Monday, December 3, 2012

A Contest of Iron Wills: Iron Man 149

Iron Man #149 (Aug 1981)
Writer/plot: David Michelinie
Pencil art: John Romita Jr.
Finished art/plot: Bob Layton

Karen: We figured it might be time for some more Iron Man. When you're talking Bronze Age Shell-head, the go-to guys are Michelinie and Layton, of course. These two did as much for Iron Man as Walt Simonson did for Thor, or Frank Miller for Daredevil. They took a B level Marvel character -yes, think about it, he really was B-level til the films - and made his title a can't miss book. Finally, Iron Man was interesting and Tony Stark actually had a personality. Not as much personality as Robert Downey Jr., mind you, but he was at least distinguishable from other characters once these two guys got their mitts on him. We're going to review a two-parter this week and next, the classic story of what happens when two high-tech prima donnas wind up in an age of myth. It ain't pretty...

Doug:  You know, I never read Iron Man as a kid.  I usually checked out the covers.  I don't know if it was budgetary concerns or what.  I've said before that I always gravitated to team books -- so today that will be my excuse, as I didn't read much more of Cap or Thor solo, either.  But this is going to be fun today!  You know, JR JR's name came up the other day in our "Erosion" post.  Here he's really good, but I think that's largely due to Layton's inks.  This is, in my opinion, really good stuff.  The X-Men pencils Romita would turn in just a few years later were troublesome.  So plain.  To each his/her own, I guess.  

Karen: I would agree with you that Layton is really the one who elevated the art here. He's another one of those inkers who leaves his mark, regardless of the penciller. And that's not necessarily a bad thing! Our tale opens with Iron Man chasing after a Stark International cargo ship that is under attack by pirates. Iron Man easily takes down the hijackers, and then orders the captain to turn the ship around. Apparently, Iron Man has a lot of clout, as the captain does so, no questions asked! The Golden Avenger then jets off to Stark's Long Island headquarters, for a meeting with regional managers. Just as he's about to fly to his penthouse to change into his civvies, Shellhead recalls that the penthouse was badly damaged in a battle with Blacklash, so he heads off instead to temporary quarters on the grounds. He changes and thinks about his problems, including the departure of his current love interest, Bethany Cabe, on some secret mission. But he has no time to sulk. It's off to his meeting, where he  tongue-lashes his Miami manager for selling circuitry to Latveria! Stark policy is that no sales are ever made to Latveria, the home of Dr. Doom (of course you knew that). He fires the man right then and there.

Doug:  I thought the scene you mentioned where the ship was unquestioningly turned around was dumb.  Of course, we live in the post-9/11 world with all sorts of protocols.  But c'mon.  In the Marvel Universe, that dope didn't think someone could successfully impersonate the Iron Man?  And does one really forget that one's home was blown up, set ablaze, whatever?  I did like many of the perspectives Romita employed in telling these early parts to our story.  Nice panoramic shots, and interesting camera angles.  It was nice to see Tony Stark kick some butt as a CEO as well.  That dude that was selling tech to Doom was a doofus.  Nice touch of characterization.

Karen: Speaking of Dr. Doom, the former monarch (at this time) of Latveria  is making a deal with the wizard Cagliostro. The magician has taught Doom every occult skill and spell he knows -and demands his payment. Doom warns him that no one demands anything of Doom -but as he has given his word, he hands over a chest filled with treasure. Doom then turns, presses some buttons on his gauntlet, and a huge glowing rectangle appears and passes over him, and he disappears, only to reappear in his castle in present time. He speaks with the lab-coated technician operating his time machine, Hauptmann. When he's informed that the planned improvements to the device can't be made because of the lost shipment from Stark Industries, Doom becomes furious. I felt Michelinie really had a good grip on Doom and what makes him tick. He's imperious and egotistical, yet also strangely honorable.

Doug:  The gauntlet buttons are somewhat problematic.  At times throughout comicdom we sometimes see formerly hidden elements suddenly appear that have no explanation.  We've all seen Batman pull out some gadget that in no way would have fit into his belt.  By this time we've been exposed to Dr. Doom for 20 years and he's never (to my recollection) been drawn with buttons on his gloves or arms.  The wizard was OK looking, but let's face it -- no one draws a guy like that like Big John Buscema!  Hey -- and a shout-out from me, too, to David Michelinie's dialogue.  He really nails Doom's utter pomposity, doesn't he?  And I've loved that time machine since we first laid eyes on it in Fantastic Four #5 (or Avengers #56, or...).

Karen: Back in the States, Stark, suited up as Iron Man, waits at a warehouse for Doom's forces to show up and take the components he ordered. He doesn't have to wait very long. A bizarre, insect-like metal craft appears from the ocean and attacks Iron Man. Shellhead gets snared in a net that zaps his circuits. Gambling that he can survive it, he maneuvers himself under the tractor treads of the vehicle, which shred the net but don't damage his armor. Freed, the Golden Avenger pursues the craft as it flies off, but it's too fast for him. But he's not done yet. I  love the way Romita/Layton drew the armor. It truly looks metallic; so many times other artists drew it just like any other costume, almost as if it were cloth. But here it glints like it should!

Doug:  In regard to the ship that attacked Stark's warehouse, and really to all of Doom's tech in this story...  What did you think of it?  I guess for me, it was all such a departure of what we'd become used to from Jack Kirby.  To some extent, I felt that Romita should have used Jack's stuff.  But I suppose to some extent that had become somewhat cliche'.  I don't know -- comics have to modernize.  But I just felt that there were elements of the story that seemed un-Doomlike.  Anyway, I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of the armor.  The way the coils encircle him, there's a real sense of the energy given off.  It's quite well done.  Bob Sharen (never heard of him) is credited as the colorist.  Big ups to him.

Karen: With his first plan foiled, Stark decides to take it to Doom in Latveria. He flies -in his corporate jet -to Latveria, where he is almost immediately surrounded by soldiers.  However, the men aren't there to attack him. Rather, they actually provide him with directions to Doom's castle! It seems the current king, Zorba, is concerned that Doom may try to re-take the throne. He's hoping that an altercation with Iron Man may eliminate that possibility. Soon switching to his armor, Stark flies off to the castle, to find it oddly undefended. He soon realizes that Doom is using a special refraction shield around the castle, so that visually, everything appears to be several feet from where it actually is. His equipment helps him overcome this and he strolls into the castle, where he's attacked by some robots, but they don't give him much trouble. He finally confronts Doom as the doctor is overseeing work on his time machine. Doom really denigrates Iron Man, calling him a "lackey" and an "errand boy." You know, you'd have to wonder if a guy as brilliant as Doom wouldn't suspect that Iron Man was actually Stark. Of course, you'd think most people would suspect that. I have to say I think it was smart of the movie folks to do away with the whole 'bodyguard' idea. Would anyone really buy that? In any case, Iron Man wants those components, and Doom ain't giving them up. Game on!

Doug:  The major problem I have with all of the Marvel movies is that all of the characters go without masks.  Warner Bros. hasn't done this with the various Batman films because that would be STUPID.  But Marvel seems to insist on having Spidey, Cap, Iron Man, etc. run around with their secret IDs all over the place.  But enough of that.  Hey, this Doom has a really nasty disposition!  I don't know that he's ever talked to Ben Grimm the way he rips on Iron Man.  It's really quite a bit of fun!  I thought it was interesting that once the battle commenced Doom was a little physical.  The scene where he leaps over the railing to the floor below was not what we've come to expect from His Eminence. 

Karen: Doom attacks with a nifty device in his gauntlet, which swiftly enlarges tiny molecules so that they become dangerous boulders. Iron Man responds by using one of his earliest powers, reverse magnetism, to send the rocks hurling away. He momentarily stuns Doom, then blasts him, which enrages the Latverian. He grabs Iron Man and the two get physical. In the heat of battle, neither notices that they have stepped on the time platform. Hauptmann sees this as an opportunity to rid himself of his demanding overlord, and activates the device, sending both combatants off to the past. He then destroys the controls, marooning the two armored foes in the past.

Doug:  Hauptmann was another of those tragic figures that so often pop up in literature as virtual slaves to the antagonist.  I'm sure, knowing that the Doctor will inevitably return from the past, that Herr Hauptmann will get his soon enough.  I enjoyed the brief contest of wills, and tech, between our two combatants.  I would think that Doom and Tony Stark are evenly matched.  We'll see what next issue brings us!

Karen: This was fun, but just the prelude to an even bigger story in Iron Man #150. But even here, we can see why the book was so popular: it looks great, and it's a blast to read. 


david_b said...

I actually fell onto this nifty 2-parter by planned happenstance (?).. When I started collecting IM in '73 thanks to that Avengers-Defenders Clash, the title was still 'downtown Tuska-ville'. I collected a dozen issues, then when comic distribution got weird (and I moved a lot), I lost interest. When IM 200 came out, it stirred interest again, so I decided to track down the 'monumentally-numbered' mags (50, 100, 150, etc..). Ish 150 (covered next week) was such a fresh treat. Especially compelling was the banter between Doom and Stark, adding some great layering of attitude between old foes that, I dont' recall, ever really fought each other alone.

Topping that, I find Bob Layton as probably the best IM artist/inker, along side Tuska's expertise on drawing bulky muscles and Colan the undisputed master of darkness. No surprises here, but love his clean inking, his excellent use of shadows, and his flight sequences are probably unmatched. Love how he draws armored hands and fingers as well.

I'm not as big a fan of how he drew Stark's face as I am of his IM rendition; it was alright, but got dull/tiring rather quickly, like he was always channeling Tom Selleck (who obviously was big at the time). Karen mentions her admiration of his armor drawing, I'm a stickler for IM mask drawing; that's the deal-breaker for me, so I'm one of millions glad to see the nose go..

All in all, it wasn't that original of a time-traveling story but the banter, plot development and overall 'fresh touch' everywhere REALLY lifts it up.

Edo Bosnar said...

To me, the Michelinie/Layton Iron Man is THE Iron Man. They nailed the characterization, built up a great supporting cast and Layton's guidance of the art was perfect. And david_b's observation about Tom Selleck is apt, as there were more than a few similarities between IM and Magnum PI (Tony's general appearance and personality, his best friend - a black Vietnam vet helicopter pilot...). None of that bothered me a bit, since I was also a big fan of Magnum at the time.
As for this story, I totally agree with all of your superlatives, and I'll just add that the cover is all kinds of awesome too. Unfortunately, as I recall, this was the last great story of the Michelinie/Layton run - I think both left the title within the next year.

Garett said...

Reading comics in the early '80s, it never occurred to me that Iron Man or Daredevil could be B level characters--they were so good! Thanks for the refresher. Think I'll track down some Iron Man again.

Inkstained Wretch said...

This does look like a fun tale. I'm looking forward to the part two write-up.

I rarely bought Iron Man back in the day. Not sure why. Maybe it was the fact that Iron Man didn't have his own powers (Mutants were so big then). Or maybe it was just that as a regular Avengers reader I was already getting my monthly Iron Man supplement.

Now that I think about it, it was probably the former. I did buy a few issues of the series during the initial "James Rhodes is now Iron Man" period. They weren't bad but kind of put me off of the whole idea. I remember thinking at the time: "If anybody can wear the suit then what is so special about him? "

humanbelly said...

Man, how does this cover not at least make a "100 Greatest Marvel Covers" honorable mention? Like, of the next 100 runners-up? (Granted, the "Hero In the Eyes of the Foe" is practically its own cliche'-- but geeze, it ALWAYS looks great!).


Comicsfan said...

Michelinie had quite the knack for making Tony Stark's CEO role just as entertaining to read as the adventures of Iron Man. And the question of ownership of Stark's electronic components made for a clever catalyst to bring Stark (via Iron Man) and Doom into conflict. The real fun for fans of both characters, I think, was seeing Stark's and Doom's technological prowess matched up and evaluated head-to-head by their inventors, neither of whom had a shortage of ego in that respect.

Iron Man wasn't as impressive against Doom in the so-called "private war of Dr. Doom," which took place about four years earlier--I'm sure this meeting between the two was much more satisfying for everyone. I thought it was awesome storytelling.

Fred W. Hill said...

Classic two-parter from a classic run. Of course, it would have been very amusing if Dr. Doom had declared, "Mr. Stark, I know that's you in there. You may be able to fool the ignorant masses with your ridiculous charade, but you can't fool Dr. Doom!" Nevertheless, a fun read. What's a bit surprising, as far as I know this was Dr. Doom's first appearance in an Iron Man issue. I don't think they ever tangled during the Silver Age, not even in the Avengers, at least not until well into the Bronze Age. Seems like an obvious match up, Marvel's top armored hero and villain, but until here it never happened.

Graham said...

I had just started reading Iron Man a couple of issues before and was really getting into it when this two-parter appeared. I loved the cover. This was some of Romita's best work to me at the time, but I figured out that it was Layton who was the driving force behind the art. I also loved the give and take between Iron Man and Doom..."errand boy." :)

Like Doug, I never understood the insistence on the super heroes taking their masks off in the Marvel movies. I just assumed it was the studios wanting their actors' faces shown, but then it seems like they always make an attempt to change as much of these characters as possible w/o ticking off the fan base.

dbutler16 said...

Like Doug, I mostly collected team book, and so was never a regular buyer of Iron Man. He fell into the “buy it if the cover looks cool” category.

Also, I totally agree with Doug about JR JR’s pencils – they look good here thanks to Layton, but I hated his art on the X-Men.

I also agree with Doug that, as much as I enjoy the Marvel movies, the lack of masks is disconcerting. It seems like the filmmakers are embarrassed (or something) by many of the comic book conventions that we all know and love, including some of the corny names.

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