Marvel fans have been accustomed to thinking about the end of the seemingly invincible Tony Stark, as last year’s Avengers: Endgame saw the first star of the Marvel Cinematic Universe save the world before his own untimely death. Given that Marvel has resurrected their old The End line of comics over the last several weeks with one-shot issues featuring Deadpool, Captain Marvel and more, it’s only right that the publisher is reissuing collections of the older The End stories for newer readers. Iron Man: The End presents a different sort of finality for Stark than the ones audiences saw in Endgame and while it lacks the emotional punch of that goodbye, this is still an enjoyable tale from the iconic creative team of David Micheline and Bob Layton.
That duo is responsible for some of Iron Man’s greatest stories that have become hallmarks for the character, such “Demon in a Bottle,” “Armor Wars” and more. Iron Man: The End is not on the level of those defining storylines — the one-shot suffers from constrained dimensions. It’s simply too big of a story for just a one-shot, especially when this is coming from a character-defining pair of writers. That’s not necessarily the fault of Micheline and Layton, as The End was an initiative on the part of the publishers, but the issues struggle to full encapsulate what it would mean for Tony Stark to put his days as both Iron Man and the world’s most famous businessman to rest.
Stark has never had much in the way of a protege. His egotistical nature has frequently dehumanized him even though he has no traditional superhero-like power set. His intelligence is nearly unparalleled and he would certainly never be considered an empath. It makes sense, then, that Micheline and Layton would turn towards a new creation, Nick Travis, to be Stark’s successor both as the man inside the Iron Man suit and the figurehead of Stark Universal, a futuristic version of Stark Industries with an Elon Musk-esque hankering for space conquest. The fact that this is a new character and not someone Tony has had a long-running relationship with makes the passing of the guard a little anticlimactic. This isn’t along the lines of Bucky Barnes picking up Captain America’s shield after Steve Rogers’ death.
There are two mindsets to approaching the creators’ decision to have Stark move away from his life’s work and passion. One would be to look at this one-shot at face value: it’s an alternate future story that showcases the psychological development and personal growth of Stark as his physical state continues to deteriorate with a newfound humbleness. The other viewpoint is to look at this story as sort of out of character.
That may come off as sacrilegious when dealing with a creative team of Micheline and Layton, two men who are responsible for the version of Tony Stark that the entire world knows and loves today, but it’s hard to buy at times. It’s a quick change of heart for Tony here in a matter of mere pages, which is one of the difficulties that comes with executing a story with this gravity in a single issue as opposed to a prestige-format mini-series in the vein of The Dark Knight Returns.
The pacing is a bit off, as the buildup is slow, which would be understandable for a weighty tale like this, but it’s a deterrent for a single-issue comic book. Just as things begin to get hot, the readers are left seeing Stark retreat to his retirement in outer space at the story’s close.
This isn’t to say that Iron Man: The End a bad book, as it’s still Micheline and Layton-penned Iron Man comic, making it a worthwhile read even if it’s simply for nostalgic purposes. For Iron Man lovers hoping to check out more tales from this creative pairing, this trade also includes old-school issues of Iron Man #116 and Iron Man #244 as a bonus treat.