December has arrived, which means we’re treated to another month of “What If?” comics from Marvel, beginning with “Iron Man: Demon in an Armor” #1, which asks the question “What if Tony Stark had become Doctor Doom?” It’s a shame that David Michelinie and Bob Layton take just about the dullest route possible in exploring that question, delivering a story that never goes anywhere interesting. To read an issue of “What If?” that is so unimaginative always stings, because this a comic where you can literally have the characters be anything and the writers choose to do the most basic of role reversals with a humdrum confrontation at the end that means nothing.
The issue begins with Tony Stark and Victor Von Doom rooming together at college and takes a sharp turn when Von Doom invents a machine to switch their consciousnesses so he can have access to all of Stark’s resources. The switch leaves Stark in Von Doom’s body with his memory wiped, sent back to Latveria an amnesiac while Von Doom uses Stark’s resources to become a very rich businessman. Yes, that’s right, given all of the possibilities and what we know about Dr. Doom, his use of Tony Stark’s identity to just be a very corrupt, greedy man. In fact, when the armor comes out, it’s just for use in corporate sabotage.
I’m the first guy to admire comics that take a different approach to the characters and their relationship to corporations, but the use of Von Doom as Stark goes nowhere. He’s just a tedious little man, while Stark as Von Doom becomes a squeaky clean version of himself that’s so over-the-top noble that it doesn’t ring true with what we know about that character either. The eventual confrontation between the two is a pointless fight that underscores how wrong the book began when the final fight tries to be a big emotional payoff between evil and good, and it’s just two CEOs slugging it out in armor over who gets to make more money.
Joining Michelinie and Layton is Graham Nolan, delivering competent though unspectacular art. Nolan’s art is effective at showing off what’s happening and making that clear to the readers. Given that a central part of the comic is a montage, Nolan is an asset in that regard. The inking style on his art is too thick often, leading to pages that look cluttered, like the fourth one. That the inking is credited to ‘Mark Pennington and friends’ explains why the line work looks inconsistent from to page to page at times. The final fight, in particular, has an unfinished, simplistic look to it.
This issue also kicks off the Rick Remender/Shawn Moll back-up story that will run throughout this year’s “What If?” issues: “What if Venom possessed Deadpool?” It’s a wacky, tongue-in-cheek story with some hit or miss jokes as Deadpool is hired by Galactus to kill the Beyonder after the Beyonder fused M.O.D.O.K. to Galactus’s butt. As far as an idea goes, this one looks like it will work well in the small doses provided in each issue. There’s one line, said by Spider-Man that made me laugh for a good 45 seconds without a break.
“Demon in an Armor” has a strong hook, but the approach taken by Michelinie and Layton is unimaginative and doesn’t seem to use the characters we’re familiar with as its starting place. Neither Von Doom nor Stark truly resemble their Marvel universe selves. While that’s partly the point of “What If?” stories, the departure here is so far that it’s hard to understand why Marvel went with this concept. A truly disappointing way to begin this year’s batch of “What If?” titles.