Review by Ian Keogh
Brian Michael Bendis is a fine writer, but some projects he’s taken on aren’t ideally suited to his strengths. Among these are a wonderful facility for sitcom smart banter, creative concepts, surprising use of Marvel’s lesser villains, and an open-eyed and uncompromising view of government protective agencies. Applying to this series alone is the interesting idea that beyond an artificial intelligence version of Tony Stark, every prominent cast member is a woman. The downside of Bendis’ writing is that all too often his characters are nothing more than smart mouths, vehicles for his speech patterns, all too many of them a single voice. That voice is intelligent and quick witted, but can also be smug and irritating, and Bendis will too often extend a scene beyond any natural life because he’s set a good rhythm going. Choices opens with what amounts to engineering genius Riri Williams, Ironheart, being offered the use of Stark’s labs. It takes eight pages of banter, pauses for emphasis and gushing awe to convey that single point. It’s not that Bendis can’t be compact. The sample page is Riri’s morning routine as described by a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and it’s astute and brief in defining her personality. This isn’t the norm. That’s more likely to be Bendis awkwardly shoehorning thoughts about Tron or Freaks and Geeks into the script. What relevance do references to a film from the 1980s and a short run TV show cancelled in 1999 have to the supposed teenage to mid-twenties audience? The dialogue’s smart, just a poor fit for these characters.
The decompression irritates because in among it are some unpredictably good ideas that it takes an age to arrive at. Another Bendis strength is to take what may sound stupid and make it work with charm and panache, which happens here as Riri travels to Latveria, the Eastern European kingdom formerly run by Doctor Doom. The set up is extended, but Riri’s period in Latveria is cute and satisfying.
In the previous Ironheart, Stefano Caselli’s armoured action scenes weren’t very impressive, and that’s improved as he becomes more used to the character, and the stock superhero interludes look good, using some unusual viewpoints. A strong aspect of his art is a facility for facial expressions and quite apart from being needed to indulge the Bendis banter, it’s well used in scenes featuring conflicts of interest with S.H.I.E.L.D. It also applies to Riri herself, whose poses and looks are ideally matched to the accompanying narrative captions.
A final chapter deals with how some core cast members met Tony Stark several years previously, Kate Niemczyk, Taki Soma, and Kiichi Mizushima illustrating their individual stories. It’s lightweight page filler, seemingly designed to pad out the series until it merges with Bendis’ other Iron Man material in The Search for Tony Stark. There was a time that the actual plot content in these six chapters would have occupied half that amount without any loss of understanding or sympathetic impact. Anyone’s whose love of smart dialogue transcends an irritation about it substituting for story will consider Choices to be better than a two star rating.