PUBLISHER: EPIC, 2003-2004
WRITER: JOHN JACKSON MILLER
ARTISTS: STEVE ELLIS, JOE CORRONEY
One of Marvel's less successful ventures under Joe Quesada was an attempt to revive the Epic label, which had been founded in the eighties to allow the company to publish more adult, creator-owned properties without bringing about the censure of the Comic Code Authority or sullying their wholesome image. Triumphs of the original included the translated colour version of Akira, Groo the Wanderer, Stan Lee and Moebius collaborating on the Silver Surfer graphic novel Parable and Atomic Age. Less successful were frequent works featuring scantily-clad female warriors and uninspired literary adaptations like Clive Barker rubbish and William Shatner's Tek Wars. The revival however was only really noted for two things - Mark Millar's misjudged teen romance Trouble, a story about apparent revelations for Spider-Man's parentage that was rendered totally pointless by not being in the main continuity anyway, and for lasting less than a year after drowning in creator submissions.
Very little made it to completion but one book that did was a six-issue Crimson Dynamo mini-series by superfan John Jackson Miller, part of the 2003 Epic remit being to find new creative blood by letting some fresh names play with minor characters from the Marvel Universe. The Crimson Dynamo had of course long been the Soviet counter to Iron Man, a government-sponsored battle suit which had a series of pilots. Miller choses however to take the story from the more sympathetic first version, Anton Vanko, who defected to the USA and was then killed by assassins back when Iron Man was still sharing Tales of Suspense with Captain America.
The story is set in the present and focuses on Gennady Gavrilov, a teenage slacker who discovers the helmet to a prototype Mark 2 version of Vanko's original Crimson Dynamo armour, unwittingly causing he rest of the armour to reactivate and begin rampaging towards him from its' distant storage. Gennady unwittingly aids the suit in the belief he's playing a computer game when actually he's controlling the suit's rampage through a post-USSR Russian army trying to prevent the thing getting to Moscow (where Gennady lives). He's actually an amiable enough lead with enough charm to bring off the story.
The problem is there's just not enough plot to fill six issues. Gennady is under pressure from his parents and school for being smart but lazy and a little bit of a criminal, has an internet relationship with an American girl, has an American weapons inspector fighting his corner and a French merc named Devereaux also after the armour on his case but it just doesn't make for anything particularly exciting, with many of the dynamics quickly solidifying and turning into repetition. You can't help but feel a more experienced writer would have compressed a lot of it into about half the number of issues. And the reader is in for disappointment if they're after actually seeing Gennady don the Crimson Dynamo armour as it only happens in the closing stages of the sixth and final issue, while an Iron Man cameo happens entirely by radio link with Tony Stark all but admitting that he's not interested enough to actually head over and help.
On the plus side most of the characters are interesting enough even if they don't evolve much while there's what seems to be a well-researched look at life in post-USSR Russia, a chaotic and corrupt place where the old days aren't missed universally. Overall though it's an inconsequential if amiable little side strand of the universe featuring an incarnation of the Dynamo that never really went anywhere.