By Don Alsafi. Tony Stark burst onto the Marvel Universe in a 13-page story found in 1962’s Tales of Suspense #39, just over a year after The Fantastic Four #1 hit the stands.

He wouldn’t get his own Iron Man comic for another six years, but the character has had a title published continuously ever since. And yet, for being one of the founding members of the Avengers, and being considered one of the heavy hitters of the Marvel U, the character rarely pulled in better than middling sales. He wasn’t a mass-media star like Spider-Man or the Hulk, his title virtually never spawned spinoff titles like the X-Men did, and he wasn’t an inspiring icon like Captain America. There wasn’t anything wrong with Iron Man, but you rarely heard stories of him being someone’s favorite character – and the mainstream public had never heard of him at all.

All that changed, of course, with the shockingly successful premiere of 2008’s Iron Man, which launched a movie franchise juggernaut that’s still steamrolling everything in its path. The name Tony Stark is known by old and young, women and men, and Iron Man costumes are one of the big sellers every Halloween. The character has never been more popular than now. So it’s a bit strange that over the past few years, Stark – in his comics iteration, and in quick succession – became evil, laid in a coma, and even mentored a successor as a holographic A.I.

But all things come around, and Tony is back on the scene with a new series. After all those changes, who is Stark today? Let’s find out…

Tony Stark: Iron Man #1Tony Stark: Iron Man #1

Written by Dan Slott.

Art by Valerio Schiti.

Colors by Edgar Delgado.

Letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna.

Introducing Tony Stark! Writer Dan Slott has been a mainstay at Marvel for nearly fifteen years, first impressing readers with 2004’s stellar She-Hulk comic. These days, of course, he’s more known for writing The Amazing Spider-Man for the past ten years, and his final issue of which hits this week. Valerio Schiti was only just breaking into comics when Slott began his ASM run, but has long proven himself with a nearly three-year run on Guardians of the Galaxy alone.

This debut opens with a flashback to Tony Stark as a teenager, engaged in a crude robot-designing contest against another group of teens – which he wins handily, of course. Twenty-five years later, Stark shows up at the suburban house of Andy Bhang, his lead opponent from that Robo Rally, who has achieved no more success than puttering about with machines in his garage. Until, that is, Tony makes him an offer: Come work for him at his new outfit, Stark Unlimited.

This actually makes a lot of sense from a storytelling perspective, as it allows Bhang to be the audience proxy character. A lot has changed since Tony was last up and about, and this device lets Stark bring the readers up to speed at the same time that he does so for Bhang. His new company and research outfit has some familiar faces wandering its halls, from long-time supporting character Bethany Cabe (now S.U.’s Head of Security), to the Ultron-created robot Jocasta (Stark’s Chief Robotic Ethicist). Dan Slott is clearly one of those writers who has fun playing in the giant sandbox that is the Marvel Universe – and that’s before the sudden menace of the giant green lizard Fin Fang Foom, that most famous creation from Marvel’s pre-superhero age of monster comics…!

Tony Stark: Iron Man #1

Interior pages from ‘Tony Stark: Iron Man’ #1. Art by Valerio Schiti, Edgar Delgado and Joe Caramagna/Marvel Comics

Witty and inventive. If it’s been a while since you’ve read an Iron Man comic, you might be surprised at Tony’s current personality. Stark has always been the typical genius – self-assured, driven, and arrogant – but there’s a flippancy to him in this new series that clearly shows the DNA of Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal in the MCU. For the most part it works, and makes this comic notable in being quite possibly the funniest Iron Man series that’s ever debuted – such as when an intelligent cat lies to a Stark Unlimited scientist about who drank all the milk, or when Andy Bhang’s first on-site audition goes hilariously, disastrously wrong. There are occasions when Tony’s jokes seem a little too juvenile for a superhero CEO (perhaps Slott still has some of that Spidey-humor lodged in his brain?), but this lighter, more laid-back Stark makes for a refreshing change.

What’s more, Slott delivers on what’s often the hardest part for any Iron Man writer: portraying Stark’s genius. It’s tricky as hell to effectively write a character smarter than the actual writer – which is why many of those who have penned him over the years have never even tried. (Notable exceptions being Warren Ellis and Christopher Priest.) This is the second place in which Andy Bhang’s tour of S.U. is incredibly canny, however, because as Stark shows him this division or that project, we get to see some of the ideas that have obviously been bubbling out of his brain. The only slight off-note comes at the end of the issue, when Bhang figures out before Tony does how they can stop the rampaging Fin Fang Foom … but if the reader has been paying attention in the slightest, they’ll have seen the solution coming a mile away.

Valerio Schiti is equally no slouch on the artistic side of things. His art is solid without being flashy, and although he uses no less than six double-page layouts in the course of this 32-page story, he never once sacrifices storytelling clarity for the sake of an edgy visual. His characters are appealing and expressive, whether he’s portraying a confused robotic designer out of his element, or an excited young boy at a Stark Unlimited press rally.

Tony Stark: Iron Man #1

Interior pages from ‘Tony Stark: Iron Man’ #1. Art by Valerio Schiti, Edgar Delgado and Joe Caramagna/Marvel Comics

A welcome relaunch. In fact, if there’s any one thing that sticks out, it’s that we never once hear about Riri Williams – the Ironheart character who stood in for Tony while he was busy being catatonic. But while it does lead one to slightly worry that the character might be sidelined now that Tony is back in the picture, it’s quite possible that there simply wasn’t a natural or easy space to bring her up while the story was setting up a new status quo, while also giving us ample character moments and a fight with a gosh-darn giant monster. (And that’s not even mentioning the last-page reveal of the mastermind behind the rampage.)

There are maybe a few ways in which the comic plays things a little too safe, at times – but for a first issue of a new series, after the character has been MIA for a while? That’s not a bad thing; the comic can take its time and shake things up later, after re-establishing the status quo.

But as for right now? Tony Stark is back on the scene. (He’s even got his name in the title and everything!) With this newest series, Iron Man is ready to fly.

7 out of 10

More Building a Better Marvel:

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