Iron Man was last reviewed for issue #14. After the Civil War crossover, Iron Man became the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D. The Knauf brothers wrote an arc detailing the reemergence of arguably Iron Man's most dangerous villain, the Mandarin. Some new revelations were given regarding the Extremis armor that Iron Man uses. The tight-knit community that Iron Man has slowly built up around himself is falling apart with the defection of Maya Hansen.
Issue #19 interrupts the Knaufs' planned story arc with a two part World War Hulk tie- in. The Knaufs take a break from writing chores in favor of emerging writer Christos Gage. The tie-in promises to detail Iron Man's battle against the Hulk. Readers should refer to the World War Hulk #1 review to gain further background information.
Our issue begins with Tony Stark bogged down in a boring meeting. Things begin to perk up when he hears a report from one of his S.H.I.E.L.D. agents that inform him of a nearby UFO sighting in space. Stark welcomes the chance to test out his new space defense technology. Iron Man drones are deployed into space, picking up on the signal of the huge stone ship.
Meanwhile on the ship, the Hulk is informed that the humans know he is here. The Hulk wants to make a clear first impression on what his intentions are in regards to returning to Earth. Stark's monitoring of his drones let's him know something is terribly amiss. The Hulk's ship will enter Earth's atmosphere at ramming speed. The Iron Man drones are taken out easily by an EMP blast.
Tony is informed that something major is going on near the Inhumans' kingdom. Before Tony can take in the information, Hulk's ship appears in the sky over Manhattan. A hologram of the Hulk appears to the world informing them of his intentions. Tony realizes the utter horror of the situation. He takes it upon himself to confront the Hulk personally, one on one. Dum Dum Dugan vehemently disagrees informing Tony that it is against the principles of S.H.I.E.L.D. If Tony falls then he will bring down S.H.I.E.L.D. with him.
S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Lindsay wishes out loud to Dum Dum that Tony were not in charge. They deploy a strategic missile defense in case Iron Man fails in his mission to defeat the Hulk. Iron Man's last command is to give amnesty to unregistered superheroes in order to speed along the evacuation of Manhattan. Iron Man has one final stop to make before confronting the Hulk.
A short time later, Iron Man ruminates on the recent events in his lab. The Hulk was not meant to be sent to the war torn planet of Sakaar. He then completes his work on a new version of his Hulkbuster armor. It is the day he has dreaded ever since the Illuminati decided to exile the Hulk.
The evacuation of Manhattan has begun in earnest. Members of both the Mighty and New Avengers assist in the evacuation. They watch Iron Man, in his Hulkbuster armor, meet the Hulk head on in the sky. It is up to Iron Man to defeat the Hulk without any assistance per his previous orders. He then broadcasts an apologetic message that implicates him as one of the main reasons for the Hulk's vengeful return to Earth. However, Iron Man's actions can be explained by his desire to only protect the world to the best of his ability. His referencing of Spider-Man's credo "with great power, comes great responsibility," brings a bemused response from the wall crawler.
The Hulk and Iron Man viciously battle as all of this is going on. Tony's inner monologue remains resolute. Tony wishes that Bruce Banner can eventually forgive him, because Tony would not if he was Banner. The last image of the issue is a splash page with the Hulk roaring in victory over a battered Iron Man.
Christos Gage is one of the rising writers for Marvel. It is understandable that Marvel would want to give Gage some plum assignments related to their summer crossover event. However, the Iron Man title belongs to the Knauf brothers. For better or worse, they have defined Iron Man for the modern generation. In my opinion, it would have behooved Marvel to continue to have the Knauf brothers a shot at their OWN title. This kind of thing writer switching smacks of disrespect. It also makes one pine for the bygone era where writers would stay committed to a book for lengthy and defining runs on a title. My rant has nothing to do with the quality of this issue. It is a problem that has come to define the modern comic book industry.
With that out of the way, let's point out the merits of the nineteenth effort into this Iron Man series. Gage has a knack for letting the visuals provide the traditional thrills comic books are usually associated with. His dialogue and captions are relatively seamless compliments to the pictures. Gage's strengths as an unobtrusive writer are used to best effect in the Hulk/Iron Man battle. We are given a nicely plotted out inner monologue that never weighs down the battle being shown.
Butch Guice's pencils are similarly balanced to the story being told. You can tell that Gage and Guice are a relatively unified team unconcerned with personal ego. Guice's best work is in the splash pages that depict the Iron Man drones above the Earth. It gives Guice the chance to draw all sorts of familiar and wacky variations on the Iron Man armor. Guice also manages to keep pace with a solid interpretation of John Romita Jr.'s Hulkbuster armor.
Furthermore, Gage continues the work Pak has done in seemingly reviving Iron Man's heroism. Gage, like Pak before him, presents Iron Man as a conflicted man - but a hero nonetheless. He has done everything for a reason. Tony is a futurist at hear and sometimes that dictates that he is wrong some of the time. Some massive character rehabilitation is needed for Iron Man post-Civil War. It is nice to see Marvel writers trying to do that.
The weakness of the issue is that it frankly has come out too early. Gage is hampered by the fact that he can not reveal too much without spoiling the events of next month's World War Hulk #2. Some better coordination between Gage, Greg Pak (writer of World War Hulk), and Marvel editorial should have been practiced. As a result, some one who has read World War Hulk #1 will find this relatively boring. The inner monologue of Tony is nice but the issue is essentially a different writer/artist team rehashing the events of World War Hulk #1. It would've been nice to see how Tony was dealing with the death of Sal and the defection of Maya in issue #18. The total ignoring of the events from the last issue makes me wonder where this ties into continuity. I find it hard to believe Tony's thoughts would not at least include Sal, Maya, and the recently deceased Happy Hogan.
Gage provides a solid inner monologue for Tony in this issue. However, nothing terribly new happens from the main World War Hulk book. Thus, I am going to give it an average three webs. Hopefully, the second part of this tie-in will provide something a little fresher.
Spider-Man's cameo was a nice touch to his broken relationship with Tony. It remains highly ironic that Iron Man would choose to quote Spider-Man before facing certain defeat at the hands of the Hulk.