(Credit: Bob Al-Greene)
Taking a break from my normal “Operation: Television’s Curtis Andersen,” here is some cool Iron Man stuff. The folks over at Burger Fiction have put together a very comprehensive video of Iron Man’s appearances in TV and film since his inception back in 1963. With Civil War only a couple weeks away, this is a cool visual of how far the Iron Avenger has come over the last 50 years.
Check out all the armor suited action!
It’s been a rough week post Memorial Day week so I’m glad to post something that can make people laugh. I’ve featured videos from Bad Lip Reading before – but it never hurts when you add Iron Man to the mix.
This is a one-and-done issue and when I read issues like this I always ask myself if going through each issue is really the best plan for this project. The goal was to go through my collection and read them through and reconnect with the sentimental memories that are attached to them. Issues like #1 and #173 are easy because they are not only milestones in my collecting history, but are fond memories that I have with my Mom and Dad, but issues like this don’t rouse the same emotional response. I didn’t want this to just become me retelling Iron Man stories. That idea’s been done, and done very well, by Tom Katers and I don’t want to do a poor copy of that.* I considered taking a new tact with this project, of reading through each comic and then only writing about the ones that struck a chord, but that didn’t feel like it was in the spirit of what I set out to do. It felt like cheating. Then it occurred to me that this issue follows television show formula and that, even though I may not have strong memories of it, there’s still something to explore. Something to comment on beyond just rehashing the story in the pages. If this issue of Iron Man were on TV it would make for a good CW show.
Here on our first page we have a girl running in the dark. There’s thunder and lightning, suddenly a foreboding shadow and… the monster is revealed! It is The Controller and he has found her! This opening scene wouldn’t out of place in an episode of Supernatural or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It even ends the page with the credits.
The more I read stories with The Controller the more it is clear to me that he is a good foil for Iron Man , especially at this point in Iron Man’s evolution.
As he makes more appearances he changes to fit with the times and by the time we get to Matt Fraction’s run in 2005 The Controller has an army of drone zombies… but we’re not quite there yet.
The Controller is trying to stop our young lady, who we will call Meredith McCall, from warning Tony Stark about something and pulls out and tosses a tree stump just to get to her and make her one if his mind slaves.
Where comic books have one-and-done issues that return to the status quo at the end of twenty-two pages and TV shows have their stand-alone episodes that do the same thing. This is one of those. Have we met Meredith McCall before? No, she is a special guest start if we are using TV vocabulary. Will anything be changed when we get to the end of this issue? No, but I’m getting ahead of myself. That tree stump does what all things thrown into the air must do – it comes down…
…right in front of the car that is carrying Tony Stark and Jasper Sitwell.
Can we take a moment to talk about how strong someone has to be to pull a tree stump out of the ground? Rain and wet earth notwithstanding, tree stumps are notoriously difficult to get out of the ground. It’s easy for city-slickers like myself to forget that there’s a reason why stump pulling has a shocking large return of results on Google search. Trees don’t want to be moved and anchor themselves down pretty good. The fact that The Controller can rip one out of the ground so casually really speaks to the strength he has.
Back to our story…
Tony and Jasper are on the rocks ever since the run in with The Minotaur and Jasper’s discovery that the love of his life, Whitney Frost a.k.a. Madame Masque, is in love with Tony. Tony mentions that he is just visiting an old friend and doesn’t need his S.H.I.E.L.D. escort, but Jasper is more cautious saying that a mysterious call from a young lady from Tony’s past seems suspicious. The tree stump pretty much confirms that Jasper is right as does the scream from the woods. Jasper runs into the woods to help while Tony dons his armor from the secret compartment in his car. Side Note: I wish real cars had all the secret compartments like they do in comics and movies. I don’t know what I’d do with them, but I want them!
Iron Man, using his boot jets, finds Meredith before Jasper can (and The Controller runs off not ready to confront his old foe) which makes an emasculated Jasper Sitwell feel all the more useless.
Tony has guilt about it, but also has to maintain his cover of being both Stark and Iron Man, so Iron Man lets Jasper get Meredith back to the car while he “searches” for Tony. They drive to the sanitarium where Meredith works and we get the popular television trope – the flashback!
Forbidden love – the sweetest of all fruits. Even though Tony and Meredith are all hot for each other that one summer, after their fathers make an effort to separate them the relationship fades just like so many do. The reach the Pinewood Sanitarium and mention that Meredith was worried that Basil Sandhurst – The Controller – was planning his revenge on Stark. The director of the facility laughs it off claiming that Basil is an invalid, even showing Jasper and Tony a sleeping Basil Sandhurst.
Jasper, still feeling useless, decides that Tony probably is safe and leaves, Tony sticks around to see to Meredith. Unfortunately it was all a trick! The Controller reveals himself and that he has built a new Absorbatron! In TV we’d call this an act break or a reveal – something big to bring you back after the commercials.
Now The Controller wants Tony’s help building a new device that will make him even more powerful…
Meanwhile in the woods, Jasper can’t shake his suspicions and investigates the area where they found Meredith. There he finds a slave disc and rushes back to Pinewood.
Under the careful watch of The Controller, Tony builds the helmet Sandhurst designed. It focuses the mental energy of those attached to slave discs into powerful rays of destructive force.
Jasper rushes in and distracts The Controller just long enough for Tony to get into his Iron Man armor and there is a battle:
I really like this battle scene. Iron Man is not as physically powerful as The Controller, Iron Man even mentions that only Hulk or Thor could really slug it out with him, and just like in a good TV show we need to see the hero overcome what looks like a hopeless battle. And brains win out over brawn. Knowing that he couldn’t directly sabotage the helmet, Tony made it so that it could only handle so much power:
With the bad guy defeated we get our wrap-up where the status quo gets put back to normal (rather quickly as well):
I don’t think we see Meredith McCall again and the next time we see The Controller he is so different that this story is irrelevant, but just like good genre TV it filled a month and was fun to read.
See you next time!
*Seriously though, his podcasts called Tom vs. Comics are fantastic! Especially if you’re a DC Silver Age fanboy. I’m not but I listened to all of Tom vs. The Flash and I attribute it to being the main reasons why I’m enjoying The Flash television show so much right now. Yes the show is good on it’s own, but Tom and his retelling of the classic stories makes it so much better. Check it out!
This is an issue where it isn’t so remarkable how much I remember, but in how much I didn’t understand and what went over my head. The heyday of my Iron Man collecting, and therefore Iron Man reading, was ages 8-12. Ideas like Communism and The Civil Rights Movement existed as unrelatable ideas that were taught to us in history class. It was the mid to late 80’s. Yes The Cold War was still going strong, but it had been 20 years since the Cuban Missile Crisis and neither country was eager to repeat that mistake again. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an acknowledged hero of the Civil Rights movement, we got the day off from school and I had not yet witnessed anything close to real racism in my life. So when I read comic books from the 60’s and early 70’s the ideas in them were like ancient history. They were written for their time and thank God we weren’t like that anymore. Reading them now, however, opened my eyes to just how much issues like this one covered.
Let’s start with the super villain in this story: Firebrand.
When I was younger I had no idea what a “firebrand” was. I knew that this bad guy had fire related powers, but no idea that his name was also relevant to the story. Of course now we have the internet for instant definitions:
And our character makes with the agitating right off the top. He helps some local protesters break into the construction site of a community center that the Iron Man Foundation is paying for. Even though the protesters are excited about their sit-in Firebrand makes it clear he’s looking for a fight and then takes off.
Eddie March, who you may remember did a brief stint as Iron Man, is now out of the hospital and has been selected to be the director of the new community center since he is both a native son of Bay City and also has the popularity of being Iron Man for his short time. As they head to the site, Eddie marvels at the changes to the city, with the exception of the North Side which is just as bleak as he remembers it being when he was a kid.
He and Iron Man arrive at the construction site with the city councilman in charge of the community center, Lyle Bradshaw, to see that there is already a bit of trouble between the protesters (black) and police (white).
There’s almost a Commedia dell’arte feel to the characters from this point. Not that they are directly from the Commedia tradition, but that there are archetypes that each character represents. Iron Man is the unbiased moral “right” that wants what is best for all within the law. It is worth noting that Tony Stark appears very little in this issue. For 95% he is in his Iron Man guise – a superhero with no definable skin color. Eddie March is the biased “right” who can relate to the protesters more than Iron Man can. The protesters, all black, represent the civil struggle and members of it become the focus of different variations within that struggle. The police, all white, represent the white establishment defined by law without bigotry. Lyle Bradshaw represents exploitative greed and the white establishment defined by bigotry. These are some pretty heavy concepts to toss into what were called, at the time, “funny books.” My 9 year old brain saw them more as:
So I saw the good guys versus the bad guys in the issue, but I missed all the nuance of how this applied to the times. It is also worth noting that reading this issue with today’s current events in mind, like Ferguson and “Black Lives Matter,” that as far as we’ve come, there is still a way to go.
Taking advantage of the unrest, Firebrand shows up and a riot starts.
There’s a super villain/super hero fight that happens, but that’s not the point of the issue. Instead, the poignant plot line is between Eddie March and a young woman he saves from the riot, Helene.
After they escape, Helene takes Eddie through the city and they discuss what might actually help raise the community as opposed to just have a community center built for them.
While this is happening we get some background into how Firebrand came to be.
And how he built his suit (a bit of unintentional foreshadowing to The Armor Wars and The Five Nightmares).
Battle aside, Iron Man, Eddie, Helene and Councilman Bradshaw eventually all end up back at the councilman’s office and discuss what might be best for the community – which leads to an impasse. Naturally, Firebrand shows up, raises hell, and kidnaps Councilman Bradshaw.
Normally, in a comic book, we’d expect to have everything wrap up all nice an clean, but it doesn’t. Firebrand escapes. The riot is stopped, but so is construction of the community center. Eddie and Helene get jobs at the Iron Man Foundation. But the comic even mentions that it is a very slow matter to get back to healing and understanding.
The last panels bring the whole thing home.
I don’t know that we have the same kind of material created for children that addresses issues like this in the same way that they did back in the 70’s. It was a time for experimentation and breaking established rules and that lead to some great filmmaking, music, and storytelling. It’s also strange to me that a story this on the nose still found a way to get over my head. I guess there’s no stopping a pre-adolescent brain that’s obsessed more with the super hero than the stories that he is featured in. Regardless, it is very eye opening to re-read this now and get a whole new sense of meaning from it. Although not the original point of this project, it has been a very nice bonus.
See you next time.
The new Avengers: Age of Ultron trailers are pretty great! I can’t wait until May! And the stand out star so far has been the Hulk-Buster armor that Iron Man fights the Hulk in. Let’s check the tape:
Pretty cool, right? There’s something about two big things beating the crap out of each other that just says “blockbuster!” Is there anything else that can explain the success of the Bay-former movies? But I don’t want to get distracted.
The Hulkbuster first appeared in 1994 during a series of stories written by Len Kaminski and penciled by Kev Hopgood where Iron Man was trying to clean up old Stane factories that were polluting the environment or working on hazardous projects. Each issue had a different guest star including Venom (he was being positioned as a hero at the time), Deathlok and Smart Hulk (when the Hulk had the strength of the hulk, the mind of Bruce Banner and the attitude of the grey Hulk… ask a comic geek, they’ll tell you what that all mean. It was the 90’s). The technical first appearance of the Hulkbuster is in Iron Man 304, but it’s just the final page as a teaser for the next month.
All the actual Hulkbuster action is in Iron Man 305 “Green Politics.”
The original Hulkbuster was actual a series of add on bits for the armor that Iron Man used at the time called, believe it or not, the Modular Armor which switched out systems and weapons on a mission specific basis. A lot of different bits and bobs were created and used, but the Hulkbuster stands out and the only truly memorable one.
Since then there have been many versions of the Hulkbuster in both art and action figure form. I was going to post some of those images here but it’s actually worth seeing how much has been created so HERE’S A LINK TO A GOOGLE IMAGES SEARCH.
Film wise, we all thought we were getting a Hulkbuster in Iron Man 3, but instead we got “Igor”:
It was a little disappointing.
Then we got this concept art from Age of Ultron:
And all Iron Man geek hearts were a-flutter!
Seeing the Hulkbuster in action is just whetting my appetite even more and you know I’ll be first in line when Avengers 2 comes out in May!
Well, first in line at a reasonable hour, I’m too old for midnight shows anymore.
Are you excited for Avengers: Age of Ultron? Hit the comments!
See you next time.
After having such a connected experience to the last issue, I hit the polar opposite with this issue. I have no memory of of Iron Man #26 Death (or Dual depending on whether you’re reading the cover or front page) in a Dark Dimension. However, looking at the cover, seeing the barbarian-like hero and his weapon being The Solar Sword, I am reminded of Thundarr the Barbarian:
That aside, this is a stand alone issue that tried to cram a lot of stuff into 22 pages. We open with Happy Hogan trying to beat up Tony as he armors up. This happens quite a bit over the course of the series.
Pepper has been kidnapped by the Collector to make Stark bring him The Freak – the monster that Happy turns into when exposed to Cobalt Rays. Happy can’t know that he was ever The Freak so Tony wants to save Pepper with the power of Iron Man.
As I mentioned above, the villain in this issue is The Collector in his second comic book appearance. The Collector you may recognize from the Guardians of the Galaxy movie:
Here he makes a deal with Iron Man, bring him The Solar Sword or he turns Happy into The Freak and adds him to his zoo. Very basic, kind of a cartoon plot. Just an excuse to get everyone fighting. Definitely designed for younger minds from a more naive time.
So Shellhead is taken to the Dark Dimension where he is immediately set upon by shadow demons.
I think they kinda’ look like the weeping angels from Doctor Who:
But Iron Man is rescued by Thor! Wait, no, that’s Val-Larr Champion of Light! He just looks like Thor with a big “V” on his chest.
Together they fight off the shadow demons and the issue starts to feel like a backdoor pilot for this new hero. He’s in the Dark Dimension, which is a Marvel Mystic realm often visited by Dr. Strange. I wondered while reading this if Val-Larr ever showed up in Dr. Strange or any of the other Marvel Mystic books. A quick Google search showed that he does not seem to. He’s referenced again in Iron Man #33, but we’ll see that later. We get a quick history of the realm, the battle between light and shadow, and the origins of the Solar Sword that Val-Larr uses.
Comic Book Science: The Solar Sword is a weapon that can collect the ambient light and then use it to perform feats and powers including strobes of bright light that burns shadow demons and blasts of power. The full powers and limits of the Solar Sword are not known.
Then Iron Man is taken to the last Citadel of Light – LUMINIA!
And now, after having fought alongside Val-Larr (like, his name is, literally “valor”) and making friends, Tony suddenly remembers, “oh yeah, kinda’ need to grab that sword because The Collector is coming” and he picks a fight.
My favorite part of that is Val-Larr’s response, “Wha?!?” If it were written today he’d be like, “Da faq?!!” Also this gave me a feeling of foreshadowing to a certain storyline in the future where Tony makes a dubious decision because he feels it’s the right thing to do…
…but we’ll get to that later.
Tony does get the sword back to The Collector and, surprise surprise, The Collector decides to keep the sword and abandon Tony, Pepper and Happy in the Dark Dimension… that is until the Solar Sword starts acting funny. Remember the comic book science thing? The Solar Sword was created in the Dark Dimension, where light is scarce. Suddenly brought into a place where light is prevalent the sword begins to overload – and it’s going to explode! So Shellhead picks up The Collector and flies him back into the Dark Dimension.
Fortunately for Val-Larr and the residents of Luminia this coincides with Shar-Khan’s attack on Luminia.
I actually really like the design of Shar-Khan. I would have liked to have seen more of him. Just look at that creepy face!
So, as you may have guessed, the good guys win. The bad guys lose. Happy and Pepper go off to live without Happy discovering that he was ever The Freak. It’s a stand alone issue and it’s interesting to think that this issue is very similar to the issue that features the first appearance of Thanos… but that’s still to come. I think that these were pretty typical issues in the 60’s through the early 70’s. New characters were always being introduced, just like the Golden Age. Some stuck, some didn’t, and Val-Larr was one of the latter. The next issue features the first appearance of Firebrand and dips a toe in how Iron Man as a comic book starts to look at social issues. That’s a character we see a bit more often.
Bit of a non sequitur: this issue’s Stan’s Soapbox, the “newsletter” section of the comic, includes an audience survey. It asks about what kinds of stories you like and what you don’t. It uses some fantastic 70’s vernacular. It gave me the impression of how fandom used to work before the internet. Everything still happened: surveys, complaints, discussions; but they all worked via the mail or telephones or conventions/meet-ups. Just another example of ‘the more things change…”
See you next time.
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!