Iron Man #128 (Nov. 1979) "Demon In a Bottle" Writer/plot: David Michelinie Pencil Art: John Romita Jr. Finished art/plot: Bob Layton
Karen: We've come to the conclusion of our look at Iron Man's 'Demon in a Bottle' storyline. This is a very unusual issue, one without a supervillain or a lot of action. At the time it was published, I recall thinking how different it was - I liked it, but I'd never read a comic like this before.
Doug: Character. Development. And it worked. Karen: Tony has hit rock bottom. He's very close to losing control of Stark Industries to SHIELD, and he's still haunted over his accidental killing of an ambassador (even though he was cleared of responsibility). He goes on a bender, and makes the big mistake of putting on the armor. Far more dangerous than a drunken driver, Tony tries to do his usual superhero schtick when he comes across a train derailment. Of course, his brain is soaked in booze and while trying to remove a tanker filled with chlorine, he drops it and it begins leaking the deadly gas. The art is surprisingly effective in making Iron Man look wobbly and off kilter without being cartoonish.
Doug: I thought the best part of this scene was that Michelinie had Stark flee from the scene, rather than snap to his senses and save the day. So many people who have to deal with alcoholics must contend with their lack of commitment, and the fall-out from their poor deeds and decisions. As I said in last issue's discussion, the portrayal of a boozed-up Tony Stark is pretty real-life, and the creators are to be applauded for not sugar-coating the situation.
Karen: Tony returns home and just as he is about to pour himself a drink, his girlfriend Bethany Cabe arrives. She tells Tony about her former husband, a diplomat, who turned to pills to handle the job pressure, and wound up dying. When Tony offers his sympathy, Bethany gets angry and tells him she told that story because Tony is headed down the same path. Finally, he accepts her offer of help. Karen: It's interesting that this comic dealt with Tony's addiction with roughly a page of him struggling to stay off the booze! We see a montage shot of him arguing with Bethany and falling into her lap, finally breaking down and sharing his problems. I can't help but think that a modern comic might take several issues to do this - or even a whole limited series!
Doug: Can you imagine, with all of the exposition, how long it would take Bendis to tell this story? This single issue would fill up a 6-issue trade paperback! Ugh... give me the writing style of the Silver and Bronze Ages, when it actually took 20 minutes to read a funnybook.
Karen: Even though Tony has managed to start getting himself back on track, he has another problem: when he goes to apologize to Jarvis for his earlier behavior, he discovers that Jarv has sold his two shares of Stark stock. Fearing that SHIELD will get a hold of it, Tony makes what seems to me a bad decision: he flies over to the loan shark in full armor and threatens him! Unfortunately, it's too late, the shares have been sold, apparently to SHIELD.
Doug: Two shares of stock? Did you think that was a little extreme? And, did you think it was a paltry gift from Stark to the faithful Jarvis? I don't know what Stark International would have been trading at back in those days, but you'd think a little more than two shares would have been necessary to show one's "thanks" for loyal service. And that the deal came down to Jarvis' two shares? I thought that seemed a little unbelievable. But it did work, and was the vehicle for the scene where Tony blows it yet again. This was necessary to show that even when on the road to recovery alcoholics make poor choices. This scene was angry, impulsive, and destructive -- and in the end it was going to cost Stark even more, as I'm sure Iron Man could have been sued for property damage.
Karen: Yes, I was surprised all faithful Jarvis had was two shares of stock. Then again, maybe Tony was still peeved at him for the whole Crimson Cowl thing years ago! But back to our story - this news sends Tony back to the bottle. As he prepares to pour himself a drink, Bethany makes one last plea, telling him to remember that his life affects so many others. If he won't stop drinking for himself, she asks him to stop drinking for all those who care about him. After moments of hesitation (and with a sweaty brow!), Tony puts the bottle down in triumph. As he and Bethany drive off into the sunset (literally), he tells Beth he's taken life's best shot and he's still standing. He's got a lot to deal with, but as he says in the last panel, "I'm going to win."
Doug: I thought it was a nice conclusion, because the door remained open for future troubles. The creators didn't try to wrap this in a bow all neat and tidy -- although the recovery began in this issue, we could tell that Tony was still shaky. This was good Marvel-style writing.
Karen: Yeah, very old school with the hero battered but not beaten. Of course, alcohol would again plague Tony later on, to the point that his pal Jim Rhodes had to put on the armor. If you haven't seen Iron Man 2 yet, you should stop reading the rest of my comment: I thought that the scenes at Tony's birthday party, where he gets blasted and out of control in the armor, and Rhodey has to put on the other suit to stop him, was a nice way of incorporating some of the ideas from the Michelinie/Layton run. Although not a full-blown alcoholic, the Stark in the films is clearly a man of excesses and could easily become an alcoholic. Again, he's a typical Marvel hero, with feet of clay. But he comes through when things get tough!
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