Welcome to the Comic Archive! There have been so many amazing stories, characters, and series produced from comic book publishers for almost 100 years now; this column will serve to celebrate some of the tales you may or may not know about. Each week, we’ll take a story arc or trade paperback/collected story from a non-new comic (three years old or further back), and discuss the details with you.
Ah, the far-off future. Long a bastion of writers to posit about what technological advances and unknown wonders might exist in a time we will never live to see, several stories of this type exist across cinema, television, and the written forms. Usually, these stories are set hundreds or even thousands of years in the future, probably to ensure that the audience in their original form of when the story is new will never be able to know if the “predictions” being made will ever come true or not.
‘Iron Man 2020,’ then, is somewhat of a curiosity. Created by Marvel Comics, the character was clearly designed to live in the future – but having been first introduced in 1984, the character’s “future” was only 36 years after his debut, meaning many young people who first read about the character when he was “new” (myself included) would only be in their 40s or 50s when the titular future date of his existence rolled around. Seeing as how that date is now next year, I guess the future is now, huh? As background character Terry from ‘Futurama’ would say dramatically, “Welcome… to the World of Tomorrow!”
The character of Iron Man 2020 was created initially to do battle with another 1980s pseudo-future Marvel character, the bionic Machine Man. Donning the armor of Iron Man 2020 is Arno Stark, the first cousin once removed of Tony Stark and inheritor of Stark Enterprises (although his time to inherit and take over operations of the company is dwindling these days, but I digress). In the ‘Machine Man’ limited series, he fought against the title character and actually lost; the book being discussed in this column is the one-shot ‘Iron Man 2020,’ published in 1994 by Marvel as a standalone story for the character.
Iron Man 2020 (who refers to himself as “the Iron Man of 2020,” mind you, which inspires me to walk around and refer to myself as “the Tony Schaab of 2019”) is much more of a gun-for-hire type of mercenary than his predecessor Tony Stark ever was. He was hired to fight against Machine Man, and in the ‘Iron Man 2020’ book, he is hired by an executive from a tech company that is a rival to Stark Industries to track down the exec’s daughter and, uh, dispose of the men who have kidnapped her. The daughter initially disappeared when her futuristic flying car (ah, the wonders of the year 2020!) crash-landed on a small island where the mercenaries were in waiting. As Arno works his search-and-rescue operation, he begins to discover that there may be more to the story that what he’s been told, and the roles of “good guys” and “bad guys” may not be as clear-cut as he was led to believe.
For sure, the strangest thing about Iron Man 2020 has to be his armor. While I’m sure that the writers of the early 1980s did their best to predict future technology, the Iron Man armor has always been cutting-edge and usually more advanced (thanks to Stark tech and funding) than what’s available to the public at the time. So, in the hover-car-populated future of 2020 that the writing team of Walt Simonson and Bob Wiacek created, one would think that Iron Man 2020 would have some pretty fantastical features, right? Well – one would be largely wrong. Iron Man 2020 appears to have armor almost identical to that of what then-current Iron Man was featuring, with a few notable exceptions: Iron Man 2020 has mini-blasters on each knuckle and huge steampunk-esque cogs on his shoulders which don’t really seem to have any actual function, aside from visually making the future Iron Man look different from the then-current model. Oh, and the roller skates that the Iron Man of 1960s had are back, for some reason. It’s cool to be retro, even in a pretend future, right?
In 2013, Marvel brought Arno Stark back into some Iron Man stories, while heavily ret-conning his back story. It seems the Arno featured as the original Iron Man 2020 and his tales exist in one of Marvel’s many alternate realities, you see. The Arno Stark of Earth-616 (the primary setting for most of the “standard” Marvel Comics titles and heroes) is actually – gasp! – the previously-unknown brother of Tony Stark! He’s got a very convoluted and soap-opera-ish story, but hey, credit to Marvel for trying to keep the character relevant as we approach 2020.
All in all, chalk Iron Man 2020 up to another of Marvel’s “big ideas” at the time that didn’t quite pan out in the long run. The ‘Iron Man 2020’ one-shot story is entertaining enough for what it is, but it will never be a “must-read” Marvel story or comic book in general. Marvel, however, being the true masters of “never truly letting anything die” that they are, have recently released a very vague promo artwork teaser that simply says “2020” with the zeroes replaced with the cogs that Iron Man 2020 features on his shoulders, so it’s likely that we’ll be seeing the character again soon – next year in 2020, I’d imagine!
Got a comic, character, or story arc that you’d like to see covered by the Comic Archive? Feel free to list it in the Comments below or send your recommendation directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org – see you in the funny papers!