Marvel sure does love visiting the not-too-distant future, often with mixed results (sorry, fans of Ravage 2099). I’m sad to report that the publisher’s new Iron Man 2020 trade paperback, which collects the somewhat obscure character’s various comic book adventures, falls on the more underwhelming end of the spectrum. Still, there are some bright spots in this collection–which could appeal to fans of Dan Slott’s current Tony Stark: Iron Man run.
But more on the connections to modern Iron Man stories toward the end of this review. Right now, we need to turn back the clock to 1984, when Marvel decided to offer readers a glimpse to what was then the far-flung future: The year 2020. It was in writer Tom DeFalco and artists Herb Trimpe and Barry Windsor-Smith’s four-issue Machine Man mini-series that the world met Arno Stark, the Iron Man of 2020. That’s right, Arno Stark–son of Morgan Stark! Tony Stark’s first cousin once removed! And, the man (with questionable morals) at the head of the Stark empire!
It’s always interesting to see the cracked mirror reflections of our favorite Marvel heroes, and that’s Arno in a nutshell. Whereas Tony may have started out selfish, he’s learned time and time again what it means to be a hero. Arno’s the type to abuse his tremendous power for personal gain. Just one look at Iron Man 2020’s Doctor Doom-like helmet and you immediately know that this isn’t your father’s Shellhead.
Unfortunately, while Iron Man 2020’s always fun to look at, he just can’t hold a candle to the real thing. Arno, his selfish motivations and comically sinister mustache just don’t leave you wanting more. And that’s a problem, as this TPB collects his various appearances, from a random Amazing Spider-Man annual to a What If? short story. While some of the stories in here are clearly connected, others just seem random (with little context) and that detracted from my overall enjoyment.
Now, while the writing here did little to excite me, there is some wonderful, early art readers may find appealing. The Machine Man mini-series with art by Windsor-Smith, for example, is gorgeous to look at. This is the acclaimed artist’s usual, intricately detailed pencils unleashed on a cyberpunk future.
Also fun–getting to see early pencils from Bryan Hitch on an issue of the Marvel UK series Death’s Head. It’s interesting to see how Hitch’s pencils evolved from a more Alan Davis-like art to the realistic style Ultimates fans know and love.
And, of course, it’s always entertaining to read decades-old comics that predicted the future. Do you remember the Anti-Robot Movement of 1996? Yeah, me neither. There are also a few Easter eggs in the six-part Astonishing Tales: Iron Man 2020 story for X-Men fans, including Beast and Trish Tilby’s blue-furred, reporter daughter Edna Tilby and the buff bird man that is Warren Worthington IV.
Still, that Astonishing Tales story, in particular, seemed like filler material. It all made me feel like Iron Man 2020 makes for a fun guest star… but the main attraction in a 300-page collection? Eh, not so much.
But (and I told you we’d return to this), if you’re reading the current Iron Man series, you may want to consider reading this TPB for background. Machine Man, Jocasta (who appears in Machine Man) and Sunset Bain (also in Machine Man), are all playing prominent roles in Slott’s first few issues. And, the modern Arno Stark, Tony’s long-lost brother from Kieron Gillen’s run, is set to appear in Tony Stark: Iron Man #5. Hm… perhaps Marvel chose to rerelease these stories at this time for a reason. Could Slott, the writer who gifted us with the sinister Superior Spider-Man soon give us an Iron Man 2020 we can all get behind?
While Iron Man 2020 is a mostly lackluster collection, I know there’s an awesome Iron Man 2020 story just waiting to be told. Until that day comes, I can really only recommend this TPB to Iron Man (or Machine Man) completists. At $34.99, the price may be a bit steep for readers willing to take a risk on Arno.