Comic Book Review: Iron Man: Director of SHIELD #17

The Knaufs continue to impress with their fine work on Iron Man. It is great finally getting a consistently good read on this title. Iron Man: Director of SHIELD #17 looks to be another entertaining issue. We have the return of the ultimate Iron Man villain in the Mandarin. I cannot wait to see what the Knaufs have in store for the Mandarin. And Tony’s reaction to his greatest nemesis still being alive should be interesting. Let’s hit the review for Iron Man: Director of SHIELD #17.

Creative Team
Writers: Daniel & Charles Knauf
Penciler: Roberto de la Torre
Inker: Jonathon Sibal

Art Rating: 5 Night Girls out of 10.
Story Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10.
Overall Rating: 6.5 Night Girls out of 10.

Synopsis: We begin with a flashback scene to five months ago at the An Hu Po state psychiatric facility in China. We see the Mandarin commenting how he is the lord of a castle of lunatics. That only mindless eyes are fit to witness his coronation.

The Mandarin says that the first will be the most painful. The first is the ice that imprisoned father’s heart and is his penance for his greatest sin, his greatest folly, his greatest loss… his son. We see a man take one of the Mandarin’s rings out of molten hot liquid and drop it on the Mandarin’s back between his shoulders Mandarin yells out the name “Temugin.”

We cut to present day aboard the SHIELD Helicarrier. Dugan tells Tony that the last place Najeeb was scene was at the An Hu Po state psychiatric facility in China. Tony says that the Secretary-General would never sanction an incursion into Chinese territory. Dugan comments that some things might benefit from a lower profile.

We see Miriam Sharpe on TV complaining how a mass murderer like Maya Hanson is allowed to pursue her research with SHIELD and using taxpayer money. We then see media speculation that Tony and Maya Hanson are having an affair. We then shift to Maya at Stark Tower getting a phone call from Jack Kooning, the Secretary of Defense. Kooning asks Maya to meet with him in order to discuss her Extremis abstract.

We cut to Sal Kennedy asking Tony if he has read Maya’s Extremis abstract yet. We then shift to Maya meeting with Jack Kooning and telling him that is no Extremis abstract exists. Jack doesn’t believe Maya. Kooning comments how there was a 97.5% fatality rate, but that Maya could bring that down considerably to between 60 and 70%.

Maya says that the answer is no. That Tony stuck his neck out for her and if it wasn’t for him she would be rotting in a federal prison. That Tony gave her a chance when no one else would. Jack asks Maya, a chance to do what?

We cut back to Sal Kennedy telling Tony that he recruited Maya because of the Extremis project. The only reason Maya is here is so Tony can suppress her research.

We shift back to Jack telling Maya that it is only a matter of time before someone else develops a virus similar to Extremis. It is Jack’s job to make sure that someone is one of the good guys. Jack says he has a state-of-the-art lab facility at a top-secret location ready for Maya. That with one phone call he can make it happen and Maya would simply vanish. She would get a new identity and all the cash, technology and manpower she would need. Maya declines Jack Kooning’s offer.

We shift back to Tony telling Sal that Maya moved in with him two weeks ago. Sal asks Tony if this is love or just part of the rehabilitation program. Sal says that they could use the Extremis virus to help them with their fight against the cyber terrorists. That currently they are seriously outgunned by the cyber terrorists. That it is biotech versus Stark Tech and biotech is winning.

Sal says that Extremis is the only option unless Tony is prepared for a good old-fashioned illegal incursion into China. That one way or the other they have to find head of this snake and cut it off.

We cut to Tony at his penthouse suite. Maya is asleep in his bed. Tony can’t sleep and calls Dugan. Tony asks Dugan to brief him on the Mongolian operation. Dugan says he doesn’t know what Tony is talking about. Tony says it is the plan that Dugan has been covertly planning for the last nine days. Dugan gets a big smile and says yes he can.

We cut to Dugan outlining his plan to invade China. We shift to Iron Man and his team of SHIED soldiers breaking into the psychiatric facility in China. The entire facility is completely empty. Iron Man sees something written on one of the walls in red paint. The language is not Chinese.

Iron Man then finds Najeeb’s body in the morgue of the psychiatric facility. Iron Man orders the body to be taken to the helicopter and for Maya Hanson to perform an autopsy. Iron Man then spies a forge in the operating room. Iron Man notes that a forge is a curious thing to have an operating room.

Suddenly, Iron Man and his soldiers are attacked by the inmates of the facility who have all been turned into cyborgs. They engage in massive brawl.

We cut to Maya and Sal performing the autopsy on Najeeb’s body. Suddenly Najeeb’s eyes open, and a large fibrous mass erupts from the chest cavity of Najeeb’s body. End of issue.

The Good: Iron Man: Director of SHIELD #17 was another good solid issue. The Knaufs continue to impress me with their strong writing and their unique take on the world of Iron Man. Iron Man #17 was a well paced and plotted issue. The Knaufs have a clear master plan for this title. Every issue has shown focus and direction. There has not been a single issue on their run where the reader felt the storyline was meandering around without any purpose.

I dig how the Knaufs are beginning to fold the Najeeb/global terrorism plotline into the new Mandarin plotline. The Knaufs are also doing a nice job weaving the Extremis virus plotline back into the main storyline. The Knaufs are smart enough to know that a good writer has to build off of what was there before he arrived on the title rather than ignoring everything prior to their run on a title. It is enjoyable to watch a storyline unfold organically as each story arc naturally evolves into the next story arc.

The Knaufs give us an enjoyable blend of drama, dialogue and action in Iron Man: Director of SHIELD #17. And that has been another strong point of the Knaufs run on Iron Man. Every issue has been rather well balanced.

The dialogue is well done. Each character has their own personalized external voice. The Knaufs have done an impressive job with the character development on this title. Strong character work is the foundation that the Knaufs have built their entire run upon. The quality dialogue and good character work lends to some fine chemistry between the various characters.

The one relationship that has been getting better and better is the relationship between Dum Dum Dugan and Tony Stark. These two men come from completely different backgrounds. However, they both have mutual respect for each other. And that respect grows with each issue. I dig how Dugan smiles happily once Tony tells Dugan to fill him in on Dugan’s secret plan to invade China.

The Knaufs have managed to do something that I thought was going to be impossible. They have actually gotten me to warm up a bit to Maya’s character. I have never liked her character ever since Ellis introduced her to this title. She has always been a rather boring and one-dimensional character.

However, the Knaufs are doing a good job trying to flesh out Maya’s character. As a result, Maya is becoming less and less one-dimensional with each issue. Of course, you knew it was only a matter of time before Maya started sleeping with Tony and staying at Tony’s penthouse. No woman can resist the Stark mojo.

The Knaufs continue to deliver one of the best versions of Tony Stark that I have ever read. I’m read to place the Knaufs’ version of Tony Stark up there with my all-time favorite version of Tony given to us by David Michelinie and Bob Layton. The Knaufs simply get Tony’s character. They understand that Tony was originally based on Howard Hughes.

The Knaufs understand that Tony is a playboy. He is an egotistical genius. Tony is a futurist. And above all, Tony is a true hero. The Knaufs understand that what makes Tony so wonderful is that he represents all the greatest hopes and possibilities of humankind as well as all the frailties of humankind.

More than any other hero, Tony shows the wide extremes of what a human is capable of being. Tony shows the genius that man is able to achieve. Tony also portrays the darkness that man can descend into. It is a wonderful dichotomy to see a character so egotistical and so brilliant and yet so weak as he struggles with his addictions to alcohol and womanizing.

I love that the Knaufs are really playing up the fact that Tony nails any and all women around him. I hated it when Marvel had Tony settle down and become a one woman man with his relationship with Rumiko Fujikawa. It was terrible. It is as unforgivable as a James Bond who dates only one woman.

So, it makes perfect sense that Tony would be sleeping with Maya already. And what makes it even more interesting is that Tony doesn’t really love her. Tony does care for her, but he is more concerned with keeping her close in order to keep watch over her to make sure she isn’t doing any research on the Extremis program.

And the Knaufs also give us another important aspect of Tony Stark: the adventurer. Tony has always been a maverick and it was cool to see him decide to team up with Dugan for an unapproved mission into China.

I am digging the return of the Mandarin. The opening scene to Iron Man: Director of SHIELD #17 was fantastic. That opening scene with the Mandarin was creepy and intense. Here we have the Mandarin who is handless and is having his rings burned into his back while the crazy inmates watch the “ceremony.” This eerie scene reminds me of Daniel Knauf’s excellent work on Carnivale. If you have never seen it then go buy or rent the DVD’s. It was one sick show. I loved it.

I dig that the Knaufs have the Mandarin handless. Back after the Mandarin “died,” his son Temugin was sent the hands of the Mandarin still wearing the various power rings. Temugin then became the new Mandarin. Here, the Knaufs reveal that the Mandarin is still alive, but his hands are missing. So, the power rings are being fused into the Mandarin’s back. That is a sinister and wicked idea for Mandarin’s character.

I like that the Knaufs have taken their time with the return of the Mandarin. This slow and steady return for this character simply increases the anticipation and tension in the reader. I am curious to see how Mandarin ties into the terrorists groups if at all. And I’m also curious to see if the inmates who were turned into cyborgs are the work of the Mandarin or someone else.

The Knaufs give us a great hook ending. I wasn’t expecting that to happen. I cannot wait to see what in the world is going on with Najeeb and this growth that is “birthing” from his body. I really love the mystery the Knaufs are crafting on this title. The Knaufs are giving us a weird story where the reader had no idea what is going to happen next.

The Bad: I just can’t get into Sal’s character. I simply don’t like his character at all. Maybe it is because he reminds me of all those annoying aging hippie professors I had in college. At any rate, Sal is one character that I wouldn’t mind seeing killed off.

The fight scene was kind of a confusing mess. It just didn’t flow that well for me. I don’t know if the problem is with how the fight was plotted or if it was with how the fight was drawn.

Roberto de la Torre is a talented artist. However, de la Torre’s artwork is just not right for this type of title. Roberto’s artwork is perfect for a title like Daredevil, Iron Fist, Captain America or X-Factor. Roberto’s artwork works well on a darker and grimmer title.

Iron Man is definitely not one of those types of titles. Iron Man is a sci-fi themed title that requires an artist with a smoother slicker style and a real attention to detail.

Overall: Iron Man: Director of SHIELD #17 was another solid issue. The Knaufs continue to crank out good reads on this title. I really appreciate what the Knaufs are trying to do on Iron Man. The Knaufs clearly like Tony’s character and are probably the only Marvel writers that portray Tony as something other than a total dickhead that is inconsistent with Tony’s past.

Yeah, the Knaufs are giving us a different take on Iron Man than we have ever gotten. Sure, the mood is different than what you normally get on Iron Man. But, I feel that the Knaufs are also giving us an Iron Man with more depth, complexity and artistic talent than we have ever gotten before.