The story may be one that you think you know well. Millionaire playboy industrialist Tony Stark is one of the smartest men on the planet, CEO of Stark International, and in times of need, the golden avenger Iron Man. You ask any comic book reader, even the most casual one, and they can all rattle off at least that much to you and probably still have much more to say besides. Currently, he is featured in several Marvel titles every month and has been a major player practically since the day he was introduced. He has been everything from the brainy hero to the elder statesman to the most hated man in the Marvel Universe, but still the fans want more of him. He has been featured in two popular cartoon series, a direct-to-DVD animated movie and a blockbuster hit film with another one the way.With all that publicity and attention, there is still at least one adventure that the average fan will not even hear about until months after it has been released. That adventure is the prose novel, Iron Man: Femmes Fatales, written by Robert Greenberger and published by Del Rey Books.
Iron Man: Femmes Fatales is set in a slightly different Marvel Universe than the one currently featured in the monthly Marvel Comics. As Mr. Greenberger explains in a historical note at the end of the novel, the Marvel Universe is actually about 10 years old, and with a rolling calender put into effect, this would place the events of this novel around the year 2000. Iron Man has been around for a few years, and more heroes are slowly starting to appear. The Avengers are present, but the spy organization SHIELD is still in the throws of infancy. As a matter of fact, that is one of the major plot points in this novel, the creation of SHIELD.
We start the novel off with in the offices of Richard Andrew Stoner, a man who seems to be simply a high level government administrator staying at work late into the night. The work is hard and thankless, and he neglects his wife to do a job that no one else wants. Little about the man or the situation seem to raise any alarm, until he decides toÂ go home one night, This government bureaucrat has gained unwanted attention from a dangerous source. By the end of the prologue, Richard Andrew Stoner is dead. HYDRA has just killed the first director of SHIELD, practically before the agency could even take it’s first steps into the world.
We are quickly introduced to the key players in this novel. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, is trying to guide his company into a transitional period of leaving behind the military munitions that made them a force in the industry. At the same time, he is walking a line with the government by providing much needed supplies and equipment to the fledgling SHIELD organization, as well as trying to change his companies image to a more peaceful one with an eye on the future. A major player in the organization and creation of SHIELD, how much can he trust this new director, a man named Nick Fury.
Our antagonist are quickly established as well. Madam Hydra, the green-haired viper who answers to the Supreme Hydra, Baron Von Strucker, while at the same time plotting his down fall and her ascension to the head of one of the world’s most feared terrorist organizations. Additionally, Madam Masque has her own set of plans, as she tries to guide the criminal organization The Maggia to increased profits at the behest of her father, the notorious Count Nefaria. Both women will get dangerously close to Stark , and the consequences are bad enough to put the whole world on notice.
Once the stage is set, we quickly dive into the action as Tony Stark receives an urgent message that vital military secrets have been stolen from Start International computers, secrets that could prove devastating if they where to fall in the wrong hands. Hydra is working on getting their hands on the weapons they need to achieve their goals, and those goals are not conducive to world peace. Add to that the fact that much of the technology and weaponry has been obtained surreptitiously from Stark International, and Tony is forced to fight a war on two fronts.
The idea of a prose novel telling the adventures of popular superheroes is not new. For several years, Del Ray has been publishing prose books starring Marvel characters such as Spider-Man, the X-Men, Wolverine, The Ultimates and more. Usually, these books have enough in common with their four color counterparts that they are easily digestible for new readers or old fans. Iron Man: Femme Fatales is no exception. In this case, Robert Greenberger has not only the rich detailed comic book history Tony Stark and his metal alias to draw upon, but he also has the added advantage of a new generation of fans introduced to the character through the excellent movie release in 2008.
Greenberger successfully captures the feel of a Tony Stark who is still trying to understand his place in the grand scheme of world events. More than a industrialist but less than a leader, this Tony is one that has not yet come to terms with his alcohol addictions nor the weight that his every action has on the world around him. While in this novel, the general public knows that Tony Stark is Iron Man, it doesn’t seem to stop him from trying to continue his playboy ways. Those playboy ways also seem like a screen to hide a highly intelligent man who is juggling everything in the air, and praying that he doesn’t drop anything at an important point.
The neophyte comic fan or hardened sci-fi adventure fan will find this a great read; action packed and full of excitement. The die-hard comic fans will enjoy it not only for those reason, but for the little cameo’s that appear through out the book. Names like Kyle Richmond, Gabe Jone, Stane International, Reed Richards, Forge of the X-Men and more are peppered throughout the book and give a feel of not only a larger world right around the corner, but of more stories waiting to be told. The setting itself takes the majority of it’s existence from the comics, but the overall feel draws heavily upon the movie. I could not help but see Downey as Tony Stark, and every time Pepper Potts came into a scene, my mind’s eye cast Gwyneth Paltrow’s and her knowing little smile into the role. Other characters, such as Nick Fury, took on a more Marvel 616 appearance, and everything meshed into an entertaining story that left me wondering what the next move would be. I also wondered if there was more Iron Man adventures in store from Mr,. Greenberger, as a line on the very last page had me remembering one of the most famous Iron Man story lines of all time.
So, here is the bottom line. For the price of a paperback book you get a story that would probably take months to tell in the traditional format. Robert Greenberger uses his years of experience in the comic industry and as a novelist to weave a tale that excites you and introduces old characters and situations to you in such a way that they seem as fresh and new. No, there are no pictures, but the best illustrator known to man has always been the human imagination, and this novel gives you much fodder to draw the curtain back on your own theatre of the mind.Â Even if you are not normally a paperback novel reader, I would highly recommend this book. If you are an Iron Man fan, it is one of those unique experiences that will add to your love of the character for years to come.Â This is an experience that takes elements from all the incarnations of the character and melds them into one good read. Check it out as soon as you can. It is released today at book stores everywhere.
I give Iron Man: Femmes Fatales, by Robert Greenberger, 4.5 out of 5 stars.