In Rob Williams’ The Iron Age: Omega, what he started as a compelling and meaty story arc has now just ended with the feeling that it was really just an elaborate excuse for Rob Williams to throw a bunch of random characters he likes onto one team. It’s not a bad conclusion, necessarily, but it does seem to leave us with an ‘oh well’ sort of feeling.
It began with The Iron Age: Alpha, which gave us a great set up with an enemy Tony Stark had entirely forgotten about coming out of nowhere to play an end-of-the-world trump card on his deathbed, succeeding in destroying the world by pulling the Dark Phoenix out of the time stream, amping her up (as if she needed it), pissing her off and letting her go crazy. The only hope was the fact that Stark managed to leap into the Dr. Doom® Brand Time Machine, depositing himself in the past – back when he was in the depths of his alcoholism.
It continued in The Iron Age #1-3, which allowed a lot of talented writers and artists to climb on board and tell the various chapters in the stories of Stark’s mad scramble to reassemble Doom’s time machine in that era so he could get himself back to the future in time to stop the vengeful Dr. Donald Birch from bringing his master plan to fruition, leading him into encounters with a seemingly unconnected string of heroes – Captain Britain, Dazzler, the Human Torch, Cyclops, Hank Pym and Power Man & Iron Fist. At the end of that, though, all their efforts proved to be for naught, as Jean Grey, at that point the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club, completely obliterated the time machine, leaving Stark back at square one.
So now, here in the final chapter, we see that Tony Stark has holed himself up for a whole decade to try to stay out of history’s way and rebuild his own time machine from scratch. We see that he’s started drinking again, and he has continued to fail. Then, suddenly, on the next page, we see he’s succeeded, and that same group of heroes comes barging through the time portal to be the monkey in the wrench of Birch’s plans – something we saw no trace of in Alpha, but hey, here it is, and it even seems to be something Birch has anticipated. Okay, then.
Apparently, Tony finally broke down and asked Hank Pym for help, the last lesson in humility stemming from Birch’s machinations – plans which began out of spite against Stark’s tendency towards arrogance in the first place. Birch is eventually denied his master plan, but he does at least get to murder Tony Stark – one of them, anyway. The Iron Man who’d been isolated for ten years sacrifices himself to save Luke Cage from a Dark Phoenix attack, leaving only the wide-eyed and weakened Stark that Birch had abducted in the first place. Given the prologue bit with the old and infirm Birch mournfully watching his childhood self play with a Captain America doll, I would have guessed this was a stellar way to reinvent Birch, aka the Z-list villain known as the Phantom, as a major threat… if he didn’t just croak at the end here.
But who really knows? It’s time travel here, so he could show up again, as could Older Stark. Maybe they’ve changed around their rules for it but when last I read a big chrono-adventure like this in the 616, I was under the impression that if you went back in time, anything you did wouldn’t change your future, but rather it would create a new branching timeline. Yet, there’s no sense of that here – other than the old, surly Stark making mention of having conversations with Reed Richards about how you shouldn’t mess with the time stream – nothing mentioning that you couldn’t. Also, Williams never really explains why these particular heroes are involved, other than a vague reference claiming that “they’re the only ones meant to be involved,” which is malarkey supporting the Williams theory in he first paragraph here.
Again, it’s time travel here, and picking it apart leads to headaches. Instead, we’ll mention on Rebekah Isaacs’ artwork, which at times is really neat and expressive, and at others, seemingly a little rushed.
So, in the end, we’ve got a weird team of relative strangers with a normal Tony Stark that didn’t experience any of the last three issues of interesting drama and adventure (and, more importantly, the cycle of redemption and reaffirmation I was excited by in the last issue), yet he inexplicably feels some sort of bond with these random people who just showed up in the middle of Birch’s swan song to save the day – enough so that they feel the need to have a reunion. It’s decent enough, but it’s just a strange ending for such a fun story. The pacing here feels off, and although the overall story was entertaining and intriguing, the end result just feels sort of hollow. One walks away like that surviving Stark not one whit the wiser and bit overwhelmed.