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Book Review: Iron Man – Beneath the Armor by Andy Mangels

* Genre: Nonfiction, Media Tie-In, Graphic Novels
* ISBN: 0345506154
* ISBN-13: 9780345506153
* Format: Paperback, 224pp
* Publisher: Del Rey
* Pub. Date: April 2008

Sometimes reading about fictional characters can be almost as fun as reading the stories themselves. If this were not the case, there would be no controversy of the Harry Potter encyclopedia that J. K. Rowling hates so much. There would be no need to have a Star Trek or Star Wars encyclopedia (both of which I read cover to cover in high school, thrice). Such nonfiction works add to the experience of a book or series we enjoyed immensely – be on the look out for a biography of Robert Jordan in the coming years, mark my words � and nothing jump starts this phenomenon better than the movie industry.

So with the immensely successful release of the Iron Man movie a couple of weeks ago, you are certain to be able to walk into your local bookstore and find several re-printings and new volumes on this rather iconic character. Publisher Del Rey and Author Andy Mangels� contribution is Iron Man: Beneath the Armor a retrospective look at the comic book hero from his inception up to the recent release of his first live action film, starring Robert Downey Jr.

Thoroughly researched, Mangels� book takes us all the way back to Iron Man�s first appearance in Tales of Suspense, and looks at creator Stan Lee�s influences. From there the reader progresses through the birth of Iron Man�s own comic, the constantly shifting roles that Tony Stark/Iron Man play in the Marvel Universe. Much of this story is told from interviews that the artists and writers had given over the years, and Iron Man�s story comes to light through the eyes of his creators. Mangels then brings all of these interviews together to show the recurring theme of the Iron Man character, the concept of an ordinary man doing ordinary things. Page after page this comes through, and yet all the while we learn the strange and convoluted history of Iron Man.

Anyone familiar with the comic book hero will know that his story is one of the most complex in the Marvel universe. His comic book was killed and brought back numerous times, had occasions where only four books were produced in a year, and even grew from a more kid-friendly character to an angst and guilt ridden adult one. Mangels skillfully shows all the various incarnations of Iron Man and deftly explains the whys and wherefores of the various directions the Iron Man comic has taken.

I had always wondered why comic book characters would appear in other comics, or would have side stories unrelated to the original. Ever wonder why the TV character you loved to watch as a kid bares only superficial resemblance to the character of today? Or why Iron Man�s back story changed so many times? This all is explained in Iron Man: Beneath the Armor in an engaging manner. Even those readers unfamiliar with the comic will learn about how the comic book industry works in this work. But Mangels doesn�t bog the reader down in excessive facts.

This glossy, full color book does have some difficulties. Some of the quotes that Mangels� chooses to help us understand the character of Tony Stark/Iron Man can tend to keep ringing the same bell, even when coming from different people. This can feel repetitious. The watermarking that the book uses can also be distracting. Some of the text is overlaid on top of a picture or design, but the designs were not made subtle enough, resulting in some of the words fading into the background. This causes the reader to have to peer closely at the words, causing an uncomfortable squint, which hurts after a while.

Iron Man: Beneath the Armor also has extensive character profiles (almost a full quarter of the book) which are very helpful, especially in understanding the evolutions of the characters. Anyone researching the characters will find these useful. They are also just fun to read, much like when we read a biography of a famous celebrity. We feel closer to the character and that much more connected to their story.

As a supplement to the movie, Iron Man: Beneath the Armor is superb. As a work in its own right, it is extremely helpful in understanding the comic book industry by examining the permutations of the character of Iron Man. All Iron Man fans need to add it to their library, collectors should use it as a resource for identifying missing issues, artists will learn about the re-envisioning common to comic books, and writers will learn about how even the most established character can be taken in new directions. I highly recommend Iron Man: Beneath the Armor by Andy Mangels as a visual and intellectual feast.