Iron Man is getting a hard reboot this week, and I’m not talking about his technology. Christopher Cantwell, Cafu, and Alex Ross are bringing the character back to basics, and it couldn’t come at a better time. Not only is Tony Stark a more sullen and self-questioning hero after Empyre, but he also just came off a story arc by Dan Slott that made him question his identity. There’s a lot for the character to reflect on in this new series; plus, he’s got Patsy Walker back in his life.
The first thing you’re going to notice is the cinematic quality to the art by Cafu and color artist Frank D’Armata. As you can see in the preview, a normal-looking street corner turns dangerous fast as Iron Man pummels a villain through buildings. The tone of the book is a bit darker thanks to the use of shadow, and much of the book takes place at night. The glint of Iron Man’s armor is enhanced by this darkness, but it helps with the sullen mood of the book. The art very much dictates how you’ll feel while reading this, which puts you squarely in Tony Stark’s shoes.
That makes this book feel very different from the usual Iron Man book, both of late and historically. The character is typically free-wheeling, happy, and downright cocky. Here though, he seems to be slowing down and taking everything in. His decades-long desire to control things hasn’t allowed him to solve the world’s problems, so some life changes are in order. There’s a poignant moment later in the book with Patsy Walker reflecting on what Tony’s thinking that helps convey he’s still the same man, but he’s doing it all in a different way. That makes this issue feel accurate to the character, never straying from who he is when it could have easily been an abrupt change of pace for the sake of it.
This is a narrative change of pace from the usual superhero comic, too, feeling episodic with its pacing and cuts between scenes. There are definitive moves to clear the way for the new arc — like a cut to an old girlfriend to hammer home that that is over for now — but there’s also a sense of slow recalibration going on here too. With each scene we see Tony act slightly differently, make a choice that will change something in his life, or simply gives each moment time to breathe and let the character reflect. Expectations of this becoming a midlife crisis, or something worse, are also explained in a natural way. This is a narrative pivot for the character and Cantwell has crafted a story that’s believable, which is a tricky thing to do.
Having said all that, you can tell Tony is still underneath it all. There’s a clever use of a social media app — and the trolls replying that come with it — that helps convey how the public sees the character. He’s still himself, but he’s starting to realize maybe he doesn’t want to be. His true nature is still there and you see that in how he fights in an action scene, talks to Patsy Walker, and generally has a plan for things.
One complaint might be how slow the issue can feel, especially when it cuts to a scene that takes place over a single page to emphatically point out a relationship is over, or a new direction is being taken. It feels a bit over the top when it comes to some of these details and less natural to the flow of the book. In a way, the book feels like it is checking off boxes to ensure by the end Tony is cleansed of a lot of baggage. It works as far as rebooting things but does seem forced narratively here and there.
Iron Man #1 sets the stage for a new and exciting direction for a character who has remained the same for quite some time. That’s exciting. Iron Man is a stirring book about finding oneself and approaching your identity as a problem to solve, and we know Tony is good at those. Iron Man feels deeply personal and mature which makes it a riveting psychological drama.