Welcome to The Marvel Rundown’s final look back at a pivotal moment from Marvel’s history, as new releases return to full-steam again next week. We’re going out with a bang this week, focusing on a true landmark from the House of Ideas, and for comics as a whole: the first entirely computer-generated graphic novel, Iron Man: Crash! Published in the late ’80s, the alt-future tale finds an aging Tony Stark nearing the end of his career. How well does the story — and the method by which it was created — hold up after all these years?
Check out our review of this important milestone in Marvel history, ahead in this week’s installment of The Marvel Rundown!
Iron Man: Crash
Written, Illustrated, & Lettered by Mike Saenz
Programming Assistance by William Bates
Reviewed by George Carmona 3rd
I love retro-futuristic movies and books. I give a ton of respect to books that have the crazy courage to predict the future, and Iron Man: Crash, billed as the first computer-generated graphic novel, checks those boxes. This graphic novel was part of Marvel’s Epic Comics imprint. Writer/Artist Mike Saenz, with help from Producer/Programmer William Bates, created this one-shot that takes a long view of Iron Man’s future and, in retrospect, makes some decent guesses.
If you’ve never heard of this 32-year-old title, that’s no reflection on you, as this was an experimental book trying to take advantage of what was considered cutting edge technologies and software to create the next generation of comic books.
In the then-future, with his identity as Iron Man public knowledge, Tony Stark and Stark Industries are in the midst of a joint venture with the Japanese tech company ESON to mass-produce the Somatic Amplification Vehicle (SAV), aka the Iron Man armor, for public release. Nick Fury is brought out of retirement to uncover the hidden powers behind a secret technological coup working to undermine this venture.
Saenz doesn’t pin a year to the story outside of Stark’s age being around 74. Stark takes a black market serum, Perpetuon, to maintain his youthful looks, at the cost of his emotions and relationship with love interest Maxie Graham, an underwater scientist (sorry, Pepper Potts fans, Tony has a different lady love in his future).
For something written in 1988, it is fascinatingly ahead of the curve story-wise in its depiction of digital information privacy, drone usage, cyber-warfare, and artificial intelligence.
Some of the futuristic projections are ’80s cultural touchstones, like their version of Facetime with their “WALKFONE”, the fact that the USSR is still a united global power, faxing and CD-ROMs still being a thing, and the US being in a ‘chip war’ with China (as opposed to a trade war with China). The influence of ’80s cinema is very apparent, as Iron Man sports a rail gun like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando, another innovation ahead of the War Machine armor. And if you were wondering, Tesla’s Cybertruck is part of this future.
Crash could use a bit of fine-tuning story-wise, though. The technobabble slows the book down a bit, and at one point Tony takes three full pages to fully armor up. Still, the book decidedly has the feel of a modern-day Iron Man adventure, capturing Tony’s need to be ahead of the technological curve. Tony’s inner monologue of the armor’s abilities and composition may slow the story, but in reading it you can imagine that this armor could exist in the real world.
In our current world of comics, you would be hard-pressed to find a book that doesn’t have some type of digital aspect to it, and the artwork for Iron Man: Crash is understandably way underdeveloped in its computer-generated execution by today’s standards. Saenz does give a decent breakdown to his creative approach to crafting the book, but the artwork might have been better served if it had all been done in Adobe Illustrator like the cover artwork because the interior art doesn’t hold up, and the rasterized grainy look works against the overall story. With today’s advancements in digital artwork and lettering, Crash could definitely be spruced up for a 2020 upgrade.
Next week, the return of new title reviews as Marvel’s Empyre event begins!