The first thing that came to mind was Iron Man #134 and 135, well-made favorites of my back-issue collecting youth. I made note of that intention. With the Guardians of the Galaxy movie coming out, I got to their revival in Defenders first (and on Free Comic Book Day, the Defenders title got revived in the Guardians freebie!). Since I accompanied the movie review with a peek at All New GotG#1, I thought I’d continue the trend as I wrote about Power Man and Iron Fist, so I bought a new Iron Man to go with the classics I’d review in the tradition of this blog!
Well, as a guy who loves character development, I’ve had to twist my guts a bit working on a series where the artist fears the appearance of “talking heads.” It’s still hellacool, though- I think we’re on our way to the winning balance for this year’s Hero Duty. Funny- I also got a 2014 X-Factor #12 for a buck, and so it became the second comic I read this morning-the second in a row that had not one punch or leap or blast, but conversation between fictional, colorful adults throughout!
The plot hinges heavily on Stark and Danvers both dealing with their alcoholism. His grief over the deaths of James Rhodes and Bruce Banner weigh heavily, and his fortune and company are bottoming out, to boot, as he cursorily discusses with Mary Jane Watson, who apparently was a series regular now as his secretary.
The comics I intended to rhapsodize about are Iron Man #134 and 135, from a very different era, yet, similar in fundamental ways. For one, Stark’s struggle with alcohol- a new element at the time- is addressed after his apparent recovery for the first time (it all came to a head in #128). In the older issue, instead of going to an AA meeting, Stark leans on a quasi-romantic friendship with Beth Cabe. He’s also giving, in the opening, a systems check for his armor, after its software invasion by Justin Hammer over the previous year’s issues. His armor was used to murder a Carnelian ambassador posing for an admiring picture with him, in my very first issue of Iron Man (#124).
From there, he surrendered a component-less version of his armor, retired the identity long enough to track down Hammer with Rhodey’s help, and battled, in Hammer’s headquarters, an army of minor villains whose tech had been financed by the nefarious industrialist. The conversation with Cabe is hinted at, suggested as a soul-baring sort of which Stark rarely engaged in those days. It was a step towards using Iron Man, at Marvel, to entertain a more sophisticated audience, with suspense and menace building between these scenes, as a mighty form stalked towards a confrontation with Iron Man. He even interrupts the Fryer’s Club! (And Rodney Dangerfield!)
Sure enough, on the last page splash, the foe who had engineered a previous encounter with the Unicorn as his pawn stands revealed: The Titanium Man! T-Man, another armored counterpart to Iron Man, probably the best, wishes to regain the graces of the Soviet Union, which in the real world is entering its last decade as a superpower. The massive emerald menace provides a callback, himself, to the 1960’s, when Iron Man was conjured as the capitalist champion for America, a free enterprise agent battling the Soviet’s man in a kind of formalized duel. They reprise those duels in #135, which is practically battle royale all the way across the streets of New York City.
#134 was quite unusual for the times in that no fighting went down. It’s hard to call it a “downtime” issue, yet that is what, for its era, it was. The latest issue of Iron Man I found on Free Comic Book Day 2017 fit a much more common mold for these days, when story arcs drive on longer, crossover much, much more, and in that process, contain all-talk issues. The bits of character insight involved in Bendis’ story provide a more adult product overall- and after the heavy technology-driven stories under Warren Ellis and Matt Fraction that I have sampled over the past decade, it’s pretty different to see technology set aside for pure human vulnerablity.
From a modern throw-down of the two
Honestly, when I was a kid, I love those sorts of insight-filled offbeat issues, even as today I still enjoy terrific action scenes. It would be disingenuous to say one thing appeals to one age more than the other, really. But I do love the density of the older comics, with their writerly (sometimes over-written) captions. I didn’t feel shorted by the new comic, but then, it served a purpose of supplementing my observations for the 1980 comics.
Stark’s dealing with yet another turn that has rendered him criticized, even unheroic, in the eyes of the public, as news casts suggest in-fighting in the usual reality-show-dirt-fest fashion and his absence in Rhodey’s honors ceremonies. In 1980, Stark’s identity as Iron Man’s a secret, if you newer fans can imagine that, before Downey took the character to the obvious step at the end of the Iron Man movie- a first for superheroes that lent to the elusive charm.
In “The Challenge!” and its second part, we also get a pay off to a fairly long-running plot: the criticism of Iron Man after the ambassador’s death! But Micheleinie and company depict a totemic clear-cut endorsement of Shellhead in his eventual defeat of the Titanium Man. That fluttering Soviet flag that comes to rest on the fallen figure on the cracked ice of Rockefeller Plaza brings cheers Iron Man had recently never hoped again to hear. It had been a long and wearying journey for our hero over the year of issues leading to this moment, and when you read it coming at the end of that path, the scene has much more impact than it can in isolation. So long as you understand the circumstances, however- and with only this issue, it’s still possible for a young reader to grasp-you get how there’s much more potent and personal motivations to this battle than many of the good v. evil encounters depicted in the fifteen years before.
With only 17 pages of story, things required tremendous economy. There was also a strong newsstand/ spinner rack presence that assured the company of many child fans, drawn naturally to the color and kinetic action. I wasn’t able to follow up 124 with another forty cents for many a moon- my personal Iron Man reading days didn’t pick up again until I was borrowing the issues where Stark makes his second comeback from alcoholism, to defeat the menace Stane, who inspired the Bridges villain in the first Iron Man. My first new purchase followed shortly afterwards, along with a choice to collect back issues of Invincible Iron Man- more affordable overall than my favorite, Amazing Spider-Man. Fortunately for me, in the bargain bin were, I think, both of these character/ action classics. I literally think my copies are in a box 200 miles away, but recall them SO vividly.
Tony didn’t get to be the playboy in Invincible I.M. #14 this time: no romance, and a very difficult friendship. This time marked the end of Iron Man as Tony Stark...for now.
Comics, in classic incarnations and fresh off today’s racks, with a touch of movie discussion to boot. That seems to be a running theme of late around here! Hope you’re enjoying. - C Lue