Iron Man 3 Prelude #1

With "Iron Man 3" only a few months away from hitting theaters, Marvel has released one of its rare cinematic tie-ins to bridge the gap between "Iron Man 2" and the coming sequel. Drafted in for the task are writers Christos Gage and Will Corona Pilgrim with artist Steve Kurth.

Despite the title, the star of the show here is actually War Machine, not Iron Man. Perhaps most importantly, for continuity fans, the issue purports to show exactly what War Machine was up to during the events of the Avengers, and why he wasn't able to help out during the battle in New York. It also shows Rhodes accepting a new suit, which we might expect to become the "Iron Patriot" suit -- if not in the following issue, then in the movie itself.

Aside from being useful continuity plugging tools, Marvel's cinematic universe titles have been mostly inoffensive, though just as frequently they've been dull and disappointing. This book continues that trend. The curse of such licensed comics is that they're unable to match up to the spectacle of the movies or the depth of the "real" Marvel Universe titles, meaning they're never quite as good as you want them to be.

Gage and Pilgrim do their best to concentrate on characters they have a little leeway with, which is why Rhodes and Pepper get much more page time than Stark himself. It's a comic that's slightly front-loaded, though, with buckets of exposition up front and an overly terse battle at the end. The references to previous Iron Man movies seems a little laboured, but will doubtlessly delight fans who come in looking for this comic to slot into the ongoing story.

Artistically, it's not awful, but it flounders when compared to the work we see elsewhere in superhero comics, with simplified layouts and visuals. Perhaps it's deliberately toned down in order to avoid baffling movie fans making their first foray into comics, and between them Kurth and Sotocolor provide some effective visual echoes of the movies (such as the palette switch in the desert locations) -- but just as often it feels rushed or phoned in.

In particular, Pepper resembles neither herself nor Gwyneth Paltrow, and towards the end of the book the colouring becomes an ugly mess of pink, blue and orange. Throughout the book, great swathes of art are also given block colours, lacking in detail and nuance. You could argue that it's an attempt to simplify the appearance for non-comics readers, but the colouring is often just ugly and uninteresting, no matter how you justify that as a decision.

The plot works on its most basic level, although it does suffer from the kind of false peril that licensed material is prey to. Will War Machine get killed after the cliffhanger? Well, no, because we've seen him in the trailer for the movie set after this comic. It's a mistake to build the stakes around a character we know to be untouchable -- but ultimately that choice is typical of a book that seems to be giving its readers very little credit.

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