“Tech Run Amuck”

Written by: Orson Scott Card
Art by: Pasqual Ferry
Published by: Marvel Comics

Iron Man has never been one of those characters that especially appealed to me. He was a (drunk) rich guy in a tech suit and was rarely written in an interesting way. Most times, the character was only as interesting as his supporting characters. With Ultimate Iron Man II we have a darker take on the Tony Stark character.

For starters, this is a much more sci-fi take on Iron Man: Tony Stark’s mother infected herself, and her then fetus son, with a regenerative virus that turns every body cell into a neural cell capable of new growth. So his limbs can regrow and his brain is essentially distributed through his whole body. Plus, he has nanotech armor technology, the armor is a thin layer on top of the wearer’s skin, which allows him to control the Iron Man suit.

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Under Orson Scott Card’s writing, we get to intricately explore the relationship between Tony and his father Howard. He weaves a tapestry of constant pressure and expectation as Tony has to live in the great man’s shadow with the burden of carrying on legacy. He attempts to both follow the example of his father while learning from his mistakes. It’s a delicate balance that can either free you to further greatness or it can spiral you into madness/self-destruction (and we see which way Tony is heading with his increasing dependence on alcohol).

Mostly, the part of the story that intrigues me most is Tony Stark as a government munitions developer. He has always been a part of the morally murky world of weapon design, essentially profiting from war, yet rarely has this aspect of his character been as relevant as it is these days. And that dark, cynical tone has crept into both the Marvel as well as Ultimate Universe depictions of the character.

“Look, it was a lesson you needed to learn. You’re not stupid, you’re just young.” –Howard Stark

As human beings, we are hard-wired for relationships. We are relational creatures gifted with many of the ease of lifestyle that technology affords. Yet we face the constant danger of being isolated by that very same technology. Counter intuitive though it may seem, considering how instantly reachable we are now (with our cell phones and text messaging; always plugged in to instant message, check e-mail or surf the web). Blackberries, iPods, Game Boys – our lives have accelerated and we’ve become over-stimulated. Technology can become our armor against the world.

At the same time, we interact with the world in new ways. Form online communities (multi-player games and message boards), have virtual relationships (chat rooms), and we can communicate with those thousands of miles from us as if they were around the corner.

Technology is what you make of it, as we try to find meaning and make sense of our increasingly postmodern world. We are less socially connected, our social networks being tethers of 1s and 0s. We will still and always have a need for the real over the virtual. We still need a human connection.

Orson Scott Card keeps Ultimate Iron Man II light with plenty of witty banter. The art is serviceable, but I’m not a fan of Pasqual Ferry’s panel construction. Each panel focused so tightly on the person in the foreground, with little to no details in the background, it was like looking at a series of cameo photos. Still, overall, the story has a lot going on inside it, with layers of political and corporate intrigue. It will be interesting watching the story develop over time.

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