Tony Stark vs The Mandarin, ‘nuff said.

(Panini Books)

USUALLY when reviewing a title from Marvel’s Ultimate Universe line, I take pains to explain how this reality differs from the mainstream Marvel U, recapping some of the events which have affected the imprint in recent years, and concluding by highlighting the bold new direction it has embraced as of late.

None of that is necessary here, for far from being immersed in the Ultimate Universe and celebrating its divergent nature, this series actually seems to be far closer in tone and content to Marvel Studios’ Iron Man movies, even down to focusing on some of the characters from the latest cinematic instalment.

Don’t take that as a criticism, because as a generic Iron Man book it ticks all the boxes, and delivers a quality narrative which fully embraces the opportunities to attract new readers presented by the success of the latest film.

It’s just that the Ultimate Iron Man is in danger of losing some of the characteristics which made him so much more entertaining than his mainstream counterpart – his snark, his arrogance, his excessive boozing, his vulnerability and his sentient brain tumour (yes, really!) – for the sake of presenting a version of Tony Stark which might as well be Robert Downey Jr in every other way.

The narrative itself focuses on an attack upon Stark Industries by the mysterious Mandarin, part of a plot to discredit the company and bring down its founder which has its links in Tony’s father Howard, and how he built his firm into a global industrial powerhouse.

(Interestingly, it ignores the two previous Ultimate Iron Man mini-series by Orson Scott Card, in favour of a new take on Tony’s younger years.)

Writer Nathan Edmondson has obviously been given a brief to include the Ultimate versions of James Rhodes and The Mandarin, and some degree of creative freedom to put his own spin on each, avoiding presenting a version of Stark’s arch nemesis which owes anything to his mainstream Marvel interpretation, or Ben Kingsley’s stand-out role in Iron Man 3. Meanwhile artist Metteo Buffagni is obviously more comfortable with the technological aspects of the story, as his human figures and environment are often lacking in depth.

By no means a bad read, and neatly setting up possible sequels, but to really stand out any future solo series for the Ultimate Iron Man character needs to work harder at finding its own identity, rather than cribbing together a “greatest hits” collection from the mainstream comics and movie series.