Iron Man 2020 #1 Review

by Charles Martin on January 15, 2020

Iron Man 2020 #1 Review
Writers: Dan Slott and Christos Gage
Artist: Pete Woods
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Arno Stark is Iron Man. Sunset Bain is in charge of Stark Unlimited. It's red war between them and all A.I.s, with Aaron Stack leading the opposition and casually calling plays like threatening to blow up babies.

The simmering A.I. rights theme from Tony Stark: Iron Man has exploded into full-on rebellion, complete with terrorist tactics and brutal crackdowns.

I reviewed a few issues from the predecessor series, and while doing so, I aired more than a few grievances about the handling of A.I. rights. I found it simplistic and unsatisfying, a boilerplate cause du jour flapping loosely behind the frantic, explosion-driven plot.

Iron Man 2020 is off to a much better start. It's not because the philosophy has gained depth. It's because the simple A.I. ideas are front and center, driving the explosions, and that's a match made in robot heaven.

When an authoritarian goon squad raids the Uncanny Valley robot bar, the dialogue is not coy about signalling who's good and who's evil: "Show me your papers! Who owns you?"

Dan Slott and Christos Gage fit the characters to the action, with Arno Stark in particular showing off a revolting-compelling mix of cruelty and self-righteousness. He's convinced his cause is just, but the authors have no trouble undercutting his position with casual acts of villainy. This is a man who resurrected his parents and then imprisoned them to pay them back for his isolated upbringing. 

Arno doesn't have a moustache now, but he may generate one spontaneously because his actions are crying that loudly for moustache-twirling.

A big part of what makes this issue satisfying is Pete Woods's magnificent art. His detailed mechanical renderings are superb, and that's obviously a top priority for this series, given the content. I'm impressed by the equal level of talent Mr. Woods brings to his human characters. They're posed and polished with terrific skill, but the artist knows exactly where and how to exaggerate so that his characters resonate with their dialogue.

The layouts are deft. Inventive but clear panels smoothly roll the reader through the story. The art harmonizes with the script to point up the big beats, and when the writers say "make this spectacular," the artist delivers.

Mr. Woods is also a dab hand with colour. He uses an icy palette, which suits both the technological content and the relative shortage of heroism in this issue. Most impressive, to me, is the delicacy with which he adjusts atmospheric effects. The big Iron Man/Machine Man confrontation has a lot of colour influences: Nighttime street lighting, rain, electronics, and a big glowy bomb. All of these elements influence the colour choices without ever overpowering the line art.

The authors wisely make this first issue a survey. If you skipped some or all of Tony Stark: Iron Man, you'll find this #1 an excellent catch-up. And though covering all the important plot-bases does limit the amount of forward motion, the events in #1 are hardly short of excitement. There's more than enough here to satisfy readers who demand zaps and blams and squinty-eyed confrontations.

Arno starts the book off with a nightmare that instantly clarifies his motivations. He knows the Extinction Event Entity (sorry, I'm'a thinkin' of it as Cyber-Galactus) will reach Earth within the year. If he doesn't crush Earth's rebellious A.I.s before then, the bigger bad will have a ready-made army to turn on humanity. So those are Arno's means-justifying ends as he spends his days mercilessly slagging robots.

Mr. Slott and Mr. Gage slide a small taste of Tony Stark into the final scene. Although he's not blatantly waving the villain flag like this issue's other main characters, there are sour notes of extremism in his few words. 

I believe it suggests something about the shape of the plot to come. While compromise seems impossible in this fiercely antagonistic first chapter, the authors' character work makes it inevitable. Every main character gets their share of Wrong, so I think after beating on each other, they will have to ally and swap some ideas. It'll likely (but not surely) be a case of unifying to fight the bigger bad together.

Iron Man 2020 #1 starts with a bang, or several bangs, as it introduces most of the key players in its Robot Rebellion. The action is fast and gorgeously-illustrated, while the philosophical A.I. concerns are finally focused into a clear good-evil conflict. Though the robots are the favourites so far, the creators spread moral and ethical problems across the whole cast. While some of the combatants are more right than others, everybody's at least a little bit wrong. This event will find resolution in evolution: These characters all have to grow. And if they do, this may become a very impressive story indeed.

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Charles Martin's picture
Sunset Bain is easily my Favorite Awful Character: "This tech is the A.I. The cat was just the delivery system. You've all been best friends with a collar. Humiliating, isn't it?"