Page 45 Review by Stephen
"So you're the one who's been giving my son a hard time all these years.
Along with Matt Hollingsworth who keeps the colours subdued until the cauldron comes out, line artist Alex Maleev absolutely owns this title.
He was Bendis' creative partner on what was the finest run ever on DAREDEVIL and, more recently, this series' immediate predecessor INTERNATIONAL IRON MAN. It was there that we first met the reformed, harmless and armourless Victor von Doom, smooth-faced, suited and booted following events in SECRET WARS. Now, following the events in CIVIL WAR II, there is slight a gap in the market for an Iron Man. So Doom swaps armours in order to atone for decades of home-grown tyranny, international terrorism and the world's worst overuse of the term "Bah!" (which is a little like "Meh!" but a lot less dismissive and much more infuriated).
All three books are fab, but as reference you only need INTERNATIONAL IRON MAN to comprehend the dynamics between Doom, Tony Stark (now actually absent yet virtually present) and Stark's ex-belle, the exceptional scientist Amara who is, I believe, falling for Doom against her own dear wishes and much better judgement. If she isn't then I do apologise, but it's subtly done and I really do think so.
With the aid of Stark's armour, Doom is now using his years of prior knowledge to take down former associates in crime with very little effort, tearing their home addresses out of his Filofax as he tears down their laboratories.
He's expending neither much effort nor half so many words as he used to: it's all very admirably efficient. Less is more when you are as powerful as Doom and this is where Alex Maleev comes in. He renders Doom far more of a presence through relative relaxation: an inexertion, both in battle and conversation.
The very first page shows Doom in his original armour, gauntleted hands folded one over the other in the most keep-your-own-counsel, foreboding manner imaginable, speaking only when spoken to and when provoked; sometimes not even then. He takes one solitary action which is instantly effective, concluding the one-way conversation in a manner akin to putting the phone down on a cold-caller, but with additional benefit of knowing you won't be cold-called again anytime soon.
Honestly? I think the second panel of this collected edition is the best rendition of Doom of all time. I'd have stopped talking right then.
Glaring from under his cowl (gauntlets folded, yes) Victor growls - without growling anything - are you seriously going to fuck with me...?
Fast-forward to the heavily fortified S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier floating high above the world's surface, and its Commander Maria Hill is fobbing off a pedantic phone call from her mother whilst painting her toe nails. Now, I know that's in the script so credit as always - always - to Brian Michael Bendis, but Maleev nails the multi-tasking mundanity of applying polish while listening to bothersome shit which you really shouldn't have to take except from your mom. One of those actions requires real concentration.
What happens next requires even more concentration, but I would be exceedingly distracted throughout if I thought my socks had smudged the wet varnish.
Alex Maleev Exhibit C comes from Switzerland whither Doom temporarily re-houses Amara, and the mountainous backgrounds are - in their truest sense - awesome. Hollingsworth once again fires on all restrained cylinders and the effect is tranquil, idyllic
I should probably be telling you the plot.
Doctor Doom has reformed and wants to set the world to rights, empowered by Tony Stark's armour. No one believes him, especially former Fantastic Four adversary Benjamin Grimm. So that gets in his way a bit.
Doom is disgusted by what he finds has become of his kingdom, Latveria, which lies in rubble and under the command of a military rabble which should, he now believes, have transformed his prior dictatorship into a thriving democracy. Instead, there aren't even any schools to go to, so the kids clutter up the streets, carrying rifles with live ammunition.
He's also disgusted to find Ben there.
Things, however, are looking even more grim for our Benjamin whose rocks are coming off, clink, clink, clink, one at a time, because someone in the shadows appears to have made an unexpected return from the dead.
"You need not speak."
"It's... She says she's..."
"I know. I knew when I walked in. Hello, mother."
But there's someone else waiting in the wings whom Doom knows so well, and he should no longer exist, either.
I gave you one clue very early on.
Exceptional for Marvel right now, this is written with all due care for the past, but with a refreshingly thorough reassessment in the light of sweeping changes which comes from a lot of lateral thinking.