“Iron Man” #16 by Kieron Gillen and Carlo Pagulayan might bring the immediate threat to a close as Stark, 451 and the Godkiller conclude their business, but it seems that “the Secret Origin of Tony Stark” hasn’t been told in full just yet. In this issue, Tony returns to Earth to find that things have changed.
By necessity, this issue is something of a transitional piece. Once the space-borne threat has ended, Stark leaves the open Universe behind and returns to Earth, where readers get to experience his re-acclimatisation to Earth. It’s fair to say there’s something of a gear crunch between the two halves of the comic that makes it seem as though a clean issue break would’ve made more sense. It reads as though it wants to be a coda to Tony’s arc in space, but there’s still more story to resolve, so it can’t even be completely that. It’ll read fine in the trade, but as a monthly it’s definitely fighting with its format.
Still, for those reading the arc, it does start to round on a sense of closure, and once Tony’s back on Earth, things pick up. It’s a nice change of pace to get back to Tony’s supporting cast and some more familiar locations, but it also helps bring the revelations of the previous few issues home, placing them in a context that can’t be swept under the rug. It’s not clear what Tony discovers in the final pages, but it is the most interesting cliffhanger this arc has yet delivered, purely because it’s very personal and unambiguous, rather than as abstract as a planet’s destruction or as unreliable as anything 451 has said.
Pagulayan’s art definitely helps in its ability to sell both the big moments and the smaller beats. Multiple artists rarely help a story, but the team on this issue has found a happy medium between the book’s previous artists, Greg Land and Dale Eaglesham: slightly glossy, but with good storytelling fundamentals too.
In any case, Gillen and Pagulayan manage to sell both the happiness and turmoil of returning home to find that things aren’t necessarily how you left them — and perhaps more fundamentally, that you’re not the same person who left. Given the deliberately self-contained nature of the opening two arcs, it’s particularly promising that Gillen appears to be re-establishing a supporting cast for the title. It’s not the finest issue of the series so far, but it does its job and makes you excited to read what comes next. Any comic that does that has to be worth reading.