In pre-Socratic Greek philosophy, there was a belief held that when something or someone underwent a change, the thing they were before dies. You can’t be two things at once, right?
In comic books, there’s a similar mentality that’s used for a more pragmatic purpose: to change a character, do so by first killing them. After the events of Civil War, what character needed changing more than Tony Stark?
Mark Millar’s Civil War epic nearly ruined Iron Man as a likeable character, so Mighty Avengers writer Brian Michael Bendis set himself the task of saving Tony by changing him, but not in the way we might think. Not by a longshot.
The story begins inauspiciously enough. The newly formed Mighty Avengers have a battle with Mole-Man and some of his monster minions. This has been done so many times before it’s fairly routine by now. Then, at the end of the first issue, right as he’s about to confront Mole-Man (spoilers ahead), he changes shape right in front of his entire team. When the dust settles, the Mighty Avengers stare at where Iron Man was just standing and see… a naked woman.
Not just any naked woman either. He looks a lot like Janet Van Dyne, better known as The Wasp, who happens to be on the team. A short time later, it’s revealed the person behind it all isn’t a person at all: it’s Ultron. Ultron is an android who was created a long time ago by Hank Pym and has been popping up again and again over the years in different forms, but no reboot was quite as dramatic as him possessing Tony and turning him into a woman.
The first task for the Mighty Avengers is to turn Tony back into a man, which is no easy feat. The team dynamic at this point is pretty unbalanced. Near the start of the first issue, a flashback is shown of Tony Stark and Carol Danvers (Ms. Marvel) choosing who the new team will be. Their choices are limited since Captain America is dead and much of the superhero community dread Tony, especially his former teammates in the New Avengers.
He ends up recruiting Ares (the God of War), The Sentry (perhaps the most powerful character in the Marvel Universe, who’s also dangerously depressed) and the world’s most highly trained operative Black Widow. Oh and Wonder-Man joins in too. Those all sound like heavy hitters to me. To round out the team, The Wasp is called in.
The series proves that powerhouse teams don’t really work, even if that wasn’t Bendis’ intention. When you have someone as powerful as The Sentry on a team, it puts a damper on the suspense. It then gets weird when a team of incredibly powerful individuals then fight a naked woman for five issues.
As the saying goes, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt, and someone does get hurt – big time. In a Machiavellian move, Ultron retreats from battle just long enough to murder The Sentry’s wife in cold blood. Why anger someone so powerful? Why kill a civilian? Oh well. The Sentry brings her back to life somehow.
The team are left wondering if Tony is dead, or if he can be changed back. To test out the theory that he’s still in there somewhere, they make a logical choice: shrink the God of War Ares down to a microscopic size and send him on a fantastic voyage (cue Coolio) into the inner workings of Tony Stark. In place of hemoglobins, Tony’s bloodstream is flowing with Ultron’s hardware, and Bendis doesn’t pass up on the opportunity of making the defeat of Ultron resemble the destruction of the second Death Star, even allowing Ares to use the line “Almost there… Almost…” from A New Hope.
Mighty Avengers: Ultron Initiative is available as a graphic novel for $4.99. The story’s a bit too goofy to be thrilling, but it’s worth checking out to witness the weirdness as well as marvel at Frank Cho’s artwork. The colorist Jason Keith is noteworthy for his use of light pastel color schemes at a time when comics are preponderantly dark.
As it happens, the story didn’t quite fix Tony Stark as a character, but Matt Fraction‘s run on The Invincible Iron Man did.
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