Tony Stark: Iron Man #13
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Paolo Villanelli and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
It’s easy not to expect too much out of a superhero tie-in - it’s already hard enough finding a high concept that organically gets everybody in the same room at the same time, but then splitting off that storyline into multiple separate coherent adventures?
It’s usually hit-or-miss in the best of situations - but Tony Stark: Iron Man has found a diamond in the rough with guest writer Gail Simone, who writes the best Tony Stark dialogue I’ve seen since, well, probably Robert Downey, Jr. himself. Channeling the motor-mouthed movie star in a winning style, Simone gives readers an engagingly flawed protagonist that’s hard not to root - even as the sketchy artwork of Paolo Villanelli threatens to bring this surprisingly fun fantasy romp back down to Earth.
If you think that a two-parter of Tony Stark fighting a dragon might be a little goofy, you wouldn’t be wrong - while Donny Cates already took the metal-as-hell approach in Venom, Simone keeps the tone light, with even a small body count being generally brushed away compared to the sturm und drang of War of the Realms. But maybe it’s just me being wistful in a post-Endgame environment, but Simone’s fast-paced, pop culture-infused voice for Tony Stark feels like the strongest embrace of the Robert Downey, Jr. influence than I’ve seen anywhere else at Marvel.
Desperate for a drink as he grapples with both a fire-breathing dragon and his own existential crises, Simone’s Stark is funny, flawed, vulnerable and victorious all at the same time, and even beyond the benefits of brand synergy, it makes for a character that’s easy to get invested in. And as a result, even team-ups that seemed a bit more dubious previously - Tony’s new relationship with Janet Van Dyne, a magical suit of armor, even Tony’s return to his “Demon in a Bottle” addiction days - wind up crackling here. Even villain Sadurang, an obvious tip of the hat to Tolkien’s gold-hoarding dragon Smaug, transcends his origins, as even his eyes pop at the $30 trillion of treasure lorded over by Wall Street. Combine that with some choice nods to some iconic Iron Man mythology, and you’ve got yourself a surprising banger of a story.
And it’s a good thing that characterization shines so brightly, as the script winds up grappling with the artwork more often than not. Artist Paolo Villanelli plays in a similar stylistic wheelhouse as Valerio Schiti, but this feels like a case where hiring an inker to flesh out the pencils would have helped improve the clarity of the storytelling - Villanelli’s characters already feel sketchy and loose, and adding so much rendering with the magical energy effects makes the pages feel all the more difficult to parse. (In particular, a cool beat where Tony’s armor transforms thanks to a magical infection is almost totally lost in the panel-to-panel transitions.) Colorist Edgar Delgado, meanwhile, is more of a mixed bag — he goes a long way towards keeping the tone of this story bright and accessible rather than bloody and dour, but there’s also a flatness to all these sun-drenched superhero colors that I think compounds some already cramped pages. The pages aren’t bad, but feel merely serviceable - which feels like a strange thing to say about a high fantasy twist on one of Marvel’s most bankable superheroes.
With another art team in play, Gail Simone’s pit stop on Tony Stark: Iron Man might have marked a new high point in the series’ tenure - that said, one of the other pitfalls of tie-in comic books is that they’re often proving grounds for untested talent, giving the main artists a chance to regroup and rebuild their margins for deadline. But with some uneven artwork, Tony Stark: Iron Man #13 isn’t quite tapping into its considerable potential, escaping the dragon with a good storyline rather than a fantastic one. Regardless, Simone’s memorable work transcends the usual stigma of a tie-in book - she does such a superlative job at capturing the essence of a post-RDJ Tony Stark that one hopes we’ll see her returning to this title sooner rather than later.