Review by Frank Plowright
This is a strangely compromised collection dipping back and forth through Iron Man’s history in order to bulk out the presentation of what when first published were 48 recent pages drawing a possible line under Iron Man’s career. That speculation occupies roughly a third of the collection, and it’s fittingly written by David Michelinie and Bob Layton, jointly responsible for two Iron Man runs lifting the character from mediocrity.
However, this time, they can’t pull off the same trick. ‘The End’ appeared a year after the first Iron Man film, and already looks very dated in comparison, especially when taking into consideration the premise being that Tony Stark is now considerably older, so it’s set well ahead of the film. His time as Iron Man has taken its toll, and he’s suffering from degenerative nerve damage, and desperately trying to establish a new solar power generator as his legacy, but it’s being sabotaged. The story follows a generally predictable fall and rise arc, although deserves some credit for taking a more optimistic route than other looks at Marvel heroes during their final days. Bernard Chang comes up with some neat new armour designs, but it’s otherwise unremarkable art.
Far more reflecting the cinema Iron Man is Matt Fraction and Kano’s impressive brief sequence of Tony Stark trapped in Afghanistan, his memory gone, and attempting to recreate his first armoured suit. The full story of that follows, as presented by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Don Heck from 1963, which remains a solid concept, if clunky in the execution.
Three Michelinie/Layton collaborations from better times close out the volume, oddly sequenced, beginning with a digitally tinkered version of Stark in Vietnam meeting Jim Rhodes for the first time. It’s okay, a little tongue in cheek, and amusing seeing Rhodey spliffing, but the art combination of Joe Brozowski and Layton commit crimes against human anatomy, which is constantly distracting. So is the remastered colour, which already looks more dated than the original flat colour.
Michelinie and Layton began on Iron Man by finishing off someone else’s plot. Enthusiasm is high and there’s a piece of clumsiness with unfortunate consequences reflecting the opening story created decades later, but the spark of the new present in 1978 has now expired. However, although using a more generic style from the one he’s known for, there’s no faulting John Romita Jr’s art.
Layton draws the final story, another with constantly misproportioned people, and while giving Stark a perm in 1987 was the height of fashion, it’s now laughable. He’s in a bad way in other respects, confined to a wheelchair, given to self-pitying moping and stuck in a story that drags on way too long. The Fixer is more trouble than he’s ever been before, the flashback to the earliest Iron Man armour has no novelty in a collection where it’s already been seen twice, and the best scenes are those featuring Rhodey and a reformed criminal.
All things considered, if you want Michelinie and Layton’s Iron Man you’re better off heading for a collection drawn by Romita Jr.