Welcome to In a World…, a series of articles about stories you know and characters you love, but where things may not be what they seem. We’re traveling to strange, alternate realities where familiar faces have been placed in different timelines, places, and maybe even worlds. First up is a tale of adventure that takes Tony Stark and plops him, along with his closest friends and most vicious enemies, in an America recovering from the Great Depression and threatened by the looming shadow of World War II.
Iron Man: Noir is one of ten miniseries that ran from 2009 through 2010 under the Marvel Noir banner. This alternate take on Marvel characters removed (mostly) the supernatural elements of the characters and replaced them with grounded twists. In some cases based on science but, in other cases, like Thor, with human delusion. But we’ll get to that later. The idea here is basically make the stories dark, old-timey, and vaguely steampunky. Sure. Let’s go.
What drew me to this title isn’t the concept – I mean, I’m fascinated with Tony Stark as a person, but what interests me most about him is how he looks toward the future as if he already has one step in it, so the idea of recontexualizing him in a de-magicked Marvel Universe in the past didn’t grab me. For this one, it was all about the creative team here – namely, writer Scott Snyder. Scott Snyder has consistently been one of the best creators in the industry since he emerged onto the scene, and I’ve had a great time covering his work on the past here, so I was all about this. I was unfamiliar with the rest of the creative team – penciller Manuel Garcia, inker Lorenzo Ruggero, colorist Marta Martinez, and letterer Dave Sharpe – but they all do a solid job crafting the story here. Based on the concept, it has pretty much the look I’d expect, but it’s printed smaller than standard comics size on pulpy paper, so it gets very dark and somewhat difficult to read at times. In any case, Snyder is mostly known for his DC Comics work, so the idea of him taking on Marvel characters, even in this Noir universe, is pretty exciting.
The story pits Tony Stark as an adventurer who sets out to discover the forgotten city of Atlantis with his assistant Rhodey and writer Pepper Potts, who is cataloguing his story for an ongoing series written about him: Marvels – A Magazine of Men Adventures: The New Adventures of Tony Stark. Beyond reinventing these major roles, Namor appears as a captain whose entire crew cuts their ears to look like shark fins… which would’ve been cool, except they don’t look like they’ve been cut to look like shark fins. They look exactly like Namor’s big ole pointed ears. There are pretty clever reinventions to Happy Hogan and Madam Masque, but there are also passing nods shoehorned into the story to make this feel sort of like an Easter egg hunt for references. For example, the Mandarin is an action figure, Thor is already dead and he was a crazy guy who attacked Nazis with an everyday hammer. It definitely plays up the fun of hitting readers with familiar characters in this unfamiliar setting, but does it stand on its own?
Kind of! It’s probably the weakest Scott Snyder story I’ve read, mostly because it aims to embrace the genre above all else. While Snyder’s work is largely driven by character and philosophy and created history, creating complex ideas that weave through long narratives, Iron Man: Noir embraces the idea that this is an adventure story, and that’s exactly what we get. Essentially, this IS Marvels – A Magazine of Men Adventures: The New Adventures of Tony Stark. It’s not quite my thing, but it is a story well-told that hits the reader with a left hook of a twist at the end that works damn well. I don’t think I’d go back to Marvel Noir titles for more after this, as I like my Marvel universe to have a spark of magic powering the stories, but it was an enjoyable romp that knows exactly what it is, and winks and nudges the reader all along the way.
NEXT UP: Marvel 1985