Writer & Artist: Mike Grell
The book opens with an archaeological dig in Wales making a rather surprising discovery as they find what looks to be Iron Man's helmet buried in a chamber that's been sealed for over a thousand years. We then look in on Tony Stark who's about ready to test out his newest technological wonder, as we see he's designed & built what looks to be a functioning time machine. Once he's contacted by the archaeological team that uncovered the piece of his armor, we see Tony's overjoyed as it proves that his time machine does work, and to this end we see Tony suits up, and takes a trip back to the point in the past that his helmet was apparently lost. After discovering that the trip back in time has reversed the polarity of his armor, and this has left his armor devoid of power, we see Tony is set upon by an armored knight. However, even with no power his armor still affords Tony protection from the weapons of this era, and he rushes in to rescue a damsel in distress. However after the battle is over, Tony suddenly collapses, and when he awakens his armor has been removed, and he's a captive of the very lady who he worked to rescue. Meanwhile, in the present they discover the helmet contains a human skull, which would suggest someone died while wearing it.
I'll confess that I'm a sucker for time travel stories, and Iron Man’s previous visit to the swords & sorcery era still holds up as a entertaining adventure, that had me wishing that this issue had made use of the 100 page monster format, as Mike Grell looks to be paying homage to this classic story, and it would've been nice for newer readers to see the story that likely inspired this current jaunt into the past. However, this issue does suffer from some rather awkward pacing, as the plot jumps from one situation to the next, while paying little heed to the idea that bringing a character from point A to point B normally requires a bit more work from the writer. I mean the story needs Iron Man to take a trip into the past, so he decides to fire up his newly invented time machine, and leap into the past. We then have him immediately set upon by a group of knights, and when this situation grows tiresome, Iron Man inexplicably blacks outs, and wakes up as a prisoner of an evil sorceress. Now I realize that Mike Grell is playing this arc very much as a classic adventure straight out of the Silver Age, when writers devoted more energy of the situation itself, rather than coming up with a reasonable set up for the situation, but this issue's pacing is rather erratic even using these standards.
There's also the simple fact that a great deal of the suspense in this issue is dependent on this having been the first time travel story you've ever read, as it calls upon several clichés that have long become staple elements of the time travel plot. We have the time machine designed so that one has to return to the very spot where it deposited you, at a precise point of time, or else you'll be stranded in the past forever. We also have the evidence showing up in the present day that makes it look like the adventure in the past is going to have a tragic ending, as the last page of this issuereveals that there's a human skull inside the Iron Man helmet that was unearthed during an archeological dig. What hurts these normally reliable suspense building features, is that one has to wonder why Tony would be forever trapped in the past if he missed his ride back home, when the people in the present have themselves a functioning time machine, and a general idea of what time period Tony was sent to. As for the final page surprise, I've read enough time traveling adventures that I need better proof than that to convince me Tony is doomed. Dental records would be a good start.
The one element that this issue does have going for it is that Mike Grell is also providing the art for this story, and it's always nice to see an established artist step in to show the readers that he still's got it. Mike Grell's art style has a nice gritty, down-to-earth look to it, and while it doesn't immediately seem like it's a good match for the high-tech world of Iron Man, it's a remarkably good fit for the medieval setting that this arc has stranded Tony in, and I couldn't help but notice that the story removes Tony's armor from the equation rather quickly once he arrives in the past. Now Mike Grell's take on the armor is pretty impressive, as the journey through the time-stream is a fairly impressive visual spectacle, and the battle sequence where Tony takes on a group of armored warriors does show us that the armor can take a fairly good beating, even when it's drained of its power. The art also does a good job with the medieval aspects of the story, as the attacking knights look like a fairly dangerous bunch, and the castle where Tony wakes up is nicely realized. The art also does a fairly good job conveying a sense of danger in the final pages, as we see Tony's about to be tortured, while in the present we get a more frightening idea, as we see what looks to be Tony's head inside the helmet.
I love the idea that Tony's got himself a functioning time machine, and sending him back to the age when armored knights roamed the land sounds like a promising setting for an Iron Man adventure. However, Mike Grell has Tony acting like a big dope in this issue, as the second he learns that his time machine works he's all set to fire it up and journey into the past without even waiting for the helmet to arrive so he could run tests on it, to see if there was any unforeseen effects on his armor. There's also sections of this issue where it feels like Mike Grell is racing some unseen deadline to have the story at a certain stage before this issue ends, as the story kind of jerks forward, which makes for a rather awkward reading experience. Still, I'm always been fond of the medieval setting, and it's one that's worked for the character in the past, so there's no reason why it shouldn't work again. Next issue should give provide a better indication of how strong this arc will be.
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