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.