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.)

Review: Sif

Cover for Sif 1 by Travel Foreman and June Chung.

She don't need another hero: Sif fights her way back to self-respect.

“I Am the Lady Sif”

Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Penciller: Ryan Stegman
Inkers: Tom Palmer with Victor Olazaba
Colorist: Juan Doe
Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino
Cover: Travel Foreman and June Chung

Sif has a tough lot in the Marvel pantheon. She’s a powerful and skilled warrior goddess, but somehow she keeps getting the short end of the stick. Loki shears off her golden hair in a symbolic rape, after which she’s sent away by her parents for warrior training– apparently, that’s the Asgardian concept of crisis counseling in action. When she returns, Sif and Thor proceed to have a relationship worthy of Jerry Springer, during which Thor hits her, she runs off with Beta Ray Bill, they discover that Thor’s mind-controlled, she takes Thor back and dumps Bill… oy. It’s all ugly.

That’s not even counting Sif making a pact with Mephisto at one point, or Thor exiling Sif from Asgard for objecting to his fascist reign. Or, you know, Thor hooking up with the Enchantress and getting her pregnant while Sif’s hanging around in exile. It’s a rough life in the MU if you’re an Asgardian battle maiden, apparently– and then, just when everything started to look up, Loki provoked the Ragnarok, stole Sif’s body, and imprisoned her in the form of a dying elderly woman.

Yeah. That’s some empowerment for Sif right there. When it’s not domestic abuse and getting thrown out of the hall in favor of the evil baby mama, it’s rape and more rape. Sure, Sif kicks ass against Surtur and is every bit as badass as Brunhild, but with a personal life that painful, it’s probably not much consolation… and if you’re a female comics fan, it’s not very cheering to see a character who’s had a lot of her development come at the expense of her autonomy.

Fortunately, Sif’s been placed in Kelly Sue DeConnick’s capable hands for the first step of her recovery from this ongoing soap opera. DeConnick is arguably best-known for her work on 30 Days of Night and Image’s Comic Book Tattoo anthology; she doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page of her own, and that’s a damn shame. Sif is a clear indication of a talent worth more recognition.

The book is a compact, kinetic tale of Sif’s first steps on the road from “survivor” back to “warrior.” Sheltered in the uneasy bosom of the citizens of Broxton, Sif is drinking and nursing hypervigilant combat reflexes when Beta Ray Bill (and Ti Asha Ra, last seen in Kieron Gillen’s Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter) arrives. Of course, he’s not trying to rekindle any romance– no, he wants a Real Man, in this case Thor, to help him regain his ship from Borg-like space pirates.

That’s when Sif stops having any of this macho nonsense, thankfully, and puts herself up in Thor’s stead. What follows is a vicious little romp reminiscent of Die Hard— “Come out to deep space! We’ll get together, have a few laughs!” Sif tests her physical mettle against the disciples of the Salvation Condition and her mental endurance against the memories of Loki’s tortures. The Korbinites become background figures, witnesses to her trial, and the story’s all the sharper for it; this story is all about Sif and how she wins her way back to her true self. DeConnick keeps the focus tight and the dialogue terse, emphasizing the tension Sif feels every day as a survivor.

The visuals convey this sense of tension as Sif throws herself into combat; artist Ryan Stegman has a clean style reminiscent of Madame Xanadu‘s Amy Reeder Hadley, making Sif seem like Nimue’s plucky adventuring cousin. The various residents of Broxton are salt-of-the-earth types, making a sharp contrast to Sif’s hard-edged biker beauty. Beta Ray Bill is as snouty and toothy as I’ve ever seen him– Stegman’s depiction makes Bill a heavy-hearted, distant taskmaster, presiding over Sif’s ordeal for her own good. The panel transitions are rapid and occasionally unnerving, highlighting Sif’s near-manic dread and battle rage. Particularly successful is a panel (I’ll try to get a pic uploaded later today) where a disciple of the Condition grabs Sif’s ankle… followed immediately by a quick cut to her revulsed, shell-socked reaction, and then to the lethal consequences. Solid, solid storytelling, a welcome change from the vague visual narrative you see in other titles.

Sif also sets up a future direction for the battle goddess… one that seems likely to pay off handsomely for her, especially when it’s seen in light of the events of Siege: Loki last week. I certainly hope Marvel lets DeConnick and Stegman run with that plotline, because it’s one I’d enjoy seeing.

One last confession. We bought two copies of Sif today. The first one was ordered weeks ago in our Golden Apple pull… but we were so eager to see how DeConnick and Stegman pulled this off that Chad bought a second copy on his way home from work. You should be that eager too; this book showcases two up-and-coming Marvel talents turning in rock-steady work that takes the misogynist tarnish off Sif and restores her to her Ripley-esque Simonson-era badassery.

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.