Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. #32

Maybe it's the pace of Marvel these days, where the status quo changes every six months, or maybe it's the nature of Iron Man's multi-media rebirth this year, but everything about "Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D." #32 screams "Inventory Story." I'm not sure how that works, since this is part four of a four-issue tale written by Stuart Moore, but there's nothing about this "With Iron Hands" arc that feels like the Iron Man of today. There is a sense that his leadership of S.H.I.E.L.D. has left him with some difficult decisions, and the whole "With Iron Hands" metaphor has to do with the burden of responsibility, but Tony Stark made a career out of munitions manufacturing. There's a hell of a lot more blood on those iron hands of his than just the recent stuff since "Civil War."

So the conclusion of the four-issue arc, as heavy-handed (pardon the pun) as it is -- with its imagery of Tony Stark's guilt (as the ghosts of the dead literally hover over him in the final panel) -- just feels like a morality tale from another era. Like Denny O'Neil preaching to us about the evils of racism, or Chris Claremont telling us that blind hatred is destructive. I suppose there's room for such storytelling in 2008. Perhaps the moral lesson is intended for younger readers, but my son has sampled some of this recent arc and come away bored. It's not the Iron Man he knows, with the flippant demeanor and the race car driver enthusiasm. It's a serious Iron Man, heavy with regret.

It's too leaden and slowly-paced for the kids and too morally simplistic for the adults. And it's not a complexly woven plot either.

This issue shows what happens when you try to tap into the Overkill Horn and interface with it as a weapon: it messes you up. Nicolas Weir can attest to that. I liked how Weir was used in some of Moore's earlier issues, with his jealousy of Tony Stark, and I was admittedly gleeful when the Overkill Horn -- that relic from the Steranko S.H.I.E.L.D. era -- popped into view. But the combination of Weir and the Horn into the Overkill Mind just ended up as a giant robotic floating brain. Which sounds good on paper, but as a comic book image, it's pretty static. It's just a grayish lump in the air. Maybe Jack Kirby could have made it work, but the art here by Carlo Pagulayan and Steve Kurth -- workmanlike and efficient, but seemingly rushed -- doesn't do the job.

This isn't a terrible issue. It's an appropriate conclusion to the arc, and the physical appearance of Nasim Rahimov at the end is certainly a surprise. But he's just a madman with nukes when all is said and done. And, yes, Tony Stark needs to make a difficult choice, but that's the nature of leadership, and he has to make decisions like this every day. Is he really going to brood over every single one of them? On panel?

Stuart Moore has done excellent work in the past, but the swiftly moving culture of Iron Man seems to have passed this story by. It's not a bad four issues, but I certainly wouldn't recommend seeking the story out.

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