Comic book superheroes of all types typically go through a reboot or revolution of sorts every few years. Back in 1998 most of the Marvel heroes were coming out of “Heroes Reborn,” which completely rebooted the characters with fresh takes by Image Comics alumni Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld. Appropriately dubbed “Heroes Return,” all the heroes were put back in their place from where “Heroes Reborn” left off with a few twists. Kurt Busiek and mostly main artist Sean Chen had the task of bringing Tony Stark back into the 616 while putting their own spin on things. Overall, it was a success.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Kurt Busiek and Sean Chen return Tony Stark to the Marvel Universe – and restore the shine to Iron Man! As Tony rebuilds his corporation from the ground up, enemies old and new remind him his work is never done! With romance, rivalry and robots to keep Tony busy, can he help his Avengers teammate Warbird in her own struggle against his worst enemy…the one in a bottle? Plus, Shellhead must deal with a cold, calculated and very personal attack from his archnemesis – the Mandarin! Iron Man teams with Captain America to face the menace of M.O.D.O.K. and joins the Fantastic Four in an adventure to the moon! Guest-starring the Black Widow and James Rhodes: War Machine!
Why does this matter?
Running 504 pages this collection houses an interesting time when Iron Man was brought back to the normal narrative (and look) for the character. Collecting Iron Man (1998) #1-14, Captain America (1998) #8, Quicksilver #10, Avengers (1998) #7, Iron Man/Captain America Annual 1998, and Fantastic Four (1998) #15, this collection introduces new ideas and brings back classic villains. It’s a collection every Iron Man purist must have.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
There’s a lot to love in this collection, from Tony Stark hiding his identity and playing up Iron Man as his bodyguard, to Happy Hogan and Pepper getting a divorce, to Iron Man getting beaten up so badly only to find out the suit is slowly killing him. The drama is rich with this series. Kurt Busiek writes most of the issues collected here, although writers like Mark Waid, Roger Stern, and Chris Claremont are featured too. There’s an underlying looming threat that permeates the entire run, helping to link many of the one to three issue villains that pop in. Many of the classic baddies show up too, like Whiplash and a certain Chinese villain (who shows up with a rad dragon ship!). Overall the narrative is held strong with captions that get inside Tony’s always-thinking head, be it his worry for his friend’s divorce, or the fact that molten hot energy breaks his suit (which happens twice). There’s even a wavering love interest that appears early on and later who is also the daughter of the company that bought out his company.
Speaking of which, Tony Stark no longer owns his company in this collection and instead opens a new consulting company called Stark Solutions, a company that fixes problems for governments, companies, and even private individuals. It’s a for-profit business innovation company. Speaking of innovation, there are a few technological advancements made in this collection that we’ve seen in recent years, making it feel ahead of its time. Take for instance special web browser features Tony creates that are in use by every modern browser today, or how his home automatically plays the music he likes and sets the temperature to his liking as he enters. Apple HomeKit, anyone?
The art, for the most part, is good and gets the job done. The detail isn’t where it’s at these days, but it wasn’t the norm in 1998. Sean Chen draws the majority of the issues and the fight choreography and pacing is well done. Andy Kubert pops in for an issue and it’s fun to see how his art was as solid then as it is today and Patrick Zircher draws a few issues quite well too. Salvador Larroca draws an issue too and it’s amazing to see how his art has changed so dramatically since. Like the art, it’s entertaining to see how things were different 20 years ago, which includes dated technology being referenced like telegraphs, for instance. Nothing will date George Perez’s art though, which pops in for an issue for another delight to see.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
The heavy use of captions can feel dated and slow things down to a crawl. A single page of characters talking can take an eternity to get through due to Tony worrying about something or overthinking. It’s a style that you don’t see as much these days.
The only other negative might be the portrayal of Carol Danvers, who has a dicy backstory to begin with. This collection features a recap of her story which is bumpy to say the least, and it only gets worse as she deals with alcoholism. There’s an attempt to portray her alcoholism in an adult manner as a teachable moment of sorts, but it’s more of a false start than anything else. Her erratic nature — at one point she even drunkenly attacks Tony — leads to her quitting the team before she can be kicked off. Then later in the collection, she pops back in only to prove Tony wrong and save his life. The inclusion of it seems to be a way for Tony to reflect on his own alcoholism, and try to help someone get out of an ailment he himself faced, but it never quite reaches an emotionally satisfying place.
Is it good?
I had fun reading this dense throwback to Iron Man from 1998. It’s a different time for the hero with plenty of interesting things for him to overcome as he was being integrated back into the 616.