Tony Stark: Iron Man Volume 1: Self-Made Man
I know why many comic publishers aren’t very good at selling books to movie fans. There are a whole variety of reasons, ranging from selfishness (“I want comics like I read when I was a kid!”) to idiocy (“why would we want more women and other people reading comics?”) to simple inertia (“the way we’ve always done things is good enough”) and fanboyishness (“we’ve already told that story so let’s do something unusual!”) and greed (“why have one comic title and an easy starting point when we can have interlocked franchises and crossovers?”). But I still come out of superhero movies, particularly those for characters I never really cared much for in print, wishing there was a way to get another story before the sequel comes out three years later. (I particularly regretted the Aquaman relaunch last week that gave the character amnesia, making sure everything I liked about the film, which was mostly the lead’s good-hearted, self-aware earthiness, wouldn’t show up in the comic for a long while.)
Anyway, that brings me to Tony Stark: Iron Man by Dan Slott and Valerio Schiti. The collection of the first five issues, Self-Made Man, comes out soon, and I enjoyed reading the comics it contains, because it reminded me of what I liked about the movies.
There isn’t a single big story, which is refreshing, instead focusing on a number of characters working at Tony Stark’s technology company. (There is a continuing plot that isn’t resolved here, but each chapter gives something satisfying on its own as well.) In the first issue, Stark recruits a robotic expert who’s done something he couldn’t by focusing on teamwork. Introducing him to the company also serves as a great introduction to the new reader.
The business setting reminded me of another Slott series I really enjoyed, his She-Hulk run set in her law office. It allows for a variety of characters to play off Stark, as well as putting in any number of throwaway jokes and imaginative details, like a talking cat and a shared social network. One outstanding supporting character is Jocasta Pym, a robot working as Chief Robotic Ethicist. This addresses a known weakness in Stark’s history as well as beautifully mimicking today’s corporations and their hierarchies and officers.
There’s still a good amount of superheroing. Issue #1 has Fin Fang Foom, a beloved bit of history, attack. Throughout the battle, Stark is experimenting with techniques and wisecracking in the way readers love. Combined with the comic-book science, this is a lot of fun, with plenty of imagination, using the full possibility of the genre.
But that’s not all. There’s emotional impact as well, as issue #2 explores James Rhodes’ post-traumatic stress after his death and return. While Stark is back to his playful self, Rhodes has nightmares and needs a change in behavior and expectations. He’s more normal in how he can’t just shake off a substantial trauma.
There’s a lot happening in these issues, making for a substantial read. While Rhodes and Stark go after stolen technology, we also see Jocasta worried about making friends. She may be an artificial person, but she has feelings and concerns — and a boyfriend who’s a robot rights activist. The underlying theme is about identity, which ties back into the “returned from the dead” premise. Just as Jocasta wants to be confident in her soul, Stark wants to be certain he’s still himself.
Then there’s the issue where a dating app becomes super-successful but turns out to have been infiltrated by robots, which is why everyone gets such a perfect match for infiltrating the company. Plus, Janet van Dyne guest stars. The art is terrific, capturing the characters in ways I find authentic to them and drawing people, robots, tech, conversation, and action all equally well.
We’ve had science fiction approaches to Iron Man before, but this one puts the characters first, with a good deal of humor, which means I like it better.