The Iron Age has been one of the most interesting projects that no one seems to be talking about. Rob Williams has constructed the backbone of what could have been a major event, and he's brought in a few other talented writers like Christos Gage, Jen Van Meter and Elliot Kalan to help him build the story, and there are also a cool team of artists on boards as well, including Ben Oliver, Ron Frenz, Lee Weeks, Rebekah Isaacs and Nick Dragotta to give it life as well. It's even laid out well – an Alpha issue, three story issues with multiple writers and artists contributing chapters, and then an Omega issue coming up next. No massive, sprawling, never-ending cacophony series with a billion tie-ins. It's just a really cool and interesting story.
It could have massive repercussions throughout the Marvel universe if they wanted it to. The world has been destroyed by an enemy nobody saw coming, and Iron Man has been thrown back in time to 80s-era Marvel continuity and forced to go on a scavenger hunt for time machine parts in order to try and stop that from happening. In The Iron Age #3, he finds himself wedged smack dab in the middle of the Dark Phoenix saga – a really crucial tipping point for the X-Men. This could and maybe should have been a big deal. Oh well. It's still a damn fine and quite entertaining team effort from a lot of really cool people.
This week's issue gives us Todd Nauck on art duties and Louise Simonson writing the lead story about the modern-day Tony Stark stumbling into the life of a pre-X-Men Alison Blaire, aka the Dazzler, whose pop star career has barely begun, and she's still struggling to make enough scratch to pay her rent – so much so that she's taken a gig to play at a Hellfire Club party. Stark has a hereditary membership to the club and insinuates himself into the shindig, as he knows one of the pieces of the classic Dr. Doom time platform is on the premises somewhere. Stark looks noticeably older than his counterpart in this era, and it doesn't help that he hasn't slept in days and looks like absolute hell. The upside is that everyone knows him as a stone cold drunk, and his tragic alcoholism has been a handy cover to explain how crappy he appears to everyone who runs into him. So, hey, there's a reason for everything – even being a reckless boozehound!
Williams then returns for the second chapter with Roberto De La Torre's drastically different and very moodily modern art style, showing us how deeply intertwined Iron Man now is with the Hellfire Club's machinations and manipulations of Jean Grey – whose Dark Phoenix persona is what gets plucked from the time stream to destroy the modern day world in the first place, and who is the reason for a devastating setback for all of Tony's herculean, bleary-eyed and desperate scrambling throughout this entire story.
There's a weird and fascinating sense of nostalgia in this series, not just for us getting to see Luke Cage Power Man, disco Dazzler and the old Iron Man armor with the lamentable nose, but for Tony Stark himself. He's walking through this old time period he was completely drunk all the way through, marveling at how many dead heroes he runs into – the Wasp, Johnny Storm, Nightcrawler – and how young and idealistic everyone seems to be. He's also coming to realize how much he misses having a secret identity to help him out of jams, and how much slower and more frustrating his old armors seem to be now that he's all Extremis and what-not. This Tony Stark is well and truly humbled in the face of all that's happened – an obscure enemy he mistreated causing the end of the world just to spite him, seeing his own pathetic drunken stupor from the outside and witnessing how drastically it affected his friends, and so on – and that's something that's needed to be showcased ever since the legendary Civil War dickishness.
However, even a humbled Tony Stark isn't a completely timid wallflower. As he's lamenting how often he's discussed how impossible it is to change the past with Reed Richards, he finds himself saying "I'm Tony Fucking Stark. When have I ever listened to other scientists telling me what can and can't be done?" * That just feels like a complete full-circle redemption and reaffirmation of his whole character. Admittedly, I haven't been reading Iron Man's own books for a while, as I'd been soured on him for far too long due to his irritating roles in event books, but The Iron Age is really making me want to read about this guy on a regular basis again. You can't really have much higher praise for a book.
This series is just compelling, meaty sci-fi time-hopping comic book goodness, with emotional weight when it counts, wry comedy when it can and a great sense of how the modern versions of our beloved superhero characters tend to look on their own pasts, which is kinda the same and kinda different from how we tend to look at the good ol' books we grew up with.
*The f-bomb is tastefully replaced with ampersands and dollar signs in the actual book. I just like profanity.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING: 9/10