This issue is a perfect example of why I wanted to do this project! I have such strong memories associated with this issue and, surprisingly, there are elements of this issue that affected my beliefs on our environment and corporate policies.
The opening page, for me, is some of the best evidence that the more things change the more they stay the same. It’s been known that pollution is a problem for decades and, while big strides have truly been made (the air and water now are far better off than they were in 1970 when this was written) there’s still so much farther to go. When I was a kid I remember being struck by this notion that “saving the Earth’ wasn’t a new idea and here it was, subtle as a hammer, on page one of this issue of Iron Man.
So, there’s Shellhead, carrying the corpse of a young woman poisoned by the very air she breathed. We are relieved to discover that this is just a film created by Tony to help convince other business owners to take environmental protection seriously. They respond in a stereotypical “businessman” fashion… which leads Tony to tell of a recent adventure he had with Iron Man.
We move to Namor the Submariner swimming through the ocean angry and brooding. He comes on a pipe spewing pollution – look at the plumes of black and deep purple – killing all the local fish. This, naturally, sends him into a rage and, like any good Silver/Bronze Age comic book character, he destroys the object of his anger… and then follows the pipe back to kick the ass of the surface dweller that put it there.
Now we flash to the surface, where the pipe originated from, where Tony Stark is visiting the supervisor of the Meridian Island facility, Blaine. Blaine is a douche. Archie Goodman leaves very little room for negotiation on this fact. He’s overly casual with the CEO of his company, cuts corners on safety and environmental equipment and siphoned budgeted funds to pay for his off-the-books pet project, a solar generator, that has some pretty gnarly side effects. Blaine’s fiance, June, comes running in to tell him that all of filters and pumping equipment are shutting down and that the island is starting to fill up with toxic gas. (Point of note, Mr. Goodwin makes sure that we know that Tony is a responsible business owner by having him mention that there should be special filtration units that should be taking care of these fumes.)
Tony is just getting his head wrapped around all of this when Namor shows up to beat things with his fists – which includes a building or two. Stark sends Blaine to get his employees to safety and then Namor and Iron Man fight for, like, a long time.
It’s pages of punches, but those are not as important as the core of the story so let’s jump right to the end where Iron Man wins (natch) and we get back to Blaine the douche denying that there’s any trouble even though all the air around them is inky with noxious fumes. Turns out Blaine’s solar generator is helping to cause this smog (fuzzy late 60’s pseudoscience here) and needs to be destroyed. Well, Blaine just won’t have that and puts up a fight until his fiance passes out from lack of oxygen.
With June down Blaine is suddenly willing to listen to Iron Man and ol’ Shellhead lands a verbal bitchslap.
Then we get the “team-up” section of the book where Iron Man helps Submariner escape and then they work together to destroy the solar converter…
…By dropping a giant rock in the ocean and tidal waving the island clean. Oh, and Blaine the Douche died trying to fix his mistake – TOO LITTLE TOO LATE, DOUCHE!
In the end the businessmen that Tony was trying to convince to join him in better environmental practices blow him off saying that changes cost money and that they have stock holders to answer to. They leave and we’re left with much the same reaction you’d see in modern business.
The funny thing is, Tony quotes that, “…the same thing could happen on a global scale in ten to thirty years!” And it kind of is. Maybe not to the extreme of this story, but it is over thirty years later and climate change is constantly in the news, animals are constantly threatened with extinction, and rainforest is still being cut down by the hundreds of acres a day… If nothing had changed Archie Goodwin probably wouldn’t have been wrong.
The nice thing is the effects of the Clean Air Act of 1963 were starting to show effects and the Clean Water Act of 1972 helped to clean up and save some of the most important waterways. The combination of the two have definitely kept us from the kind of apocalyptic scenario presented on page one of this comic. The conversations generated in the 70’s also helped to change the culture as far as the popularity of environmentalism. I grew up in the late 80’s/early 90’s and I remember the environment being part of the core conversation in school and in general. Earth Day was recognized at school and we’d do events to prep for and celebrate it, Star Trek 4 had a “save the whales” message and was a big hit, and recycling became such a thing in california that suddenly there were different trash cans depending on whether what you were throwing out was recyclable or not.
So when I read this in 19… something-or-other I was really surprised that these ideas, that felt really young, were actually much older than I was – as was the corporate attitude of “money before responsibility” that is the stale cliche/truth of big business.
It’s funny how things like this can stick with you. Having read this again, decades after reading it the first time, my memory of it was very accurate and it’s amazing to me that the message can still be relevant.
Has anything stuck with you like that? Let me know in the comments.
See you next time!