adrenaline from what she’s been through up to that point contrive to confront her with the one thing she hasn’t dealt with yet: Happy Hogan’s death. We’re treated to a flashback of Rescue in action as Pepper debates if she’s done enough, if there isn’t more that she could do, if she can ever do enough.

What I find most interesting about Rescue is how it compares to DeConnick’s other Women of Marvel one-shot from last month, Sif. At first blush it’s tempting to argue that it’s the same story with power armor instead of a longsword, and the arc of each character, from a distance, is certainly similar. The difference here, though, is the vector each character takes to get where they need to go. The two books compliment and bookend each other remarkably well as character studies. I could wish, further down the chain as things sort out for the Heroic Age and in what seems to be the new Avengers tradition, to see a Sif and Rescue team-up. They would be quite a force.

Also, as an aside, I love the version of J.A.R.V.I.S. in the Rescue armor. It’s obviously a cue from the movie-version of J.A.R.V.I.S., and Kelly Sue uses it to great effect as comic relief. Being able to banter with the suit is a real treat.

I’ve loved the design of the Rescue armor from when it was first introduced in Invincible Iron Man, and Andrea Mutti does it great justice here. In all the ways that Iron Man epitomizes Tony’s concept of masculinity, Rescue is undeniably feminine without losing any of the strength inherent in a Starktech armor.

Rescue is, much like Sif, something I’d like to see as an ongoing series, or at least a limited run. They both would take well to more breathing room. We’re treated to a wonderful and poignant bit of character development with Rescue that wasn’t quite as possible with the straightforward Sif. Pepper’s only human, after all, and as such is laden with all the complications and baggage any of us accrete over a lifetime. (Not to detract from Sif’s issues, but as an Asgardian and a warrior, her solution is somewhat more linear.) It’s rewarding to see Pep fight through some of her issues. And if things line up the way Matt Fraction’s hinting at with the recent return of the Spymaster in Invincible Iron Man… well, it’s a good thing Pepper’s had this moment of closure before her return to righteous ass-kicking.

Interview: Kelly Sue DeConnick

Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick: Iron chroniclers.

It’s no secret that we of the Department are unabashed fans of all things Invincible Iron Man— and that includes the transformation of Pepper Potts into armored heroine Rescue. Pepper’s adventures in her own custom suit have come to a (temporary?) end in the main title, but Marvel tapped writer Kelly Sue DeConnick— manga adaptation specialist, Sif writer, and IIM scripter Matt Fraction’s wife– to fill in some of Pepper’s heroic history in a new Rescue one-shot.

Rescue comes out today, and to celebrate, we’ve asked Kelly Sue a handful of questions about writing for Pepper, working for Marvel, and what might be next on her plate. It was a great chat, and we’ll be reviewing the book tonight.

JC: On the first page of the Rescue one-shot, Pepper Potts says something I’ve been waiting to hear for a long time– “I’m going to do what I do best. I’m going to clean up someone else’s mess.” Pep’s been Tony’s personal assistant, corporate CEO, and, as of recent issues of Invincible Iron Man, lover– but there’s always that tinge of codependency, of Pepper giving up her own desires to further Tony’s agenda, to their involvement. How do you understand their relationship? What experiences have you had that help you bring Pepper’s situation to life on the page?

KS: This is sort of a weird thing to admit, but I probably relate to Tony a little better than I do to Pepper. Not because I’m a wealthy international playboy and unparalleled genius (though… you know…), but because I’m embarrassingly familiar with junkie-brain; the addict’s mindset that I’ve seen best described as “the piece of shit at the center of the universe.” Tony may be a dry drunk, but he’s still a manipulator and an egotist. It’s a little horrifying to say so in a public venue, but I’ve been there, done that. I’ve been, you know, God’s most special snowflake who knew what was best for everybody, played people to suit me and hated myself for it at the same time. I call that period of my life “my twenties.” Not my finest hour. The difference–aside from the playboy thing–is that Tony probably *does* know what’s best on some level. I was just an ass. (Also, I’m not sure Tony’s plagued by self-loathing, you know? He may be an ends-justifies-means guy.)

Anyway, I was lucky enough to have not one but several Peppers in my life–people who cleaned up after me, gently nudged me away from the brick walls into which I was determined to crash and, when I couldn’t be dissuaded, bandaged me up repaired the masonry, you know? I can’t really speak to their motivation–maybe they were broken in a way that made that relationship work for them, or maybe they were just nurturing and generous. It feels like it’s not really my place to speculate with regard to my story, you know? Like, I need to take care of my side of the street and let them worry about them.

For fiction, though? Let’s speculate. As amazing and capable and smart and funny as Virginia is, I don’t think there’s a psychiatrist worth his or her papers who would describe her relationship with Tony as anything near healthy. I absolutely adore her and I get her dedication to Tony but yeah… the woman needs a 12-step meeting like nobody’s business.

JC: What was the genesis of the Rescue one-shot? How did you approach the pitch? Did you have to sell Marvel on the idea, or did they come to you specifically asking for a Pepper solo story?

KS: Both books spun out of the Women of Marvel initiative. Marvel invited me to pitch on Pepper and Sif–I hoped to land one or the other and somehow managed to get lucky twice. As far as how I approached the pitch? First I found out when within the context of the larger story my story was to take place, then I pitched what was interesting to me. I answered the questions I wanted answered.

JC: Ralph Macchio and Alejandro Arbona are the editorial powers behind the Iron Man books, and also behind Sif. We hear a lot about what it takes for people to break in at Marvel, but not much about what it’s like to work within the Marvel editorial process.

What sorts of feedback do you get from Ralph and Alejandro when you turn in a script? How do you work together to improve the final product? How does the give and take between editorial mandate and creative control work– when do you push a creative decision, and when do you accept the editor’s call even if you don’t agree?

KS: My interaction with Ralph has been fairly minimal. I suspect — and I don’t mean this to be at all critical nor particularly self-deprecating; it’s just reality — he’s got his plate full with bigger names, you know? On the other hand, I’ve worked with Alejandro quite closely. He’s given me feedback at every step in the process — from outline to final lettering pass.

I’ve been writing professionally for about 10 years and working in the comics industry for about seven, but I’m brand-new at Marvel. Alejandro has been an invaluable guide, helping me figure out how this genre works and suggesting tips, tricks and rules for how to get the strongest, tightest story down on paper. There’ve certainly been times when we’ve disagreed. I can think of one time in particular when he stood down and in the final lettering pass I realized he’d been right all along. (To his credit, he resisted the urge to say “I told you so.”)

I think we work well together. I think we make a good team.

With regard to when to push a creative decision and when to accept an editor’s call, man… I don’t know. It’s such a tricky channel to navigate. I mean, ultimately, Marvel is my client. My boss. In the end, what they say goes. On the other hand, my name is on the byline. Happily, we haven’t thus far butted heads too terribly much. (Honestly, I’ve seen a few editor-writer relationships that were antagonistic, but I’ve never had that experience personally. With one exception, very early in my “career,” I’ve been lucky enough to work with people who upped my game and made me a better writer.)

Of course, right now I’m being asked to title a story and I have one in mind that I love… and I’m pretty sure my editor hates it. She sort of sweetly told me to, “keep thinking.” Who knows? Maybe I’ll fight for this one! (Seriously, I love this title.)

JC: You collaborated with Jamie McKelvie (Phonogram, Siege: Loki) on a Black Widow short for this week’s Enter the Heroic Age special. Any chance we’ll see more work from both of you in the future?

KS: Jamie is awesome, isn’t he? I would certainly love to work with him again. I suspect that I’d have to get in line, though. (And possibly arm-wrestle my husband.)

JC: Are there any other artists you’d like to work with?

Ha ha! Yes, of course. Here’s the thing though: that’s like saying you have a crush on someone. What if they don’t feel the same about you? Well, that’s just humiliating. I’m going to play it coy and, you know, hang out by their locker until they notice me or something. (This is a technique that didn’t really work for me in high school, but I can’t seem to let it go.)

*cough* Chris Samnee, Tony Moore, Steven Sanders, Emma Rios, Noel Tuazon. *cough*

JC: Any other properties– DC, Marvel, or otherwise– you’d especially like to tackle?

Oh, I’m sorry to do this to you, but I’m loath to answer this one as well. I’ve learned this from watching Fraction — if I name a character that someone else is writing right now, it sounds as though I’m saying I could write that character better. If it’s a character no one is working with, well then, I certainly want to keep that information to myself. Don’t want to give anyone any ideas and get scooped, right?

JC: I’ve seen you talk about Japanese comics that have influenced you– Kazuo Koike’s Lady Snowblood sticks out in my mind– and about American comics and creators, like Walt and Louise Simonson. But what about conventional prose authors? I’ve seen you mention John Irving and Ayelet Waldman in discussions on Whitechapel and elsewhere; what writers really inspire you? What are you reading these days outside of comics?

My taste is all over the board. I am a great lover of Ernest Hemingway and Peter O’Donnell. Neil Gaiman and Anne Lamott. Joe Keenan. Nicholson Baker. Joan Didion. JK Rowling. Sinclair Lewis. Mary McCarthy.

My bedside table right now is mostly stacked with parenting books and research material on the suffragette movement. Oh, and Ellen Goodman’s PAPER TRAIL: COMMON SENSE IN UNCOMMON TIMES.

JC: Thanks so much for talking to us, Kelly Sue!

KS: I’ve really enjoyed this interview. Thanks.

(The Department also thanks Arune Singh, Marvel’s manager of sales communications, for helping us set up and conduct this interview.)

Friday Night Videos: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

Tonight’s video is “Where Was My Brain (Interface),” from The Brutalist Bricks, the new Ted Leo and the Pharmacists album. (Feel free to buy it from the Amazon MP3 store.)

So what does a DC-based postpunk act like Ted Leo and the Pharmacists have to do with comics? The connection may seem tenuous, but it’s there. Leo and his band are semi-regularly featured on Tom Scharpling’s long-form comedy show, The Best Show on WFMU. The Best Show has a big following of devoted listener-callers… among them Invincible Iron Man writer and Ted Leo fan Matt Fraction.

In fact, Fraction is such a Best Show fan, he even asked Terry Dodson to draw Pixie in a “Newbridge is for Lovers” shirt in Uncanny 507, Newbridge being the fictional town where a bunch of recurring Best Show gags are set. (If you share the love, you can score your own shirt here for $16.)

Unsurprisingly, Fraction’s also got a big love for Ted Leo… and c’mon, can’t you just see this song as an anthem for Tony Stark’s resurgence in the Heroic Age? Fraction, bent over his plot outlines, mouthing the words as he forces Tony to confront his Civil War-era sins?

Yeah. That’s why this is our Friday Night Video this week. Well, that, and Leo’s playing the Troubadour in Los Angeles tomorrow night. We’ll be there, of course, thinking of Tony.

Review: Invincible Iron Man #24

Invincible Iron Man 24 cover by Salvador Larocca and Rian Hughes.

Out with the new, in with the old?

“Stark: Disassembled, Part 5: •••••”

Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Colorist: Frank D’Armata
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna

The Marvel meta-plot of the last seven or so years hasn’t been too kind to Tony Stark. He’s been shoehorned into the role of technocratic fascist, put at the head of the charge for superhero registration, and vilified as the guy who failed to protect Earth from a Skrull invasion. He’s royally screwed up his friendships with Thor and Steve Rogers, he’s watched Norman Osborn run roughshod over the world, and he’s had to delete his own brain to escape HAMMER’s clutches.

So, what do you, as a Marvel writer, do to restore Tony’s heroic reputation after nearly a decade of mudslinging? How do you get from “universally reviled techno-fascist” to “one of the three pillars of the Heroic Age?”

If you’re Matt Fraction– and come on, you wish you were Matt Fraction– you go big. You trust in your own audacity of narrative. You do something so outrageous that it should annoy the living hell out of the fans who’ve been following the book for two years… and then you leave it on the last page and let them sweat for a month.

You also let Dr. Strange and Maria Hill rough up the Ghost a bit, just in case anyone was waiting for that. I was waiting for Pep, myself, but I’ll take Stephen instead. I’m a sucker for the sorts of characters Warren Ellis described with the line “I’m a doctor of mystery” in newuniversal.

A great deal of this issue is, of course, editorially-mandated board-shuffling before Thor, Cap, and Tony get together and sing “Kumbaya” in Avengers Prime: Siege Aftermath. The resolution of the Ghost’s plotline is necessary to move him into place for the post-SiegeThunderbolts arc, as much as it feels like a total cheat to those of us who were waiting for Pepper and JARVIS to beat hell out of the little rat bastard.

That being said, though, it’s still a gripping read. The sequences that take place within Tony’s internal landscape are gorgeously rendered, lending the proceedings an air of high fantasy. We get a little expansion on Tony’s evolving… whatever sort of romance it is… with Pepper, just enough to remind us that he’s got a lot to answer for with both Pep and Maria when he’s fully recovered. Chad points out, rightly, that the man both of them slept with in World’s Most Wanted is… not the man who’s going into the Heroic Age now, and wonders if either Pep or Maria is going to be having any of the new model.

There’s a pretty big open question of what that love triangle is going to mean for Tony’s future business affairs, too, since Pep and Maria are basically splitting the Bethany Cabe role between them at this point. Maria’s been acting in a bodyguard/ security capacity, while Pepper’s become Rescue and gotten her own Iron Man armor; both of them are sexually involved with Tony, and both of them are ambivalent about it. There’s part of me that looks forward to this book as a Pepper and Maria book more than a story about Tony some months, and I hope Fraction doesn’t move forward and drop the ball entirely on their uneasy shared story.

And yes, I’m going to sweat out the next month, trust in the synergy of the IIM creative team, and see how Tony works his way through this one. If it’s anywhere near as good as World’s Most Wanted, it’ll be well worth Fraction’s big trick this issue.

Rescue One-Shot Announced

To serve and protect...

Things are hopping for Kelly Sue DeConnick. We were already excited for the release of her one-shot Sif in March, and now comes word of another Marvel one-shot in May: Rescue. This book aims to fill in some of Pepper Potts’ story from the more recent arcs of Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man. Pepper’s character evolution in Invincible has been one of the more interesting things about the series; it’s great to see her get more attention. Maybe it’s too soon to say it, but, series? I’d buy it.

Capsule Reviews: Week of January 25th

Hi! I’m not dead, just short-slept and working– I have one of the few VFX jobs that requires constant attention and doesn’t involve long render times, so blogging from work is pretty much out. Understanding Comics Fridays will return next week with Chapter Four.

However, I did read just about everything in this week’s pull Wednesday night. On to the capsules!

Invincible Iron Man #23 (Marvel; Fraction, Larroca, D’Armata)

The cover for Invincible Iron Man #23, by Larroca and Hughes.

Tony's outside world is as complicated as his interior life.

This is about the only book where I not only tolerate two and a half pages of Bechdel Rule violation, but welcome it as absolutely necessary to the resolution of the overall arc. Tony and Dr. Strange may be mending Tony’s internal world– although I question the wisdom of having that internal world tied inextricably to Tony being Iron Man, and not Tony being, well, Tony— but our favorite technocrat’s external universe is a long, long way from being whole.

Fraction’s saying some interesting things in this issue about how cheaply Tony values his body as opposed to his mind, and, by extension, how dearly he regards the technologies that are the physical representation of his genius. For Tony, the work of his mind outweighs the works of his body, but this isn’t necessarily how everyone else in his world reads his choices. There’s been a lot of small parts put into place across Stark: Disassembled along those lines, and I’ll be interested in seeing the payoff next arc.

Also, hey, Rhodey. I’d like more Rhodey in this book.

Thor #606 (Marvel; Gillen, Tan, Batt, Rauch)

Thor #606 cover by Billy Tan

Doom. You're crushing my head. Cut it out.

Yeah, I know. It was last week. Blame Diamond.

“The Latverian Prometheus” concludes in this issue, and it’s a corker– not for the resolution of Doom’s Asgardian experiment, but for where it puts Loki in relation to the wider Siege plotline. With an upcoming Gillen/McKelvie Siege: Loki one-shot, that can only be good news for readers, if bad news for the deific citizens of Broxton, Oklahoma.

I jumped onto Thor cold because Kieron was writing it, which meant I was in for a whole load of “what the FUCK is going ON here,” but I’m glad I’ve stuck with it. This arc is unrelentingly dark– you’re gonna need a Volstagg chaser if you pick it up late like I did– and knowing that the bright and shiny Heroic Age is coming might blunt the impact of “Doom goes all Josef Mengele on the Asgardians” a little, but I still want to see where Loki and Doom’s plans take them in the next arc.

Billy Tan’s doing some great, expressive facial work on these book, too. Balder, Loki, and Thor are put in some heavy situations in this issue, and their faces reflect their struggles. Great to see; Thor has always been a hard sell for me for some reason, but this is a book that looks as good as it reads.

Siege #2 (Marvel; Bendis, Coipel, Morales, Martin)

Siege #2 cover by Coipel, Morales, and Martin.

Sentry's got the Oddball!

First off: I love Laura Martin’s color work and always will. Please take this as read from here on out if you see me review a Martin book. Thanks.

I wasn’t too into the first issue of Siege; I thought it set things up but didn’t move the plot forward much, and I was expecting a little more of a big bang to start off the Norman Osborn endgame. Turns out Bendis was reserving that for this issue!

Yup, someone dies. Yes, it’s a floridly gratuitous two-page Avatar-title-esque death scene with flying intestines and so on, but that actually suits the subject matter just fine. Yup, Steve is back. Yup, Norman’s about to take an epic ass-beating from Steve. While the death might be a surprise to you, not much else here is surprising, and that’s fine. I want this book to do a set list of things, and do them in a straightforward, precise manner, competently. It doesn’t have to shock me every issue, it just has to get me from mega-arc to mega-arc in a manner that will cause me to say “Yes. That is what I wanted to see here.” I don’t look to the big minis to wow me with their innovation; I want them to satisfy my need for closure. It’s kind of the same approach I take to well-executed fanfic that wraps up weird loose ends from TV shows that aren’t on any more. Nothing has to be revolutionary, but everything has to be good.

When I want innovation, I’ll go to Twitter and hyperventilate about our chances of actually getting a new issue of Casanova before year’s end– and those chances look pretty good right now. Siege, on the other hand, just started to deliver the solid goods as far as popcorn comics go, and I’m much more content about it now than I was a month ago. Coipel’s art is fantastic, with attention to small detail (page four, panel four, with Norman’s tiny surprise lines, was a particular Department favorite) and sweeping moments alike.

Plus, if you like Secret Warriors, this is the issue for you, as Daisy and her teammates finally show up to the main plot. All around, just Marvel Zombie comfort food– filling without being super-flashy or experimental.

“Shit just got real.”

Every now and then in comics, we have those ineffable moments. Those moments where we know, for a fact, beyond any possible rational doubt…

shit just got real.

Here at the Department, we’d like to enshrine and honor those moments, starting with that Master of the Mystic Arts himself, Dr. Stephen Strange, makin’ shit get real in the pages of Invincible Iron Man #22:

Dr. Strange, in IIM 22.  Art by Salvador Larocca.

Remember, this isn't a ceremony. This is when shit gets real.

By Dread Dormammu himself, that is the real shit, kids. Stay tuned for further episodes of Shit Just Got Real.

(Thanks to MetaFilter’s Own Matt Haughey for sharing that Bad Boys video.)