THIS WEEK: After 25 excellent issues, Marvel’s current Tony Stark story wraps up with an over-sized celebration in Iron Man #25. Plus, Blade and the Winter Soldier both get one-shots, and more!

Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.

Iron Man #25Iron Man #25

Writer: Christopher Cantwell
Artist: Angel Unzueta
Colorist: Frank D’Armata
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Back-Ups By: Murewa Ayodele, Dotun Akande, Kurt Busiek, Benjamin Dewey, Gerry Duggan, and Juan Frigeri
Publisher: Marvel Comics

If you’ve been following this run of Iron Man from its first issue as I have, you might characterize it as a large-scale story driven by small-yet-powerful character moments. You might say it is a story in which Tony Stark has gone deep into space, been marooned on another planet, turned into a god, and pushed through it all as he’s worked toward personal growth. See, in addition to the big comics-y set pieces, this has also been a story from the beginning in which Iron Man has battled with his public perception, his own sense of self worth, his continued sobriety, and just overall how it feels to occupy his own head.

And these are all the reasons this run has been among my favorites, perhaps more than any other Iron Man comic in recent years. This run to me has had a perfect blend of new ideas, while keeping the protagonist and his struggle recognizable. To me, this run was built on a foundation of familiar Tony Stark concerns, drawn (refreshingly!) from the character’s long comics history rather than from the Robert Downey, Jr., big screen portrayal, which has dominated the characterization of recent Iron Man books. With this familiarity as a base, the story across 25 issues pushed toward big, new ideas, bigger than we’ve seen Iron Man tackle in sometime, all while incorporating other Marvel Comics deep cuts for some nice levity.

The result was a book that was to Iron Man as the recent much-loved Immortal Hulk was to Bruce Banner, a welcome and complex redefinition that didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. The high action for this run really wrapped up before this week’s finale, doing so excellently in Iron Man #24. What we get this week, though, is my favorite sort of ending to a long, well-done superhero run — an understated and borderline celebratory coda, although in keeping with this run, the celebration is complicated. In this week’s Iron Man #25, we find a suitably pensive Tony Stark reflecting on all he’s been through of late as he prepares for New York City to celebrate Iron Man Day in his honor.

This issue worked so well for me. Writer Christopher Cantwell’s script opens with a social media feed discussing Iron Man, a nod back to the first issue as well as to Tony’s ongoing concern about whether he’s a good person, played out in the kangaroo court of online public opinion. Circular narrative structure in the long-term is always something I appreciate, but what I really enjoyed most about this issue was the small scale of the problem Tony ends up facing. With the sci-fi adventuring and brushes with godhood now in the rearview, an understated Tony seeks to clear his head so he can enjoy the event in his honor, only to find a man who has passed out in the subway, ultimately trying to save one life belonging to the most vulnerable among us. This is a great canvas with which to wrap up an Iron Man run, putting the man over the iron, and letting the narrative explore the full consequence of Stark’s epic journey and the things that he has learned about himself.

This issue is also just gorgeous, with linework from Angel Unzueta, who has quietly been doing breakout work in these pages, after assuming main artist duties from CAFU, who opened the run. Unzueta’s work is clean yet powerful, as capable of giving us Iron Man soaring above New York City as it is conveying what Tony Stark is experiencing through well-wrought facial expressions. The connective visual element through this run has been the glossy colors of Frank D’Armata, who has gelled well with Unzueta just as he did with CAFU, making the artwork feel cosmic and futuristic yet a bit ominous, which is perfectly apt for the tone of this run.

The final note of this comic is one that we should of/could of maybe seen coming all along, that Tony — like any of us — may feel alone in his head some (if not all) of the time, but that’s far from the truth. There are people in the world, people who care for him — from Patsy Walker to his usual Avengers cohort — and it’s their care that really matters to our hero. It’s a nice reminder, and one that brings needed comfort, a wonderful ending to a run that won’t soon be forgotten.

In addition, the legacy numbering on this comic is Iron Man #650, which means it’s an anniversary issue with some fun extras in the back, from quick teases of forthcoming Iron Man stories by new creative teams, to a delightful Bronze Age throwback. I enjoyed it all quite a bit, and I can’t recommend it enough. Obviously, if you’ve been here from the start like me, you’re not missing this comic, but if you haven’t, I hope you’ll take this as encouragement to pick it all up in trade, you won’t be sorry.

Verdict: BUY

Rapid Rundown!

  • Blade: Vampire Nation #1
    • Mark Russell is best known in comics for biting satires like Second ComingBillionaire Island, and The Flintstones. For Blade: Vampire Nation #1, Russell is joined by Dave WachterDee Cunniffe, and VC’s Cory Petit for a one-shot story that puts Dracula’s recently-formed Vampyrsk in the spotlight. The overt social commentary is kept to a minimum as Russell and team instead tell a fairly straight-forward murder mystery/conspiracy story, though said mystery is not without political undertones. It’s an entertaining story that sets up the world well, and I wouldn’t be upset if this creative team was given more time to explore the country and Blade’s role in it. –JG
  • Captain America and the Winter Soldier Special #1
    • Spinning out of the current Captain America (Steve Rogers) storyline of a secret cabal, the Outer Circle. This shadowy organization has a shared history with the Winter Soldier and one of the most recognizable items in Marvel lore, Cap’s Shield. Writers Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly use the Winter Soldier as the reader’s point of view, exploring the origin of the Outer Circle in the aftermath of the first World War and its consecutive decades as the Circle members play their game of world control. A solid setup issue with some gritty art from Kev Walker, the pacing and storytelling make these secret puppet masters the true danger that they are. Now part of this organization it’s up to Bucky and his friends to destroy this group from the inside. –GC3

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