Writers: Vita Ayala, Danny Lore
Artist: David Messina
Colorist: Mattia Iacono
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover Artist: Skan
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
After nearly three whole months of inactivity thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Marvel comics are starting to trickle back onto the market, and this week’s 2020 Ironheart #1 is one of the first new releases. But was it worth the wait?
Last week saw the start of a new business model for Marvel moving forward: some comics will be digital-only, while others will have dual print/digital releases. Many have expressed worry or doubt over the longevity of comics not getting printed as they traditionally would, but I actually think it’s a good idea to proceed this way in the long run. With the dual release model, your “meat and potatoes” titles (think Iron Man, Avengers, X-Men) that are guaranteed sellers will still get put on shelves, while the fringier stuff (e.g. Ant-Man, Hawkeye) will still reach their target demo, who are likelier to be buying comics digitally anyway. It’s really hard to say how any of this will work out for the House of Ideas, but I think some cautious optimism is the way to go for now. 2020 Ironheart is one of the books that are only being released digitally, so Marvel will likely monitor its sales very closely to see how viable this temporary (possibly permanent) strategy fares.
As for the comic itself? 2020 Ironheart is a two-issue spinoff tying into the current Iron Man 2020 event that started before the pandemic hit hard, featuring Riri Williams in a new adventure inspired by the events of its parent series. When a conspiracy involving the late(?) Tony Stark’s company pits Riri against N.A.T.A.L.I.E. — the AI she built in memory of her deceased best friend — Riri finds herself wondering if it’s worth risking her family’s well-being by acting as Ironheart (since teen heroes have recently been outlawed by the government) or having to destroy N.A.T.A.L.I.E. before she does something on Riri’s behalf.
2020 Ironheart is one of those tie-ins that doesn’t have an especially strong connection to the storyline it’s part of, outside of Riri being an acolyte of its title character. This actually feels more like an official tie-in to the alluded-to Outlawed than 2020 Iron Man given how strongly Riri’s conflict relates more to the former than the later. That’s more an issue of branding than anything else, but it’s an odd decision nonetheless.
This series is written by Vita Ayala (recently of titles like Morbius and Shuri) with Marvel newbie Danny Lore, and their characterization of Riri is pretty on-the-nose for how she’s been portrayed in recent comics. Thanks to Outlawed, they have an interesting angle to approach the story with: “responsibility” versus doing what’s right. By pitting her against N.A.T.A.L.I.E., the closest thing she has to remember her fallen friend by, it does play off the themes of Iron Man 2020 (namely the autonomy of artificial intelligence versus that of human autonomy) that are worth digging into. But like 2020 Rescue, which is also planned for a two-issue run, I wonder if padding things out over 40-ish pages was a better call than just doing an oversized one-shot with the same story. A lot of the page count here feels superfluous, and it feels like it could’ve made for a tighter story with some compressing, but that’s not the fault of our capable writers.
David Messina’s art, on the other hand, takes after his Ironheart predecessor Luciano Vecchio with a similar overall aesthetic, which lends some continuity with Riri’s most recent solo title for those continuing from Eve L. Ewing’s quality run. His visuals aren’t especially flashy, but they work with the script given to him. Most of this issue’s action is relegated to tense conversations, which requires a certain skill to successfully convey the emotion of those scenes, and I think Messina succeeds there. Mattia Iacono’s colors are similarly grounded, with occasional pops of techy purple for N.A.T.A.L.I.E., which look very pretty on the page. Overall, the package presented in 2020 Ironheart #1 is a low stakes, but worthwhile, side story.