Iron Man #1 Review: A Refreshing and Necessary Upgrade

Over the past decade-and-change, Iron Man has evolved from a relatively niche character to a pop culture icon, appearing in countless films, video games, and other media. But depending on who you ask in the comics community, recent Iron Man comics haven't often risen to meet Tony's new found popularity, with runs that have ranged from unremarkable to downright baffling. After the bloated and essentially-inconsequential Iron Man 2020 arc, Tony Stark gets a fresh start in a new ongoing from Christopher Cantwell and Cafu and it's an unbelievably promising one. Iron Man #1 is the sort of back-to-basics relaunch that Tony has needed for years—one that uses the weight of his history to tee up a soulful, intriguing narrative.

Iron Man #1 follows a brief span of days in Tony's life as he balances his reputation as Iron Man with his personal desire to rediscover who he is. As the issue moves along, Tony tries to establish a new-ish life for himself with varying degrees of success, and crosses paths with Patsy Walker a.k.a. Hellcat at a party. Together, Tony and Patsy are thrown into an unexpected new mystery—one that is sure to turn Tony's relationship with his own technology (and the world at large) on its head.

Tony struggling with both his public persona and his personal trauma is certainly nothing new at Marvel Comics, with decades of past Iron Man comics trying to chase the emotional gravitas of 1979's "Demon in a Bottle." But in recent years that conflict has been dramatically muddled by a sense that, no matter what hell Tony Stark is put through, literally or metaphorically, the power and allure of Iron Man are a constant in the Marvel universe. Along the way, Iron Man stories have arguably lost the thread of why Tony suits up in the first place, and his aspirational, futurist approach to being a superhero and public figure.

Iron Man #1 effectively grounds Tony and his motivations by pointing out that, once you take away the prestige of his alter-ego and expose him to polarization in the public square, he isn't sure who he is anymore. In a sense, it feels like the antithesis of the iconic "billionaire, genius, playboy, philanthropist" line from the first Avengers movie, but also true to the root of who Tony has always been as a character. In an era with more billionaires in the public eye than ever—all of them possessing the power to shape our politics or our way of life without pushback—it feels necessary and refreshing for Tony to wrestle with the repercussions of his actions and technology. With Cantwell at the helm, this approach isn't a surprise; he has a stellar track record of stories about humanity and technology with She Can Fly and Halt and Catch Fire, but there's still something near-revolutionary about seeing that approach applied to Tony Stark's internal conflicts.

Iron Man #1 deals with that conflict by disavowing it altogether, as the issue peels back or simply does away with the many events and additions that buried Tony in continuity. The "lampshading" of various stories Tony has dealt with ranges from impactful to amusing. One sequence, in particular, takes an overly-casual approach to what was previously one of Tony's biggest interpersonal relationships. So while this new start for Tony might not have many flashing pieces of technology or a rogue's gallery of supporting characters, that is for the best, as the story at the center feels unapologetically Tony's.

Tony still zigs when the world expects him to zag, but he's doing so in a more personal and active way. Hellcat's appearance in the issue feeds that in an unexpected and incredibly satisfying way, both because she's deserved a prominent Marvel return since her solo series ended in 2017 and because she works as a surprisingly strong foil for Tony. While many of the characters usually in Tony's orbit have something to gain by Tony being a rich, beloved superhero, Patsy is able to cut through the noise and see Tony as the flawed, but admirable person that he is. While there's no telling if Patsy will make future appearances in Iron Man, she at least helps the series get off to a great start.

Cafu's art provides a stellar complement to Cantwell's writing, establishing a visual tone that is perfect for both the highs and lows of this issue. The aesthetic is darker and more photorealistic than recent Iron Man stories have been, but that works to its favor and further grounds the issue in Tony's emotions. Once Tony properly suits up in his Alex Ross-designed Iron Man armor, every panel of it is genuinely thrilling to witness, and conveys a sense of aspirational realism not unlike that in the first Iron Man movie. Frank D'Armata's color work might be the unexpected all-star element of the issue, as it creates an incredibly soulful mood with browns, greys, and an occasional pop of color. Joe Caramagna ties it all together with his lettering, which allows even the most esoteric line to feel significant and grounded.

Iron Man #1 proves exactly how timely and timeless Tony Stark can be in 2020, when paired with the right creators. This debut issue might not have everything fans have grown to expect from Iron Man, but it has so much more—a soulfulness, an earnestness, and the perfect blend of aspiration and consequence. This is Iron Man as he should be narratively and visually portrayed in comics, both within the context of the Marvel universe and our current society. Midway through the issue, Tony remarks that "we need to remember what it's like to be human." While there's no telling how the rest of this Iron Man run will take form, its debut indicates that Marvel has finally remembered what it's like for Tony Stark to be human.

Published by Marvel Comics

On September 16, 2020

Written by Christopher Cantwell

Art by Cafu

Colors by Frank D'Armata

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Letters by Joe Caramagna

Cover by Alex Ross