Plot by Terry Kavanagh, Script by Dan Abnett, Penciled by Jimmy Cheung, Jim Calafiore, and Hector Collazo, Inked by 4 guys
The rumors of my death have only been slightly exaggerated, as I return from a 2 week travel into the past to bring you Iron Man #325!
We begin with a Longfellow quote, as teen Tony wonders at all the neat stuff his evil older stuff has in his bachelor pad, as over-written narration informs us that Tony confided that "wonder" was Tony's driving force when it comes to inventing all of the things, as a quick montage shows him bouncing around his lab looking at gears and doo-dads. We see that it's Hawkeye giving the narration, as someone throws a bottle at him. It's Masque, who delivers a few lines that don't sound like she did previously, as she makes a crack about teen Tony being the "two and only."
|"Why you little!" -Kang|
Meanwhile, a very different Tony Stark sits in his huge arctic bunker holding his head and looking sad. Elsewhere, Mantis is sitting in her outfit she apparently borrowed from Maddie Pryor, as she talks to her child(?) Malachi, who creepily has his head against her leg in a childlike pose, despite being at least a 16 year old who has fought the Avengers repeatedly. Malachi asks his mom the story of how she met Kang, purely for the reader's benefit, saying she had "foolishly" been on the Avengers side until she met Kang, a pretty odd re-telling of Englehart's Celestial Madonna storyline. Elsewhere, Kang beats up his own men with Tobias alongside him. After pummeling his own men, Kang grabs his "son" by the throat in a moment of Homer Simpson parenting, pointing out that he needs his kids to be the best and that Tobias wasn't the best when he allowed the Avengers to grab teen Tony out of the past. As Kang leaves the gasping teen, he points out that next time he fails him, he'll end up dead. Kang monologues to his "son" about how their "greatest threat" is upon them, following up plot threads that have only been hinted at thus far in the crossover, as Kang prepares for a showdown against an unnamed mystery guy. Mantis leaves her son, wondering about this "dark one," and then re-appears in Tony Stark's bunker. Mantis and Tony hug it out, and then in a truly bizarre moment, Tony appears to cry blood as Mantis licks it off his face.
|Mantis, you are gross.|
Back at the ruins of Avengers Mansion, a crudely drawn Hank Pym and Vision note that the mystery door has finally disappeared. Why? How? Who knows. Remember, the Avengers went back in time through the door, and came back via Doom's time machine, so I have no idea how the door disappearing makes sense. How did the door know to send them back to some nebulous "ten years ago" time, anyway? Elsewhere in the mansion, Crystal wonders where her baby is, and hugs a sad Quicksilver, as we get off-brand models of Winnie the Pooh and Totoro teddy bears. Just think, thanks to the Disney purchase, Marvel can finally do the Winnie the Pooh/Avengers team-up they've been hinting at for 15 years! The Avengers move to leave the mansion, but Henry Gyrich and a bunch of mandroids are there to tell the Avengers they're not going anywhere. What, is he upset about a founding Avenger having secretly been a sleeper agent of a deadly villain for years?
|Captain America's face may be melting.|
Back at the bunker, teen Tony opens the door, and Machinesmith is shocked to recognize him, but still tries to shoot him. Masque makes the save though and explodes the robot, even as Hawkeye shows up, leaping out of his "Hex-Ship" as it's exploded, and running into the bunker along with Masque and teen Tony.
|Crystal is still moping over her lost child? Let it go already.|
Back at the mansion, a big dumb fight is breaking out, even as Gyrich gives pretty reasonable demands that the state department wants to know what the heck is going on, as Cap calls Gyrich a "little snake." Century appears, and zaps the Avengers out of the pointless fight.
|"A you that doesn't smell of gin."|
At the bunker, teen Tony marvels at all the Iron Man armors on display, but one of them has a man inside already! Iron Man plans to blast his younger self in the back, when Marianne and Masque save him. Iron Man goes to take out these folks, when teen Tony attacks in some fancy armor. Iron Man quickly overpowers his younger self, pulling off his opponent's helmet and then gasping in shock at his younger, less bearded self.
As the Avengers appear, Tony somehow reaches into his younger self's armor and pulls his arm out, saying "I won't let my life happen again!" Suddenly, old Tony disappears, as Kang and his immediate family, and a bunch of nameless goons appear. Kang insists that "the future begins here." To be concluded?!?
This is a special, double-sized issue as we lumber closer to this crossover's conclusion. Unfortunately, a lot of that time is completely wasted, as we get vague hints about Mantis and Kang's mystery opponent, Henry Gyrich shows up for a couple of pages, and teen Tony not really doing anything. At least teen Tony and his group are able to accomplish something: The Avengers, who have been useless pretty much from the word go, only manage to brawl with a few mandroids this issue, apparently just counting on young Tony Stark to do all their work for them. The team's total lack of agency continues to be a problem, but fortunately, bad pacing and inscrutable plots are bigger problems. We still don't really have any idea why all this happened, despite one of Mantis's children just outright asking her for some exposition. The issue also suffers from way too many narration boxes, as we get the un-seen "narrator" giving us information in yellow, Hawkeye in blue, evil Tony in purple, Mantis in green, Kang in a slightly different shade of purple, and then narration in blue (at least I don't think it's Hawkeye narrating the Tony vs. Tony fight, although he is there).
The double-sized length (and $2.95 price) necessitated multiple artists, which is a shame as Cheung does some pretty good work, but he's been asked to draw a ton of stuff in the past few months, and does around 20 pages of this book (he had been doing around 10-15 in his other appearances), but everything after that gets a whole lot worse. It's also unfortunate that almost all of the action gets left to the other artists, as Cheung is left to draw the Kang family scenes and Mantis creepily licking blood (I think that's a coloring mistake?) off of old Tony, while the awful mandroid fight is left to someone who can barely draw human faces.
This is also nominally an anniversary issue, but I can't imagine the Iron Man reader who could possibly be excited about this, since their hero is a secondary villain in this issue, and teen Tony, who (spoiler alert) is about to be the focus of this book until its imminent relaunch, barely gets any screentime because there's so many other subplots going on. Marianne Rodgers and Masque are still here, but I have no idea why, and the mystery subplot involving them has been completely abandoned at this point.