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“Scarlet” co-creators Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev have teamed up again for Marvel’s latest series “International Iron Man.” In its first issue, however, it feels like only one of the two is doing the heavy lifting.

Alex Maleev’s art in “International Iron Man” #1 is the real selling point. Maleev continues to draw characters in a unique way, unlike any other artist out there; there’s a certain level of realism to them, even as they somehow come across as slightly cartoonish at the same time. For example, take the characters on the first flashback page, or the way Maleev and colorist Paul Mounts are able to create so a large crowd of people in the background without detracting from the action in the foreground.

The Cambridge classroom scene, where we see knowing looks passing between Tony, Cassandra and Cassandra’s bodyguard, is even better. There’s such a sly understanding between them, one that’s hesitant but also slightly cocky, which absolutely sells the moment Bendis is trying to convey. It’s easy to appreciate what Mounts is doing alongside Maleev here; there are such beautiful, warm colors on top of Maleev’s crisp, detailed art that readers will be able to examine these pages over and over again.

With all that in mind, the script never quite kicks into high gear. Bendis often appears to be writing solely for the collected edition rather than the individual issue, and that’s what’s happening here. The flashback (which takes up all but three pages of the issue) sets up the relationship between Tony and Cassandra so that their stances against one another have a bit more backbone in the present day, but — unfortunately — it never comes
across as interesting enough to matter. Cassandra is a character who feels like someone we’re told — rather than convinced — to like; it’s hard to see what Tony sees in the character, who has no real defining qualities of her own to talk about. Hopefully, future issues will flesh her out a bit more.

“International Iron Man” #1 also has the slight problem of positioning its debut around Tony Stark’s search for his real parents, but — at the moment — it doesn’t feel like strong enough of a premise to build a series on it. Again, maybe future issues will make this series feel more robust, but it’s just not coming together as something particularly gripping. For the moment, “International Iron Man” has a beautiful first issue thanks to Maleev and Mounts, but Bendis’ script isn’t on the same level just yet.