After the Marvel Cinematic Universe made him one of the most iconic characters of the big screen, Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man has endured a rocky and bizarre journey in the pages of Marvel Comics. Another superhero civil war, countless technological threats, and even death itself were unable to completely destroy Tony Stark, but they've certainly changed his standing in Marvel's fictional comics continuity. After tackling Tony's newfound life as an artificial intelligence construct for nearly 20 issues of Tony Stark: Iron Man, Marvel is preparing this Avenger for a major conflict in Iron Man 2020. The arc's first installment, which arrives in stores today, is a competent, yet frustrating read, one that can't decide if it wants to be a character-driven take on sentience or a joke-filled action-adventure.
The issue opens from the point-of-view of Arno Stark, Tony's adopted brother who spent years worrying about an oncoming threat called the "Extinction Entity." As both the head of Stark Unlimited and the newest person to take the Iron Man mantle, Arno attempts to fight off the robot rebellion—which he believes is preparing for the Extinction Entity—by any means necessary. From there,the issue bounces around to nearly the entire ensemble seen in Tony Stark: Iron Man as they deal with Tony Stark's recent disappearance.
That constant ping-pong'ing in focus has a well-intended, but jarring effect, and might result in a read that isn't accessible to readers looking to jump right in. If this is the first time a reader is meeting Arno, they might not quite know what to think of him, as he essentially shifts from a well-intentioned antihero to a mustache-twirling killer at the drop of a hat. The characterization of a lot of the series' ensemble reads as being all over the map, in part because we spend the majority of time with Arno and his partner-in-crime, Sunset Bain. It's really only in the issue's final pages, when we learn the circumstances of where Tony Stark has gone, that the series begins to have a clear emotional heart.
The wide scope of the series also results in some major tonal conflict, as nearly every major reveal is overshadowed by jokes and snark. While it's safe to assume that any Iron Man book will have quippy one-liners, many of the ones in this issue venture towards the awkward or uncanny. It's difficult to take the threat of an alien, robot apocalypse or society's shift in robot sentience seriously when it often comes across as filler to get to the next fight scene or joke.
While the narrative occasionally suffers setbacks, the art from Pete Woods helps make the overall read much more enjoyable. The aesthetics and backgrounds become cinematic in some pages, and one reveal in the final pages is executed pretty perfectly. A handful of panels are shaded and colored bizarrely, but never in a way that is incredibly distracting. And the lettering from Joe Caramagna works well within the world of the issue, especially when it comes to some of the technologically oriented sequences.
There are enough intriguing concepts that could turn Iron Man 2020 into a pivotal read, but it's genuinely hard to tell in this debut issue. This series can't decide just how serious or spunky it wants to be, even as it deals with big, society-breaking ideas that feel perfectly suited for Tony Stark. A handful of key moments and decent art make this an okay read, but it feels like Iron Man 2020 #1 is carrying over way too much baggage from the most recent run.
Published by Marvel Comics
On January 15, 2020
Written by Dan Slott and Christos Gage
Art by Pete Woods
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Pete Woods