[Contains SPOILERS for Invincible Iron Man #3.]
The world of Marvel has been full of surprises this year: The protracted philosophical showdown of Civil War II left scores of superheroes (and some fans) with a bad taste in their mouths, or worse. The aftermath found Tony Stark’s physical form, now altered from years of his own technological experimentation and implantation, lying in a comatose-like state with even brilliant scientists like Henry McCoy (Beast) unsure of how to proceed. Yet Stark's essence lives on, programmed into the Stark Industries' systems as an artificial intelligence - and gifted to his young protégé, Riri Williams.
When the teenage girl from Chicago took Tony up on his offer of training (and funding), Riri may have gotten more than she’d bargained for. Certainly, his years of combat experience and technical know-how are beyond invaluable to her impressive, if green, capabilities. But the Stark ego comes with another price tag. In the Invincible Iron Man #3, Riri Williams begins her trek into the world of superheroes in her freshly upgraded armor. She also faces the first major challenge to her emergent form... while Stark Industries faces some unique challenges of its own.
A Semi-Hostile Takeover
Following the chaos of Civil War II, with Tony Stark in less-than-operable shape, Stark Industries is slowly moving forward. Still, CEO Eric Lynch feels that the corporation has a definite power void – one that should be filled by him. He storms over to Mary Jane Watson, currently acting as executive administrator, and Tony's A.I. Friday demanding control of the company. To his surprise, they tell him that the Stark empire is now under the auspices of Tony’s mother – his real one, not his adoptive one – Amanda Armstrong nee Strong, the former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and pop star (as revealed in International Iron Man).
After shooing off the pesky, power-hungry CEO (who also happened to be a big fan of her musical career) Amanda decides to enact some changes. She puts the Stark Industries daily workings in Friday’s highly capable hands, retains Mary Jane's services, and sets about trying to help people – beginning with seeing Tony's last request honored. Apparently his tutelage of Riri demands a bit more personal attention from the billionaire, now that he's... unconscious.
An Ironheart Is Born
After getting put through her paces be A.I. Tony and his supersuit army, Riri returns to her garage to further streamline her armor. With a bit of help from her mentor, she manages to re-engineer her super-suit into a sleeker, more responsive format. As they work to tighten the systems and designs further, the subject of superhero names comes up. Tony suggests some less-than-inspired monikers like "Iron Woman" and "Fe-Male" (Fe being the periodical symbol for Iron), but nothing sticks. Going nowhere fast, A.I. Stark suggests she discuss the matter with her living friends - slipping into uncomfortable, personal turf when he inquires as to... why she doesn't have any.
While she battles a host of foes, including a giant monster, a fire-breathing creature, and the Rhino, the utterly logical computer Tony digs deeper into the touchy subject of her slain best friend and step-father. Understandably, she's had trouble dealing with the loss, and while the Tony worries that it's a potential weakness, Riri’s emotions aren’t an easy logistic to fix. After their heated discussion about random violence, the name "Ironheart" leaks out of Tony’s digitized mouth.
Before Riri has time to debate the title’s merits, though, they get a visit from an old Stark colleague.
Rescue to the Rescue?
As Riri and her on-board Stark debate life, the universe, and superhero nicknames, Pepper Potts glides in wearing her Rescue armor, also noting their joint failure to detect her shadowing them. After the initial weirdness of communicating with, in essence, the ghost of her former boss and significant other, Riri and Pepper get on like a house afire. Platitudes aside, Pepper warns her about the risks of the superhero life. As if to demonstrate her point, their super-suit bonding time is cut short by the sudden appearance of Tomoe in her Techno Golem armor, who begins to dismantle both of their suits with her Inhuman technomancy skills.
Brian Michael Bendis continues his intriguing and revealing Golden Avenger run with Invincible Iron Man #3, and as the overarching stories converge, with Stefano Caselli's gorgeous, emotive pencils and Marte Gracia’s lush colors creating the ideal ambiance, the conflict broadens from the emotional realm into the physical one. While the first three chapters have been slow and full of exposition, with major action sequences playing out as a backdrop for character development, the appearance of Tomoe brings the classic, super-villain element into play.
Bendis' stories are often best during the small moments, with interpersonal dialogue and characterization being one of his specialties, and Invincible Iron Man is no different. That said, his action writing and plotting, though, once they get plugging along, are also impressive. Civil War II may have had its problems – as any sequel with that many moving parts does – but his slow burn of his reveals are usually worth it, as fans of his Jessica Jones and New Avengers storylines can attest.
As Riri Williams comes into her own, with the help of everyone’s favorite egomaniac, her genuine test will come from figuring out how to move beyond her tragic past and face the major problems incumbent in her super-heroic future. The return of an old Iron Man foe, endowed with powers of technological-manipulation, promises to show off Riri's resourcefulness with and without her new suit of iron armor. And, while Tony might be a little invasive and Pepper is a brand new ally, at least she's not alone with her struggles any more.
Invincible Iron Man #3 is currently available online and in print.