01/11/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 308 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US), $10.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-50685-6.
check out websites: www.delreybooks.com and www.bobgreenberger.com
Whatever you do, don't be put off by the cover. Although it declares Iron Man's comicbook origins, the story is written with prose rather than pictures in mind. It is also more Marvel Universe than the recent 'Iron Man' film. Author Robert Greenberger places the events in this story around the time when Nick Fury becomes director of SHIELD (that's Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law Enforcement Division in case you're wondering what or which acronym is being used) and various factions are seeking hi-tech. Of all the companies noted in this book and wry smiles for all of you who will recognise them, Stark International is the top of the tree although chief shareholder Tony Stark wants to get out of the munitions industry even if he is supplying the newly formed SHIELD with its devices. I think what startled me the most though was how many people know Stark is Iron Man. Greenberger doesn't make a song and dance about it but drops clues in about his collapse and his chest plate being exposed in public. That, if anything, gives a stronger reminder that events have moved up from the 60s to the 80s or 90s, especially when the computer technology and emails remind us more of our reality. The old problem of protecting your civilian identity from harm might be deemed a problem. However, Stark is pretty well isolated by his company and he does have a rather more, shall we say, bulletproof chest than some. It became very easy to slip into Stark's world and how he runs his company and his super-hero alter-ego, not to mention its limitations. His Mark IV armour can still fit into a briefcase and not the heavier design from the film. I hope he comes up with some plan to sort out his need to re-charge so much but then again, the Iron Men armour was designed more for short sprints than marathon usage.
As the 'Femmes Fatales' title suggests, Stark has other problems to deal with. Leading the New York branch of Hydra is Lady Hydra, resplendent in her green tints, and because she isn't known for that yet and has gotten Stark interested in her romantically. Meanwhile, at Stark International, Madame Masque in disguise has infiltrated the company on behalf of her dad, Count Nefaria, for the Maggia family. There is an interesting but unsaid comparison between the two ladies as both have scarred faces and they never meet in the book although one takes advantage of the other's schemes to get what they want. Saying too much more will definitely be in spoiler zone.
The one advantage prose has over comicbook is that it can allow the reader to be carried along by detail described than purely action. If you're familiar with the characters, then the novel embellishes it. Greenberger's prose had me reading it intently throughout. If the rest of the books in this series are as good as this then I'm going to be an avid reader. Even if you're not a comicbook fan but liked the film then I think you'd also probably enjoy this book as well.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA