(2008) Peter David, Titan Books, £6.99, pbk, 309pp, ISBN 978-1-845-76917-8
Based on the hit movie, itself based on Marvel's long-running comic title, this novelisation comes from the pen of the similarly long-running Marvel writer Peter David. Without having seen the movie, I can only judge his novelisation on its own merits.
The story follows Iron Man's Marvel origins fairly closely, with billionaire Tony Stark's imprisonment at the hands of Far Eastern communists transferred to Afghanistan and modern-day terrorists. To escape, he and fellow captured scientist Yinsen fashion an advanced armoured suit, powered by the reactor in Stark's chest that is keeping his heart from failing. In spectacular fashion Stark escapes while wreaking his revenge on those that threatened him. But a return to the world of business in the United States sees him changed, and he decides to use the technology to help others. Going by the novel, this is a very different superhero adaptation: no superpowered beings are present, and the plot is more politically charged than most. Rather than reeling out the same old messages we hear everywhere about race, the power of the individual, the importance of family, etc, Iron Man makes some very pointed remarks about the management and business of war. Granted, it is no more controversial than what one would find in the average Tom Clancy novel, but a superhero that criticises corporate involvement in the military is a bold step. Admittedly, the portrayal of war is fairly ambiguous. The 'terrorists' that imprison Stark are pretty faceless and their allegiance is never mentioned (they speak Arabic, which hardly narrows it down!), and their aims after securing Stark aren't dwelt upon. They are little more than the puppets of corporate America, and this is the message that sounds loud and clear throughout the story; business in war is bad. Which is fair enough, but the novel itself is just not interesting enough to grip you. It isn't until halfway through the book that any sign of Iron Man appears in a suitably spectacular fashion, and nothing else thereafter lives up to this. Perhaps it works on screen, but on the page it's a lot of build-up to the traditional superhero 'birth' scene, followed by a hard slog to the end.
As much as I appreciate the amount of work that Peter David has done on novelisations over the years (with this being the first that I've actually read), I do hope that the wry, ironic tone that fills this novel is not used anywhere else. The constant sarcasm internalised by the character really grates after a while. That being said, this is a pretty easygoing read with plenty of twists and suspense, and a plot that gives you more to mull over than, say, the latest X-Men. It at least made me curious to see how the film turned out, but I doubt that if I had seen the film first that this novelisation would have seemed any better than it did.
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