Iron Man: Leaving Las Vegas
I thought for my latest entry into my Untitled Comic Book Column I should continue with my theme of celebrities thoughtlessly shitting out comics, so here’s Iron Man: Viva Las Vegas by Jon Favreau (Chef) and Adi Granov. Again, this has all the makings of a classic Hollywood comic. Favreau was fresh off the surprise sensation Iron Man and Adi Granov was the closest thing Marvel had to an iconic Iron Man artist, having designed a lot of the contemporary armors and even consulting on the film a little I believe. It made sense at the time to have the two collaborate on an Iron Man series. However, like most every grandiose gesture towards appealing to beyond the direct market the attempt went down in flames. Spoiler alert: Viva Las Vegas never had a conclusion. It managed two measly issues before stalling out. If not for Daredevil: The Target (one issue), it would earn the dubious distinction of “most pathetic failure at Hollywood favor currying”. Congrats, dudes, you’re twice as successful as Kevin Smith!
Elsa Bloodstone, minor Marvel character best known for being part of Warren Ellis’ Nextwave, is scouting something in China. That something is a statue of Fin Fang Foom, apparently on behalf of a Las Vegas casino. (Hence the miniseries title.) Tony Stark happens to be in Las Vegas for rest and relaxation, plus a hotrod show. Unfortunately, a multitude of lizards collecting at the Fin Fang Foom statue prevents Tony from having a threesome with two tattooed women. The lizards are dealt with offscreen and Bloodstone seeks out Tony for help finding out who hired her to scope out the Fin Fang Foom statue, which I guess is also just Fin Fang Foom. They read an inscription, he comes to life, a couple pages of action and then cliffhanger…that is never resolved. Well worth the $8, right?
I’m not sure what version of Iron Man this is supposed to be. Jon Favreau’s presence suggests the movie version but that is not the case as Tony Stark and Iron Man are repeatedly referred to as two separate entities. Tony has a mustache, not a goatee, and still orders booze. Essentially the comic stars a version of Iron Man not dissimilar to his Silver Age counterpart, sans the elaborate chestplate he must plug into the wall every now and again to prevent his heart from exploding or whatever. I can see why Marvel didn’t want to be locked in (hahahaha) to continuity that could limit the possible choices for Iron Man 2, but this alternate Tony Stark is truly weird. Who exactly wants to go back to the “Iron Man is my bodyguard, honest!” days? It was always a questionable conceit and grew more ridiculous as time marched on. This is a Marvel Knights title, therefore out of continuity, but certainly Favreau could’ve chosen better given the limitless possibilities. His Tony could’ve been black, or a squid, or Portuguese.
Usually if you want to improve upon a classic Jack Kirby design you should, uh, try to improve upon it?
You may be wondering at this juncture why I chose specifically to write about a mediocre unfinished Iron Man miniseries. Well, there’s a scene in the first issue that has nothing to do with the actual plot of the miniseries and yet it’s the reason I chose to write about this junk. Tony is on one of his company’s planes, chilling out, when suddenly a terrorist bomber makes his presence known. He suits up, takes the terrorist into the sky and lets him blow up, the armor protecting him from any harm. You’d think the passengers would be grateful that Iron Man saved them from harm, but no. Instead they complain that he didn’t negotiate with the guy, as he was willing to, and generally decry the barbarity of letting a man explode himself in midair. The punchline? These are European passengers. Did Chuck Dixon ghostwrite this comic? The xenophobic culture war nonsense comes out of left field and is, at best, an excuse for Adi Granov to draw an action sequence in an issue that is otherwise all talking and table setting. The (generically brown) terrorist doesn’t even issue any demands. I could’ve used a “Great Satan” or a “decadent West”.
And with that, Tony Stark accepts the offer of a fellowship at Prager U.
Whenever a celebrity or “celebrity” (comics’ definition has a very low floor; I’ve seen “writer on the Howard Stern Show” be described as such) deigns to write comics there’s a question of how well they adapt to the form. Even acclaimed writers such as Ta-Nehisi Coates have had trouble transitioning from prose. Favreau commits the cardinal sin of not trusting the artist enough to detail and propel the narrative. As such, there’s plenty of tiresome exposition in the dialogue; lots of people telling other people about who that other person is. The first few pages of the first issue have the man accompanying her tell us all we need to know about Elsa Bloodstone. Characterization doesn’t fare well either because Stark is purely one-dimensional, all of the playboy with none of the self-reflection that kept Iron Man from being one note. Barring Pepper (because she’s his mother figure), he tries to fuck every woman in this series, even when it’s obvious they’re evil. I mean, hello, women with tattoos? By Marvel’s conservative sexuality standards that spells bad news.
The dialogue is overall pretty poor. “No one comes into my house and pushes me around!” says Iron Man to Fin Fang Foom, as though he bears any significant attachment to Las Vegas. It’s as laughable as Hillary Clinton claiming she’d always been a New York Yankees fan. Pages earlier he lets loose a painfully unfunny one-liner mimicking an announcement about keeping one’s hands inside the car and holding onto one’s belongings. Maybe all of the good lines in Iron Man were improvised by Robert Downey Jr because Favreau’s Tony Stark is a one-dimensional sexual predator. Marvel Knights is free from the constraints of Marvel’s ratings system so they really take the opportunity to make Tony a pussy hound in this. In many respects Iron Man is the American James Bond because all he does is murder people, crack jokes and fuck women with or without affirmative consent; one gets the sense without lizards encroaching on the natural habitat of gambling addicts and sex workers the miniseries would be Tony getting it wet while whetting his whistle. Imagine My Dinner with Andre with more handjobs.
A better comic would consist of Iron Man repulsor blasting little lizards every page and getting in hot water with animal rights groups.
Adi Granov has particular strengths and weaknesses in drawing comics, and Viva Las Vegas caters almost exclusively to the latter. I like Granov, but there’s a reason he does mostly covers. Striking images he succeeds at; things like dialogue scenes, fluid action, drawing more than one woman, not so much. When characters are talking it looks like they’re frozen computer models. Unfortunate that the miniseries is mainly composed of this, with the action sequences intruding halfway through the first issue and at the endof the second. The stiffness of Granov’s humans – let it be said he is a lot better at drawing armor and robots and robot dragons and shit – leads to a number of occasions for unintentional humor, when rictus grins betray the script. He’s like Greg Land without the pornographic influence.
I’ve seen Sims with more dynamic expressions.
When one reads this miniseries there’s the question of “why?”. Why this story. Frankly, it could be any number of forgettable Iron Man minis that came out to capitalize on the character’s fame from the movies. If not for the creative team. That’s what this is: an A-list creative team on a C-list filler series that no one will remember sixth months from now, much less two years. Usually Marvel puts big talent on more substantial books, ones that will have an evergreen appeal. Who in particular wants to read Iron Man vs. Fin Fang Foom for the 20th time, although now he’s a statue robot whatever? It’d be different were this in movie continuity, then you’d have Robert Downey Jr going up against a big dragon. You can sell that shit to idiots. Even a retelling of his first encounter with the character would work. But this? Nobody cares.
It’s possible that the less than promising first two issues would have been followed by a rising tide in quality, just as it’s possible that the Wizard of Oz will grant Donald Trump a brain that allows him to master the isosceles triangle. The possibility has been closed off, of course, as there’s no desire on anyone’s part to conclude this miniseries, even with a hasty “Iron Man, Fin Fang Foom, Elsa Bloodstone and those ungrateful Europeans all died on the way to their home planet” final page placed at the end of a thinner than usual trade paperback. Joe Quesada flat out admitted Viva Las Vegas was dead in the water, which is unusual because Marvel never wants to give closure to anything. You ask them about Daredevil: The Target and they’ll still go “maaaaaaybe”. But this? Dead. It could be the parrot in a Monty Python sketch. It’s not a big loss. None of the possible directions Viva Las Vegas could go in are especially compelling; the reason it’s worth mentioning at all is it’s one of the rare instances of Adi Granov doing interior art. In the twelve years since, he has done a story in Dark Reign: The Cabal and a Captain America miniseries with Andy Diggle. So I imagine anyone dredging up Viva Las Vegas will do so looking for further Adi Granov pencils. They’ll start reading: “why didn’t they finish this?” and then go “…oh” by the time they get to the end of #2.
Issues 3 and 4 never happened because Favreau and Vince Vaughn had a dispute over how many days you wait before calling Marvel with the rest of the scripts.
Fortunately, Marvel learned the important lesson of never letting celebrity dictate their shipping schedule again and also the lesson that comics designed to capitalize on movie releases don’t sell.