Who would feel sorry for a billionaire? Christopher Cantwell and Cafu send Tony Stark through a crisis of self in Iron Man #1 (opens in new tab), a promising mix of new and old that attempts to reconnect ol' shellhead with his mechanical past in a world where he's alienated everyone.
Written by Christopher Cantwell
Art by Cafu, Frank D'Armata, and Alex Ross
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Writer Christopher Cantwell paints a portrait of a man under constant siege. After stepping away from the board of Stark Unlimited, Tony Stark is focused on the truly important things in life: buying classic American cars and drag racing kids. Businesses are falling over backward to give him tens of millions for a few hours busy-work and people won't stop sending him mean tweets.
Luckily, Cantwell understands that it can be difficult to sympathize with Tony's problems. It's the kind of thing we've seen in real life a thousand times, accurately depicted and framed with about as much sympathy as the average person has for Elon Musk's 30,000th PR mistake. Not a single character in this book buys Tony's navel-gazing, and at times it does seem to beg the uncomfortable question – why should we care? It's thematic, sure, but it doesn't make the book's protagonist any less irritating. Still, Cantwell sows the seeds for Tony's growth with a few well-placed lines. It's all intentional, done confidently by a writer in his prime.
Whilst Tony is a bit of a damp squib, Cantwell's villain has an intriguing flair for the classically biblical. Tony Stark has always felt himself a bit of a god, and he sure has punched one or two in his time, so this seems like a solid theme to explore within an Iron Man run. Cantwell fills the last half of the issue with a fun appearance from Hellcat, giving us a character with a bit more self-awareness to balance out the angst. Hellcat gives Tony that much-needed ribbing, hopefully setting him on a course for betterment as the series unfolds.
In terms of pacing, Iron Man #1 doesn't let up. Cantwell sprints from Terrax to car crash to race to D-list villain fight in no time at all, filling up pages with chunks of action, character development, and plot. The drag race is a highlight – Cafu's weighty linework and colorist Frank D'Armata's muted palette selling the danger of the act itself and the handsome beauty of those tank-like classic cars. Throughout the issue, colorist D'Armata's moody palette and metallic sheen sets the tone for Tony's reflective new mindset.
Artist Cafu likes to spread his panels across the width of the page, giving loads of real estate to Iron Man's Alex Ross-designed new armor. It's a solid combo of old and new, a delightfully bulky form factor and collar that recalls 'Armor Wars' (opens in new tab)-era Iron Man with some extra flair. Designs aside, Cafu plays with shadow to carve age into his portraits, adding to the sense of gravitas that Cantwell gives them.
Cantwell's varied script gives Cafu ample chance to flex his muscles. It's a real cinematic approach that often draws the reader's eye directly down the middle of the page, lending the action a real sense of momentum and fluidity. To top things off, the whole package is wrapped in a gorgeous Alex Ross cover, emblazoned with a classic logo treatment that promises a trip back in time for the red and gold. It's a little unrepresentative of the issue inside (what, no cars?), but it's so beautiful you can hardly mark it down. The final page is properly chilling, if a little cliched. Still, Cantwell is a writer who knows how to use the classics beats responsibly, and Cafu's top-notch portraits sell them well.
After Tony's past year spent battling artificial intelligence, Christopher Cantwell and Cafu's grounded take on Iron Man is very welcome indeed. Cantwell clearly enjoys flirting with Tony Stark as a thoroughly unlikeable character, using it to build the beginnings of a more human take on a character that has recently felt more machine than man.