Summer is FINALLY pretty much over. Things are starting to settle down a bit at work, and I actually have a bit more time to write about some Longbox Junk! Let's do this!
Marvel comics has had quite a bit of success telling tales of their heroes at the end of their careers. Starting with the wildly popular "Old Man Logan" Wolverine story and moving forward from there with many more tales of superheroes past their prime.
One can argue that DC actually started the trend with their groundbreaking "Dark Knight Returns" story about an aging Batman returning for one final ride (let's just pretend the sequels don't exist, deal?), but that's neither here nor there.
What IS here is a series of one-shot comics (and mini-series) Marvel has occasionally published since 2002 that feature the final adventures of some of their most popular heroes. . .Hulk, Wolverine, Miles Morales Spider-Man, Captain America, Doctor Strange, among others.
The comic at hand is part of that "The End" series, and showcases the high-flyin', high tech Avenger Iron Man. So, let's head into the future a bit and see what's in store for Tony Stark at the end of his days as a superhero, shall we? WE SHALL!
IRON MAN: THE END
COVER: Bob Layton
SCRIPT: Bob Layton & David Michelinie
PENCILS: Bernard Chang
INKS: Bob Layton
A very nice homage to the classic cover of Iron Man's first appearance in Tales of Suspense #39. In a reversal of the original cover, Tony Stark is putting away the Iron Man armor instead of putting it on. I like the bookend feel of it all. I also really like the colors on this one. The green circuitry in the background perfectly complements the iconic red and gold Iron Man armor! It's a real eye catcher.
It's a simple cover, but it's a winner! Let's get inside this thing.
We begin our tale 50 years in the future. Tony Stark has spent more than half a century as a secret superhero and world-famous technology innovator, but now he's feeling the years bearing down. . .
Lately, Tony has been preoccupied by what may be his greatest project. . .Project Big Jump. The world's first space elevator, which will allow orbital travel without having to use a rocket and is the first step in a solar power project that will provide the earth with unlimited energy.
While working to complete the project as Iron Man, Tony is shocked when an unexpected earthquake threatens both the project and some of his workers. Leaping into action, Tony manages to save the workers, but he realizes that he made several mistakes while doing so, and without a bit of luck on his side, things wouldn't have ended well. . .
Bethany suggests that maybe it's time for Tony to hang up the Iron Man armor for good before his condition gets worse. Tony resists and his hostility to the idea pushes his wife away. . .
Knowing that his wife is right, Tony decides to concentrate fully on completing Project Big Jump while he can. In order to accomplish this, he promotes a brilliant young protégé, Nick Travis, to Stark Universal's Head Technologist. . .taking Tony's place and allowing Stark to devote his attention to Big Jump.
Now freed of distractions, Tony throws himself into completing Project Big Jump, but as the weeks go on, an investigation of the strange earthquake at the project site reveals that it wasn't a natural accident at all. . .but was sabotage!
Further investigation points suspicion, and then firm evidence proves that Stark's old adversary, Roxxon Energy was behind the attempted sabotage. It seems they don't like the idea of free and limitless energy.
Tony reveals his findings to his wife and refuses to let her attempt a diplomatic solution. He decides to take the fight to Roxxon as Iron Man!
Tony suits up as Iron Man and flies to Siberia, in the New Soviet Union. His stealth technology allows him to penetrate the Soviet border, but as he arrives at a hidden research lab, his presence is discovered and he is confronted by the Soviet Union's own version of Iron Man, Arkady Vostok. . .The Ultra-Dynamo!
As the battle is joined, Iron Man quickly discovers that he is outmatched by Ultra-Dynamo. His weapons and tactics are just too well known, and Dynamo's improved armor has counters to everything Tony can throw at him!
In the end, Tony takes such a savage beating that he is forced to run for his life! Even worse, he later discovers that the battle has even further damaged his nervous system, accelerating his condition.
Disheartened and shaken by his defeat and the worsening of his nervous condition, Tony slides into a deep depression, so deep that he almost returns to the alcohol he left behind so many years ago. But Tony remembers the strength it took to win THAT battle and realizes that he needs the same strength to quit his addiction to Iron Man.. .
Tony tells his wife that he's finally done being the hero, and it's time to rebuild their relationship, but he needs to find a replacement first, because the world still needs Iron Man. And so, he throws himself into the search for the NEW Iron Man!
Finally, Tony realizes the answer was right in front of him all along. . .his protégé, Nick Travis.
But when he reveals his secret identity as Iron Man and makes the offer to Travis, he refuses.
Nick protests that he's a scientist and not a superhero. Tony doesn't take the refusal well and lashes out. Nick tells Tony that he's not acting like much of a hero. But he can see Tony's desperation and reluctantly agrees to undergo some training. . .for emergencies only.
And so, Tony begins to train Nick with his newest nano-particle armor, the most advanced design yet, and equipped with cutting edge weapons and technology the likes of which the world has never seen. Tony is amazed at how quickly and naturally Nick takes to the training. . .
Unfortunately, Tony isn't the most patient teacher, and the stress of training causes a rift to grow between Tony and Nick. Eventually Nick tells Tony he's done with it and leaves Tony hanging.
Fast forward a few weeks to the day Project Big Jump is finally finished and ready to activate.
Nick attempts to break the ice between him and Tony, but as they talk, security alarms blare and something is spotted flying in toward them! It's Ultra-Dynamo! The Soviet hero informs Tony that he is there to destroy him as a threat to the economy of the New Soviet Union.
Tony is unable to get to his Iron Man armor in time and is forced to run for his life.
Nick, however, is able to quickly use the new nano-particle tech Iron Man armor and jumps to protect Tony.
Ultra-Dynamo is confident in his victory, but quickly discovers that the new armor is more than a match for him. In the end, Nick uses the high-tech abilities of the new Iron Man armor and finally defeats Ultra-Dynamo.
Tony is impressed, as Nick has included new upgrades that even he didn't know about. Tony and Nick make peace as they both realize they've misjudged each other.
Later, at the activation ceremony for Project Big Jump, Tony Stark publicly announces that he will be stepping down from Stark Universal and retiring with his wife aboard the space elevator's orbiting satellite station. He also announces that the New Iron Man will remain his representative on Earth.
At the end of it all, as Tony and Bethany travel to the space station on the first orbital shuttle, Tony tells his wife that he came to realize that he was able to leave Iron Man behind for good because he finally understood that it was the man and not the machine that had accomplished all the good he had ever done.
And so, we end the story with Tony and Bethany looking forward to a quiet future together in space.
Okay then. There it is. The final days of Tony Stark as Iron Man. Let's break it on down!
Not bad. It's interesting to me that this hero doesn't go out with a bang, but just sort of quietly. . .retires.
He realizes he's not cut out for the job anymore and just passes the mantle and leaves it all behind.
I've read a few of these "The End" one shots and this one is probably the most low-key ending for a major Marvel superhero that I've seen yet (but to be fair, I haven't read ALL of them). Overall, even though there's a few action scenes throughout, this was a surprisingly calm and quiet end for the hero, with a story that focuses more on Tony Stark than Iron Man.
This is hardly surprising when you look at the creative team.
David Michelinie and Bob Layton are credited with pretty much being the team that redefined and refined Iron Man during their long creative run on the title during the late 70s and through the 80s.
They brought the focus in on Tony Stark as being more than a prop mask secret identity for the superhero Iron Man and as a character in his own right, which led to critically praised storylines like "Demon in a Bottle" (which this story nods back to) where Tony Stark the man and not Iron Man the machine was in the spotlight.
Michelinie and Layton are regarded as being what many consider the definitive Iron Man creative team, and I REALLY like that Marvel brought them in on this project. And not only that but let them pretty much ignore the 30+ years of stories that came after their run ended and tell the story of the end of THEIR Iron Man!
That's right. . .this issue is a callback to the Iron Man of the 80s. No secret Invasion, no Avengers Dissembled, no Civil Wars. . .none of that. This story is a direct continuation and conclusion to the Iron Man story that began in 1978 and ended in 1989! As such, it's an unexpected treat for fans of old-school Iron Man like myself.
It's a really bold and interesting move and I give Marvel credit where it's due. . .especially since the first Iron Man movie had hit big the year previous and this version of Iron Man would have been pretty much unrecognizable to movie fans looking for Iron Man comics, and maybe even to (then) current Iron Man comic fans!
A round of applause for Marvel letting a story like this NOT tie into their hugely popular Iron Man movie and letting something be for the fans of Iron Man past. Say what you will about Disney/Marvel, but this just sort of feels special.