That’s ‘Iron Man’. No ‘Invincible’, ‘International’ or ‘Infamous’. Really, Iron Man needs an adjective. On the basic of this issue, I suggest ‘The Understated Iron Man’… The cover promises a big slugfest with his greatest foes, but inside, all we get are two pages of Terrax the Tamer that may as well be marked ‘obligatory action scene’ and a couple of sides of actual Iron Man rogue Unicorn nicking a library book.
The cover is by the great Alex Ross, but this isn’t his best work – Iron Man is lost amidst all that sound and fury. I do like the new version of Tony Stark’s classic red and gold costume designed by Ross, it doesn’t need the extra lighting panels but it’s light years ahead of most of the looks of the past couple of decades.
So, the story. For reasons that aren’t explained, Tony Stark has cut ties with his company, pocketing uber-wonga, and he won’t be making any more hi-tech products for the public.
‘Machines should be building machines now.’ Does that make sense from a man who’s saved the world from the likes of Ultron and MODOK?
Rather than a compelling through-line, this issue is vignettes. Tony being challenged by a TV reporter on the deaths for which his tech is responsible. The Wasp dropping by his new New York pad to dump him. Car wonk talk followed by a game of chicken with street toughs that doesn’t work on the comics page. We see Iron Man tweeting to trolls. There’s a sad girl on the street playing violin and a Fast and Furious guy who signs… future supporting characters or just colour? Plus, an intense inventor type who’s probably old Avengers villain Korvac.
A lot of this issue is Tony holding a party for ‘old friends’, to most of whom he’s a total dickhead. The exception is old Avengers pal Patsy Walker, who dresses like Hellcat even when she’s not out fighting criminals.
She does get the magic togs on when Tony shows her his new suit and invites her out on patrol. How could a gal say no to that? Hellcat and Iron Man come across Unicorn trying to steal a Gutenberg Bible and things get intriguing. The ending is fun too. My favourite aspect of the issue, though, is the conversation between Tony and Patsy, which goes beyond the usual superhero banter and into the realm of longtime friendship.
I’ve not followed Iron Man for a while, but the last I knew he was dead and a DVD of himself, or something. I’m guessing he’s back to being fully human again. I’m happy to assume that’s the case, but writer Christopher Cantwell really should tell us a little about his hero’s anti-tech turn, such as how he squares it with his new internal AI system, which seems to have some say in how he uses his shiny suit. This isn’t the ‘next issue’, it’s the first of yet another volume – the point of renumbering is that new readers try the book, writers can’t assume everyone knows continuing plot points.
If Tony has found a way to rebuild himself, he seems to have left out his legendary charisma – I’ve never seen such a muted version of the character. He barely cracks a smile the entire issue, seeming happy only when he goes ‘out to play’ with Patsy. Again, this may be a plot point to do with the last series. The puzzling game of chicken, for example, may be Reborn Tony wanting to feel fully alive again… in which case, we can likely expect an Iron Man who takes too many risks. Or it could be Cantwell not being used to the character.
Artist Cafu, who I remember from Action Comics years ago, does a fantastic job with the visuals, with clear layouts and a Tony homaging the Bob Layton classic. Tony’s unusual party footwear, which goes entirely unremarked, is a delight. The visual highlight is Iron Man and Hellcat leaping out into the night, their joy in superheroing obvious… more such scenes would be appreciated. Heck, just change the name of the book to Iron Man & Hellcat and have done with it! Just, no romance – I’m sick of Marvel metas who only date other Marvel metas. Then again, Cantwell’s Patsy is far too smart to take on Tony.
Frank D’Armata is a skilled colourist, but I always find his work too dark; it’s realistic, but I’d rather have less naturalism, more comic book Pop Art. Joe Caramagna does his usual fine job with the lettering which, happily, is traditional rather than in the kiddie style favoured by many Marvel books.
All in all, I can’t deny the talent on display here, but the tone isn’t for me – a first issue should have more pizzazz. As is, there’s nothing to persuade me to come back next month rather than wait half a year and check out the second issue on Marvel Unlimited.