For Your Consideration: Marvel’s Iron Man by Kurt Busiek and Sean Chen Omnibus

Iron Man by Kurt Busiek and Sean Chen Omnibus

Iron Man by Kurt Busiek and Sean Chen Omnibus

by Robert Greenberger

“I hear my IRON MAN run will be collected in an Omnibus. Thanks, Robert Downey Jr! You’re welcome for the fancy tower and the armor pod, too!” Kurt Busiek tweeted this when he learned Marvel Comics intended on releasing Iron Man by Kurt Busiek and Sean Chen Omnibus, collecting their collaboration during heightened interest in all armored things thanks to Iron Man 3’s release next month. It’s actually a worthy collection as it represents the fresh start Marvel gave their core heroes after their disastrous sub-contracting to Image. The new beginning kicked off in 1998 with Busiek on Iron Man and The Avengers and it was clear he was steeped in Tony Stark’s adventures.

Recently, Kurt Busiek explained to me, “Iron Man was the Marvel book I always wanted to write, but it wasn’t because I was a huge fan of the series. There are runs I like enormously, notably Archie Goodwin’s run on the character, but what made me want to write Iron Man was that I saw so much potential in the character, potential that I thought was only partly-realized in the various runs of the past.”

The mammoth book collects all 25 issues of Kurt & Sean’s run along with the 1999 Annual, Iron Man & Captain America Annual, Iron Man: The Iron Age, Captain America #8, Quicksilver #10, Avengers #7, Fantastic Four #15, Thor #17, Peter Parker: Spider-Man #11, and Juggernaut: The Eighth Day. As one might expect from so huge a book, all the stories can’t be winners but the batting average is pretty high thanks to Busiek’s affection for action and understanding of character and story structure. Chen, just coming into his own as an artist, brought a fresh, sleek look to Stark, his armored alter ego, and his friends and foes. Other artists represented here is a pretty impressive collection: Patrick Zircher, Andy Kubert, Derec Aucoin, George Perez, Sal Larcocca, Terry Shoemaker, and John Romita, Jr. Some issues were co-written by Roger Stern and the one-offs were handled by Richard Howell, Mark Waid, Chris Claremont, Joe Casey, Dan Jurgens, and Howard Mackie. Right there, this is a formidable line-up of talent.

Iron Man #9

Iron Man #9

The opponents shellhead faces are a collection of the familiar: Whiplash, M.O.D.O.K., Controller, Fin Fang Foom, Count Nefaria, the Exemplars, and Ultimo, who finally gets an origin. There’s a brand new villainous War Machine and Busiek couldn’t resist working in the Mandarin. Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts are welcome additions but Stark finds time to romance Rumiko Fujikawa.

Busiek went on to analyze what the appeal is to him as a reader and writer. “I like the way he’s got four really strong and distinctive characters aspects: The superhero, the businessman, the inventor, and the ladies’ man. All four of those are great story engines, so having a character who’s got one of two aspects like that usually works out well, and Iron Man’s got four at once. As such, it’s easy to keep the series hopping, with stories coming from various of the character’s aspects.

“I like that he’s kind of a modern Rockefeller, feeling very consciously (or at least, as I see him) that his great wealth and stature comes from the people who work for him and the people who buy Stark Industries stuff, so he owes those people his gratitude and protection. It’s a kind of noblesse oblige — he can’t forget that he is who he is because the company works, and the company works because of a lot of people other than him. So on the one hand, out of self-interest, a healthy world makes a healthy Stark Industries, which keeps him successful, so doing good things for the world help him personally. And on the other hand, he owes something back to the people who make and sell and buy and use, the people who fuel his lavish lifestyle. There’s a bit of the feudal lord in that, which makes for some interesting contracts — is he protecting the world because he’s modern nobility and nobility is supposed to protect the peasantry and profit from them? Or does he protect the world because he genuinely wants to make it work better, to make everything work better?”

Iron Man #1

Iron Man #1

As one would expect, a brand new version of the crimson and gold armor is introduced and Busiek told fanzine Advanced Iron, “Alex Ross and I had pitched an Iron Man proposal back when John Byrne left, before we did Marvels. Alex and I worked up a new design for the armor, and I really liked it, but the Iron Man editor never read the proposal.

“When Sean and I took over Iron Man, Tom Brevoort was the editor at first. He and Sean and I went through a zillion armor designs, but nothing really worked for us. So I asked Alex’s permission to use the armor design he and I had worked out, and Alex said sure.”

Busiek was fortunate to be paired with Chen, who brought a renewed touch to the characters, befitting the reboot. “I was very lucky to get to work with Sean and with Patrick Zircher as well,” he told me. “Sean’s work had an incredible style, a slick, polished look that really served Tony’s world well, and the glossy sheen of the armor stuff. Patrick is just a great storyteller, with a lot of power and energy to his work.

“Roger Stern joined me as co-writer when I was overcommitted and getting sick — on Avengers Forever, we’d co-plot the stories and I’d dialogue them, on Iron Man we’d co-plot and Roger would dialogue them, and it’s always a treat to work with Roger, who has a great depth of knowledge of Marvel history and a great sense of story structure and character.”

The new series kicks off with the new armor but touches of the old Marvel Universe including the return of Countess Stephanie de la Spirosa from Tales of Suspense #69, demonstrating Busiek’s mastery of the continuity. But it isn’t all tripping down memory lane as he also introduces Carol Danvers’ alcoholism and her Warbird becomes a recurring player in the title, which comes in handy when they fight a Sentry and then the Mandarin’s minions. Then you get the Black Widow, Madame Masque and the new War Machine (Parnell Jacobs), sporting the first iteration of the armor from Iron Man #281. By the time Busiek bowed out with #25, we got not only Ultimo once more, but the brief return of Bob Layton to Iron Man.

The weak spot is the Eighth Day crossover event that tried to beef up Juggernaut and his ties to the mystical world through Cyttorak, who was revealed to be one of eight mystics trying to see who is supreme through the Wager of the Octessence. All eight created totems that, when touched by a human, would make them their pawn in the battle and lo, a crossover was created and just as quickly forgotten.

Iron Man: The Iron Age

Iron Man: The Iron Age

More successful is the two-part Iron Age mini with art by Zircher. Told by Pepper and Happy, it explores Tony Stark’s early days of running Stark Industries and getting accustomed to his new found responsibilities as the Golden Avenger. This is filled with many little touches – Roxxon, his parents, the gray armor — to make the old-time Marvelite’s heart beat a little faster.

“I’m a little surprised at just how much of what I did with Iron Man turned up in the movies,” Busiek added. “I don’t think Jon Favreau was looking to my run as source material, really — just that we were drawing on the same inspirations for a lot of what we did. So I brought back Happy and Pepper after years of disuse, and so did he. I used Whiplash and War Machine, so did he. That’s just us having similar tastes in cool Iron Man material. Some of the stuff, I introduced — the smart house, Stark Tower in Avengers, the flying armor-pod — and it was nice to see stuff like that turn up onscreen.

“But mainly, I think the guys doing the movies and I were simply appreciating the great strengths of the character and cast, and we drew from a lot of the same stuff. It was fun to see such a familiar-feeling Iron Man, whatever the reason.”

Clearly, there was more he wanted to do with the characters, notably bringing back the Mandarin along with new villains and many more Tony-centric tales. Instead, he moved on and others guided the hero ever since. Still, he noted, “In the end, I’m pleased with what we did. It wasn’t my dream, but it was some good solid exciting comics.”

Classic comic covers from the Grand Comics Database.


Iron Man by Kurt Busiek and Sean Chen Omnibus


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