Iron Man has gone through a lot in 2019. Between Avengers: Endgame and Dan Slott’s first 11 issues of the brand new Tony Stark: Iron Man, the character is practically unrecognizable these days. It’s not too surprising given he came back to life at the start of Slott’s run — hence why “Stark Realities” is very much a series focused on Tony figuring out his new identity. Through wild, high-tech ideas and deep, trillion dollar therapy, Iron Man is reborn for a new age of Marvel Comics in this week’s recent trade paperback release.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Arsenal, the monstrous robot that once took on all he Avengers, is back in an all-new way. Who does it serve? What are the secrets it’s guarding? And how will they rock Tony Stark’s world to its core? The trap that’s been building for some time has finally sprung.
Why does this matter?
Who Tony Stark is and what his character will be about is solidified in this collection. Slott took over for Brian Michael Bendis and in some ways, he closes the door on Bendis’ ideas while in others he carries things forward.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
To say this story arc is epic would be an understatement, as it balances chaotic action, multiple characters, and deep truths quite well. This collection opens with Stark Industries’ eScape going completely haywire as the supervillain Controller has turned an online gaming platform into a real-world threat. Everyone logged in and playing the game thinks they’re fighting digital enemies, when in fact across the globe they are killing innocent people. Things couldn’t be worse and that doesn’t even mention the fact that the head of Stark security is being mind controlled, Tony’s mom is trapped in the eScape, and Tony is going through some serious identity issues.
Speaking of identity issues, it’s quite clear Dan Slott and co-writers Jeremy Whitley and Jim Zub are changing who Tony Stark is for a new era of storytelling. We learn some deep truths about Tony in this story, including a possible sibling as well as what Tony is after being reborn. It gets heavy. To make matters worse, Tony Stark is basically downloaded into the eScape system as his body sits motionless in the real world. The character is essentially forced to come to realizations that are seriously hard to swallow — all the while, he has to defeat Controller and regain control of a gaming system that’s killing people. It culminates in a satisfying conclusion, a new armor to beat all armors, and a new rocky road for Tony to navigate going forward.
The art by Valerio Schiti (with Paolo Villanelli on issue #9) is quite good at showing a chaotic battle on multiple levels that could have easily been too hard to follow. Between the reality-altering nature of the eScape to the drama going on in the real world, I have to marvel at how good Schiti is at environments and backgrounds. There’s a lot to hold onto to understand where things are occurring, but you won’t be lost, not once. Schiti draws with excellent energy. Wasp looks positively elastic in her scenes, and wacky, anything-goes eScape characters have plenty of energy too. The eScape protector that boots players is also incredibly impressive — huge and hulking as Iron Man attempts to get some kind of control over his game. The same goes for Iron Man’s Godbuster armor. Jocasta’s continued turn at being more human is an interesting element thanks to the subtle clothing choices and the hilarious boyfriend moment here too.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
The terrible failure of the eScape is a hard pill to swallow. Why did Tony Stark make this gaming world so people can get hurt? How can that even work if they’re just wearing a mask? Shouldn’t there be protections in place to avoid this? Shouldn’t Tony be smart enough to know a villain would exploit it and turn it against the world? He comes off naive and a bit stupid for not thinking any of this through. One could argue he’s arrogant, but then it all gets wrapped up way too easily. I won’t spoil it, but the conclusion seems to suggest Tony can just pay his way out of lawsuits and damages.
Is it good?
An epic story that enacts lasting effects on Tony Stark and who he is going forward. With good art and crazy action, you can’t ask for much more from a superhero comic book.