A couple of years ago when the John Favreau/Robert Downey, Jr. Iron Man movie came out, I was surprised to learn that the Golden Avenger is not considered to be a well-known character. I didn’t read a lot of Iron Man in his own title back in the day, but got plenty of him in the pages of Avengers and Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-in-One. He might not have been as front-and-center in the ’80s as he was during Marvel’s Civil War/Illuminati/Secret Invasion storylines of the past decade, but I always operated under the impression he was a first-tier super hero in the Marvel U.
Iron Man has always just seemed to be everywhere in the Marvel Universe, so I guess I took my familiarity with him for granted. But, thanks to that 2008 movie, a whole helluva lot more people know who Tony Stark is these days. And that’s a good thing.
Unlike X-Men and Spider-Man, I didn't avoid buying Iron Man: Enter the Mandarin in single issues because I was moving to trade-waiting (this was coming out soon after I was fully re-immersed in comics), but, rather, I hesitated because I was buying so many single issues at the local comic shop at the time something needed to be cut. I did, however, promise myself I'd pick it up in trade at some point. It ended up being one of the 20 or so collected editions I snagged at Wizard World Chicago last year. Final-day-of-the-con bargains meant I paid a whopping $2 for the trade paperback. Money well-spent.
This Joe Casey-written, Eric Canete-drawn story was a lot of fun. It is basically an Iron Man “Year One” story set in modern times (not unlike the Iron Man movie in some respects, I suppose). Based on the events that took place between the Mandarin’s debut in Tales of Suspense #50 (February 1964) and issue #55, just under a year after Iron Man himself was introduced in issue #39, Enter the Mandarin is a retelling of how Iron Man and the Mandarin first crossed paths and what took place. I’m not familiar with that original story, so I can’t say how much of a reimaging this is versus a complete revamp of the history, but I was really entertained by what Casey came up with here.
(It's interesting Casey seems to be staking his claim outside of the First Class franchise for this approach to expanding the all-ages, "between the panels" story of the early Marvel Universe with the five-issue Avengers: The Origin mini scheduled for April 2010.)
My only complaint is with Comicraft, responsible for the lettering in this series. Always present in any current Iron Man story is the data readings from his armor. And in Enter the Mandarin, it’s presented as white letters with a royal blue outlines. Very hard on the eyes. I found myself skipping a lot of the armor info because it was just difficult to read.
Canete’s art is fantastic. His art deco inspired covers are perfectly stylized, and his interiors contain a lot of motion and energy. I loved issue #5’s cover, and its rendering of Iron Man against a Chinese dragon representation of the Mandarin. As expected in a collection like this, the only extras are three pages of Canete cover sketches and inks for issues #2, #4, and #5.
With its obviously current technology and references to email and Wired Magazine, it’s clear the story is set in modern times. But Casey gives the reader a classic Iron Man tale that hits all the right notes: technology versus magic, a playboy Tony Stark alter ego, Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan, and the conclusion is satisfying enough to stand alone, but open-ended enough to leave room for the story to continue.