In my first Comicscape column I posited that 15 years ago no one would have guessed Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, would be the crux of the Marvel comic and cinematic universes. Iron Man was going to lead the way to a wonderous land of prosperity where we will finally get movies based on Captain America, Thor and the holy grail- The Avengers? It was almost unthinkable. At the time, Iron Man was an important part of what Brian Michael Bendis was going to do with his time on the Avengers comic, but he was definitely not the center of attention. One pitch perfect tease of the film (a year in advance) at San Diego Comic Con, and the edict at the House of Ideas probably changed almost overnight. Iron Man was the lynchpin, not Spider-Man, not the X-Men, and not Ben Affleck in a Daredevil suit. It's kind of amazing that your average person knows Pepper Potts, Howard Stark, the arc reactor and War Machine as household names. When trying to look from the past into now, it still seems almost random that Iron Man became the one to connect with the masses, yet looking at it with hindsight, it actually feels a bit brilliant. Iron Man hits on so many different ideas- wealth, tech, wit, charisma, and old fashioned hard work, we now have to amend our previous disbelief, and wonder why no one thought of this sooner.
Here we are, just a day away from the release of Iron Man 3, and once all the hoopla and box office numbers die down, the question will arise- where does the cinematic version of shell head go from here? This has nothing to do with a dip in quality, I can say with confidence that the film is fantastic, but how the character fits into the cinematic universe, and the actor that portrays him, are rife with questions. Of course Robert Downey Jr.'s contract will get an extension for Avengers 2, but what about Iron Man 4? Is it an "if", or is it a "when"? Guardians of the Galaxy is set to be Marvel's next big thing, wouldn't a little Iron Man go a long way on selling that film to the public? It's worked for the comic...
Speaking of the comic- where does Iron Man fit into the new Marvel Now! era of books? As I mentioned above, the comic universe took its cue from the film pretty quickly, Tony Stark gained quite a bit of influence in the comic world, and why shouldn't he? Obviously the comic influenced the films, but the films rubbed off on the comic even beyond raising Iron Man's "Q". The snark and the manic tendencies have seeped into the ink, and a welcome dose of humor as well. There are more Avengers books than I can count at present, and Iron Man factors into many of them, Marvel has even enlisted him as a member of the newly re-launched Guardians of the Galaxy, new cosmic armor and all. Tony Stark gets around, but what about the core Iron Man book?
Like I said, Tony gets around, and currently the core Iron Man book is taking its cue from Guardians of the Galaxy, and making Iron Man a galactic citizen. The first arc saw him deal with the last vestiges of Extremis (a plot point in the new movie), and now he's taken to the stars for some adventures that aren't so close to home. He's got fancy new cosmic armor, and a new A.I. named P.E.P.P.E.R., naturally. This new arc begins, in true Stark fashion, with Tony attempting to make time with an exotic, purple skinned female from a race known as the Voldi. This courtship ends with some hilarious results, but things get real pretty quickly. It turns out the Voldi worshipped, and secretly siphoned power from a cosmic entity you may be familiar with- The Phoenix. Since Tony was instrumental in finally "defeating" the Phoenix, he's persona non grata among the Voldi. In fact, he must stand trial. Lucky for him he has a friend in a rogue robot named 451. 451 was part of some celestial record keeping pantheon, but eventually decided he could strike out into the galaxy, and actually "help". This works for Tony at first, as 451 has him invoke an archaic Voldi law that lets the charges against him be settle in the arena, and it turns out the Voldi aren't known for their combat skills. Unfortunately, 451 has bigger plans, and while the Voldi are distracted, he steals their greatest artifact- their "Heart". It was the one thing keeping their race out of the watchful and judgemental eye of the Celestials, and now that they have been exposed the Celestials come calling, and wipe out the entire race. This obviously doesn't sit with with Tony, and he goes from Space Knight to Space Detective, hot on the trail of 451.
It's been a very enjoyable read so far, and the revelations in Iron Man #9 definitely could be considered "game changers". Tony finds a piece of his past he never knew existed in the hull of an abandoned space ship. Without giving it away, let's just say it's very "Iron Man 2". See, once again we have the influence of the films directly on the page, and that's OK by me. The films have their own great ideas, and to see the influence work in reverse just makes everything cohesive, without feeling like a mandate from above. Writer Kieron Gillen has taken Iron Man in a refreshing direction (how many times can he fight guys in metal or business suits?), but smartly took one of the most compelling aspects from the cinematic universe, and has used it to make Iron Man feel like a must read. So, if you are on geek overload due to the new movie, then I highly recommend you keep that buzz going by picking up the current Iron Man book. You can start with Issue #6, which starts the "God Killer" storyline, and 'ole shell head's adventures won't have to end when the credits roll.
Joel Rickenbach is a curator of cult cinema at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA, and can be heard every week talking film, TV and other geekery on the You’ve got GEEK podcast. Follow him onTwitter and hilarity will no doubt ensue.