If there's been any throughline across the tapestry of Iron Man's comic book tenure, as well as the subsequent hit movie franchise that it inspired, it's the idea of humanity. That ethos has bled into so many elements of Tony Stark's existence, whether as a futurist who flies around in a purposefully-inhuman metal costume, an out-of-touch billionaire, a substance abuse addict, or some combination of the three. In the wrong hands, that struggle can become incredibly heavy-handed, or can be eclipsed entirely by cheap gimmicks and changes to Tony's status quo. This is what has made the current Iron Man run, which has managed to be both a grandiose and cameo-filled space opera, as well as an intimate and agency-driven character study, an absolute revelation. The first chapter of that run, titles "Books of Korvac," comes to an end in this week's Iron Man #19 with a perfectly understated and infinitely compelling finale – one that also sets a perfect foundation for what's to come.
After a cosmic battle that traversed multiple planets and drew in everyone from Doctor Doom to Frog-Man, Iron Man #19 takes things into a much more intimate context, showcasing Tony and Michael Korvac's fight in Central Park. Without getting into spoilers, what ensues from there gets to the root of both characters' sense of self – and sends Tony on a much-needed new path.
One of the biggest strengths of this Iron Man run has been its desire to not need to prove anything, choosing not to rely on any sort of flashy conflicts or superfluous changes in armor to keep readers invested. That decision has then made the genuinely cool moments of the previous eighteen issues, from the Home Alone-inspired fight in Galactus' fortress to the long-awaited return of characters like Stilt-Man and Big Wheel, all the more satisfying and remarkable. Iron Man #19 keeps that mindset front and center, with a series of events that are given an operatic, but smaller-scale tone. It's a tone that ends up being incredibly sympathetic towards every character involved, something that not only feels rare for a climactic superhero ordeal of this caliber, but allows for those conversations about humanity and kindness to shine.
In a way, no one could thread the proverbial needle of everything this issue needs quite like writer Christopher Cantwell, whose script is a revelation through and through. The altercation between Tony and Korvac plays out like the best string of monologues from Cantwell's work on Halt and Catch Fire, and allows every single narrative beat and line of dialogue to perfectly simmer. The emotional work that Cantwell is doing for Tony—and Korvac and Patsy Walker and everyone else who has graced this series—feels like the perfect successor to Bob Layton and David Michelinie's iconic "Demon in a Bottle" storyline, while also being something uniquely earnest and modern.
As always, Cantwell's script is perfectly accented by Cafu's art, which provides the spectacle and visual gravity that the plot requires. The choices Cafu makes with the layout of every page and panel deserve to be closely studied, both for pure aesthetic purposes and for narrative impact, as readers are left feeling every punch or every burst of energy from Korvac's body. Frank D'Armata's color work is a breathtaking compliment, particularly with the uses of reds and purples at key moments. And for an issue that almost-entirely consists of people talking to each other, Joe Caramagna's lettering is able to convey so many emotional subtleties, further helping with the emotional whirlwind that the issue presents.
Iron Man #19 exceeds every single expectation readers could have, making its final conflict between two titans of the Marvel universe incredibly personal and provoking. The end result is beautiful and unbelievably satisfying to witness, and cements this run as easily being among the best solo stories Tony Stark has had in his decades-long tenure. This issue proves that the "House of Ideas" is at its best when it focuses on the profound and complicated ones, and that it can use them to create genuine magic.
Published by Marvel Comics
On May 4, 2022
Written by Christopher Cantwell
Art by Cafu
Colors by Frank D'Aramata0comments
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Alex Ross