by Drew Baumgartner
This article containers SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk.
The ends of long creator runs in comics are a strange thing — an ending that isn’t an ending, a goodbye that isn’t a goodbye — but are also relatively commonplace. Indeed, those “final issues” are common enough to create a kind of map of morphologies, from those that send the characters in bold new directions to those that more or less put things back to neutral. One of the most common features, though, is that writers step out from behind the curtain to acknowledge their own departure. Some do this in a self-consciously postmodern way (a la Animal Man 26, excerpted above), but any hint of goodbye from the creative team breaks the fourth wall at least a little. We’ve written about plenty of those final issues over the years, but none quite as final as Invincible Iron Man 600, which isn’t just the finale of Brian Michael Bendis’s three-year run with the series, but of his 18-year run with Marvel. That is, he’s not just saying goodbye to the cast of Invincible Iron Man, but the Marvel Universe as a whole, which demands some kind of acknowledgement, which Bendis of course puts his trademark spin on.
No, Bendis doesn’t appear in the issue, but he doesn’t need to, since he already has a synthesized consciousness that thinks all of Tony Stark’s thoughts but isn’t physically manifested in the Marvel Universe that can stand in for him. Sorry, that sentence structure is a mess, but the situation kind of demands all of those nested clauses. Tony’s synthesized consciousness was delivered to Riri way back at the start of Bendis’s run to help guide her through the travails of being a new super-hero. But as Tony recovered from his injuries and rejoined the land of the living, his robo-consciousness became something else: not just Riri’s spirit guide, but a unique entity aware of its bodilessness and certain of what Tony Stark would/will do. That is: the writer of this series. I’m not sure if Bendis wrote the title page at the start of this issue, or if it was one of the editorial team, but it sums up those themes rather succinctly — er, as succinctly as any point ever is in a Bendis book:
And from there, it’s off to the races. The pages aren’t filled with Bendis dialogue are filled with narration from the Stark AI, lending some pacing continuity to the parade of artistic talent that contributed to this issue. Some of the transitions are jarring, but it was fun to see how all of these collaborators approach these characters (and the wordiness of Bendis’s writing).
But it’s the scope of this issue that is most thrilling. Bendis has had his fingers in all of Marvel’s pies over the last two decades, and while this issue can’t muster the pretense of everyone to appear, it does manage to tap into several from his most recent Marvel work, from Miles Morales to Eva Bell (who is a decidedly deeper cut, but reaches back to Bendis’s work on the X-Men titles, and rather specifically to a moment from the All-New X-Men Annual 1), and even puts back some of the pieces he took out of play back in Civil War II. Obviously, though, the most closure is reserved for Iron Man (both Invincible and Infamous), ending (?) Doom’s time as Iron Man and sending Riri in a new direction with a new team.
But then we snap back to that same image from the title page, where the Stark AI teases us with more potentialities for these characters. The appeal of those potentialities may vary, but the point is, the future of Tony Stark is already in motion, with or without Bendis pulling his strings. It’s a poignant reminder of what a writers role is (and that that role necessarily ends), sending us back into Tony’s world without our trusted guide.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?