But those new takes still hewed to what made the characters special to begin with, in a back to the future sort of way. So when Warren Ellis’ six issues of Iron Man kicked in the door in 2005, it did so reexamining the character’s origins and historical motivations, while also pushing Tony Stark’s futurist gimmick to its natural and prescient end.
The introduction of a biohacking sort of nanotechnology became so influential that many of the beats from Iron Man: Extremis made up major plot points of Iron Man 3, the highest grossing installment of the Robert Downey Jr.-starring franchise that launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Maya Hansen appears, and then turns, Aldrich Killian is weak and an enhancile breaths fire. I guess his white domestic terrorist identity was a little too edgy/real for the screen.
You might even be able to say the concept of something small re-engineering a person’s body predicted the rise of CRISPR and other gene-editing technology, but then again, it might not have been that hard to see it coming 15 years ago. Still, a lot of people were (and still are) expecting human enhancement to come from technology and not biology, so it was definitely a different direction to go in.
It’s a different look at Stark’s past, too, maybe even a whitewashing of it. He was never really an arms dealer, you see. He just took those weapons contracts to use the money for other things that would help people. The Iron Man was the first example of that, in his head before the shrapnel ever hit his heart. And wait, why does everyone still think Iron Man is his bodyguard when he revealed his identify three years prior?
The art in Iron Man: Extremis is similarly dichotomous. Adi Granov paints nice portraits, but man are they ever static. There’s very little indication of movement at all here, which makes the scenes with several pages of no dialogue land worse than they might ordinarily. It’s almost like a commercial break chopping up the narrative. The colors are pretty perfect, though, appropriately dark for the grittier bits and just bright enough for the old red and gold to stand out.
It’s kind of hard to believe with how renowned the story is, Ellis only wrote six issues of Iron Man. That says something right there, but it might even be more indicative of how far comics have come that if you actually sit down and read Extremis, it seems a little bland by today’s comparisons. It’s certainly well-constructed — there’s a fine throughline of Stark wanting to simplify and make sleeker his armor, the pacing is better than in most books and you do root for the (flawed) hero at the end.
But you can’t help but feel like you’ve seen it all before. Maybe Extremis was so influential that everyone else fell in line behind it moving forward. Either way, as good as it is, a current reader picking this up for the first time may wonder what all the fuss is about.