Usually, these 'Age' comics are alternate-universes for the X-types, so it's kind of refreshing to see Iron Man get his own crazy 'F-ed-Up Time Stream' story, even if it still involves some X-history.
In The Iron Age Alpha, written by Rob Williams and penciled by Rebekah Isaacs, the world ends. Blows up, in fact. Everything dies at the hands of Z-list Iron Man villain The Phantom – a guy that Tony Stark barely even remembers. Not something you see every day, and it makes the stakes ridiculously high for what's to come in The Iron Age series to follow.
We open with Tony Stark being his Tony Stark self at a black-tie affair, with Luke Cage and Iron Fist in attendance still grousing about what a dick Stark was during Civil War. Suddenly, super-advanced Iron Man-looking robots attack, subdue them all easily, and abduct Stark, bringing him to the secret undersea lair of Donald Birch, a one-time employee of Stark Industries who believes he was fired unjustly and that his work was stolen by Tony, a charge he denies. Birch was once the Phantom, and now he's wheelchair-bound and dying of cancer, while having amassed an amazing amount of resources – including having devoted much of his time to reconstructing one of Dr. Doom's time-travel platforms, and he uses that to pluck the freakin' Dark Phoenix out of the timestream, amp her up and cause her do kill the entire Earth. Birch had only brought Stark there to punish him for ruining his life, but the quick thinking Stark dove into the time machine and escaped just before the planet's end, leaving him trapped in the time the nutbag Jean Grey was plucked from.
Back when Tony Stark himself was a stone drunk. Good luck getting any help from his past self to prevent the coming disaster.
It's a very interesting concept, even if Drunk Tony has become a punchline instead of a powerful story arc these days, and Williams pulling the Phantom out of mothballs and turning him into this sickly, decrepit and nihilistic wreck of a man completely ruined by a flippant moment that Stark scarcely recalls is a great piece of work. Sure, he's deluded, but it also works as a metaphor for how corporate arrogance eats up the little guy and can turn people into vengeful and angry souls who desperately want their malefactors to experience their own pain. It's a wonderfully dark moment where Birch sighs at Stark and says "Do you know that I see you as possibly the most important person in my life? Yet you didn't remember me. Isn't that sad? Almost as though I never existed." We can really sense how pathetic Birch has become, and since Stark has been such a dick since Civil War, we can also empathize with his desire to drive the guilt of the world into his soul, too.
I'm not sure what's been going on in Iron Man lately, since even though he's walking around in his underwear in the past, he's talking like he could still have access to his armor if Birch hadn't drained him so much. Perhaps he somehow has his armor installed subcutaneously, or tucked into a personal subspace, to crib from Transformers lore.
Whatever the case may be, the setup here is a compelling one. Hopefully Iron Age Alpha can be the gateway to draw new readers like myself into Tony Stark's adventures and maybe, just maybe, we can finally forgive him for becoming a fascist idiot just those few event books ago.