Monday, August 8, 2016

Just a Guy in Need of Some Bat-Snake Repellent - Iron Man 50

Iron Man #50 (September 1972)
Mike Friedrich-George Tuska/Vince Colletta

Doug: Today I'll close out a series of comic reviews that I had no idea would become a series of comic reviews. In April I posed a question about favorite (or non-favorite) mismatches in comics. In that post, as samples to get you thinking, I displayed the covers to Daredevil #163, Thor #269, and today's mag: Iron Man #50. Well, as I went ahead and reviewed two of those books, and being the completist that I am, it only seems proper to review the third. Here it is. If you read the first two reviews, we generally gushed over the DD book, but felt that the Thor story left quite a bit to be desired. My preconceived notion on today's story was that it was going to stink as well. Iron Man, against a big snake? C'mon... Read on, O' Curious One.

Were you a regular Iron Man reader in the Bronze Age? I was not. I don't know why. I bought Thor pretty regularly and generally picked up Captain America. I always enjoyed the Big Three when they were in the Avengers together, but for some reason never warmed to Iron Man's solo book. In fact, I am having a difficult time recalling if I ever bought an issue! I know I bought Iron Man Annual #4, but that was due to the Champions crossover. Go figure - I bought every issue of the Champions, but passed on the Golden Avenger. Forty years later, that kinda boggles the mind. Anyway, you're waiting on a 100-Word Review...

Tony Stark’s in bad shape. His armor drained after a battle against the Super-Adaptoid, Stark struggles to get to an electric outlet. In the nick of time he’s successful; until Jarvis barges in on him. With IM’s armor scattered about Stark is forced to lie to his faithful butler. Later, Princess Python attacks Jarvis in anticipation of attacking Stark. A young ESPer named Marianne plays heavily in the plot. The Princess eventually captures Stark, but he frees himself to change to Iron Man. IM tussles with a mutated python, but of course wins. Naturally, the next menace lies around the corner… 

You know, when I began reading this (from the Iron Man DVD-ROM), I was prepared to come to you in review with a "this was sillier than Thor vs. Stilt-Man" conclusion. However, I cannot report in that manner. I actually really liked it, and here's why:

The Good: As I usually do, I'll start with the art. When you think of "classic" Iron Man pencilers, I'm sure Don Heck and Gene Colan come to mind. But if George Tuska isn't in the same thought, I don't know what's wrong with you. I've always enjoyed Tuska's rendition of ol' Shellhead. "Stock poses"? You bet; and they're great. Tuska has a very dynamic style akin to Jack Kirby or John Buscema. While his draftsmanship isn't near Buscema's realism (in fact, Tuska seemed to pride himself on making supporting characters somewhat cartoony) and of course Kirby has no peer, Tuska nevertheless gives us a kinetic Iron Man. You can feel the whirl of a character, the power of a punch, the wind in flight. Later, truthfully only a few years from the publication of this issue, I'd probably take issue with the stiffness of a Tuska-drawn book. But here, in the early Bronze Age, he was solid.

Mike Friedrich's script is wordy! So why is that a good thing? I guess I enjoyed the existentialism with which he wrote Tony Stark. It's a far cry from the Stark current fans know -- the Robert Downey, Jr. Tony Stark of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This Stark seems to be a pretty deep fellow, very sober and introspective. He's not covering for his inadequacies and doubts with witty banter. Conversely, this version of Stark seems cut straight from the early cloth stitched by Stan Lee and Kirby -- feet fully made of clay and struggling to deal with that fact. I've read other scripts by Friedrich, and wordiness is a "thing" of his. In that regard, I can say that I got what I expected when coming to this tale.

I got a real kick out of the manner in which Tony Stark had to remove his armor. It certainly wasn't the drone-service we've seen lately in films.

The Bad: Let's face it -- no way Princess Python gets on Iron Man's dance card. I'd like to have been in whatever meeting took place where editor Roy Thomas signed off on this as a good idea. Thor vs. Stilt-Man, indeed! In a way it works, but only because of the silly "mutation" that takes place with the Python -- the chemical cocktail that slithery monster was bathed in must have been second only to what befell poor Barry Allen. That doesn't happen, we got no story. Period.

I was also unsure of the Princess's speech patterns. I would not pretend to be a connoisseur of the adventures of the Circus of Crime, but no where in my memory does it stand out that the Princess speaks "tough broad"-ese. I was further confounded by what appeared to be a different style of speaking as depicted later in this same story. Perhaps I missed something.

Above I said that Friedrich wrote a much more introspective, self-critical Tony Stark. While I'll stand by my liking of that in my comments above, I will say that upon cracking the book it was a bit of a shock to the system. Downey's portrayal of Stark/Iron Man has become the norm, hasn't it? Again, with no rich history of reading Iron Man throughout the character's history this philosophical Stark caught me a bit off guard. Not bad overall, just maybe for me during the reading.

The Ugly: I dunno... I find myself getting to this section with rarely a thing to mention. But today I do have one, and it was in fact a trope we saw in the aforementioned Thor story. Well, actually in the issue after the one I reviewed. Thor is separated from Mjolnir by the big ugliness that is Blastaar. The Thunder God doesn't recover it in time and hence turns back into Dr. Donald Blake. Of course he ends up recovering his walking stick and later knocking Blastaar all the way back to the Negative Zone. Here we see Tony Stark afflicted by an old Silver Age malady, and that's the draining of power from his armor -- notably, the life-sustaining chestplate. In this story Stark even remarks to himself that he has only around 60 seconds to find electricity. And then he counts it down. Like I ever thought he wouldn't find it? Pfah... If the trope doesn't provide drama or advance the story in a fresh way, then lose it. So there -- my "ugly" for this story.

Overall, though, this was time well spent. I really did enjoy this book quite a bit more than I expected. This story really had that early Bronze Age feel to it. The 20c price tag seems to ooze such a sense, am I right?

NOTE: Just an observation here. I own most of the Marvel DVD-ROMs (and again, they are wonderful things! -nearly as swell as sliced bread!), but I have never seen a scanned issue that looked like it was owned by an actual consumer. I always figured that the comics used to create those literary keepsakes came from some Marvel vault. Go figure -- apparently Iron Man #50 was secured from some kid! See below, at the Mighty Marvel Checklist:


Edo Bosnar said...

Doug, thanks for the review; I didn't become a regular IM reader until the now legendary Michelinie/Layton run, so I'm largely unfamiliar with this earlier stuff as well. I did have a smattering of earlier issues, though, and I liked them well enough even if I don't recall much about them. I know there was one in which he fought Blizzard which was pretty good.
Anyway, I agree about Tuska's art: it's rather solid, and based on the samples you posted here, I can say they mesh well with Colletta's inks - which was not often the case with many other artists.

On the matter of Tony Stark's personality, yes, he was definitely more 'serious' in this period. I think it was during the aforementioned Michelinie/Layton run that he became a little more relaxed and started acting like a devil-may-care playboy - so I guess that was the first step in the direction of the Downey portrayal we now see in the movies.

david_b said...

Great review Doug, as mentioned before, this was 'My Iron Man' for a few years. I always thought the Tuska/Colletta team was very solid and pretty synonymous with early Bronze Age treasures (they did great work on that short-lived Shanna series back then as well...). The male heroes are arching, muscular and heroic, the women's faces are irresistibly beautiful, great action and flight scenes as well. I always thought Vinnie softened up Georges work in a very attractive way.

As I've snickered about for years.., as the supposed '2nd strongest Avenger' for that time period, and even to remind us with a masthead that starts with 'INVICIBLE'.., yet be brought down by large snakes and some radical hippy throwing a pale of iron-melting acid on you, makes you ponder.

But it was certainly my fav IM genre and your column reminds me I need to keep collecting those floppies or at least the Masterworks compilation of 'em.

Great post today.

Anonymous said...

..."tough broad"-ese...what a great word :D

Martinex1 said...

I had a pretty good run in my collection of IM from this era. And I really enjoyed them but I do have to admit that your good, bad and ugly could have fit that entire period in some way. I too like Tuska's Iron Man, but some of his facial features for supporting characters were distracting. The teeth on Happy Hogan made him seem like a golden age comic sidekick. They definitely played up Tony's heart malady back then and probably could have established some other weaknesses. I always thought it was funny that he had to plug into a 110v socket to recharge. The Iron Man armor with all its technology and blasters recharged like an electric toothbrush. He just needed a giant extension chord. Villains of that era were pretty weak; I wonder if those in charge saw Iron Man as a mid- level strength. Sure he had occasional battles with Firebrand, Dr. Spectrum, and the Mandarin but he also fought Rokk,Slasher, and the Black Lama. He had a lot of one and done issues and villains which lent itself to a revolving door of short fights from what I recall. The book kind of slogged along for the next 50 issues - sure it had some great individual stories, but it seemed kind of directionless until much later.

So Princes Python kills herself because she doesn't have her giant snake to keep her warm??!!!? That was a bit weird.

Redartz said...

Another fine review, Doug! Like Edo, I didn't follow Iron Man until the Michelinie/ Layton issues (which I absolutely loved). His Avengers appearances always interested me, though.

Agreeing on the general fondness for Tuska's work here. Also agreeing with Martinex1 and his comment on the facial features, particularly the teeth. The one thing that really bothered me about Tuska's work was his tendency to give the villains really bad, scraggly teeth. Perhaps dentists are disinclined to work on supervillains, I don't know...

Finally, that must be some powerful snake to crush reinforced armor like that. Now if that effect could be reproduced, and get the Lizard to control all those enhanced snakes...that would be a threat...

Martinex1 said...

Also it is fun to llook at those old Bullpen Bulletins and checklists. Reading through it, Sgt.Fury and the Howling Commandos sure had a long run. They don't seem to get reminisced about as much as the hero teams, but they were extremely popular with my cousins back in the day.

Unknown said...

The early bronze age was a fine era for Iron Man. The "deeper" Tony Stark is sensitive and intelligent. Later on, I found Iron Man to be depicted as a Marvel version of Bruce Wayne, in some ways. Tuska's art was classic for this period; he was well-selected to illustrate Iron Man. Yes, some artists seemed to feel that villains had to be drawn somewhat ugly--disheveled, snaggletoothed, poor posture, etc. Their "defective" appearance thereby reinforced their sinister dispositions. Surprised they couldn't find a "cleaner" copy of Iron Man #50 to scan for the DVD-ROM, as it's not a scarce issue by any means. Interesting review that makes me want to dig out the issue for a reread.

david_b said...

Agreed with all, but remember all you BABsters.., for these perhaps 'directionless' years in Iron Man as Martinex1 mentioned, we did get the glorious introduction of both Drax and Thanos by Mr. Starlin himself.

There's always gems in mundane-ness. :)

Doug said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I'm happy to see this "oldie but goodie" has spurred some nice conversation.

There was a definite charm to this story, most likely falling into the "read it with the right mindset" category. I had a great time, as many aspects were appealing to me.


david_b said...

Ahhh, sorry for misspelling 'INVINICBLE' above in my initial post.. heading to the chalkboard now...:


And pale, instead of 'pail'...., sheesh I'm just a mess today - It's coming off those long military weekends and heading straight back into a Monday that does it to me.


JJ said...

That splash of Shellhead blasting forth is pretty impressive. I like the background as well, what with the twilight sky and the trees in silhouette. I so wish I had these early BA issues of Iron Man. I was an IM nut in my day - the Michelinie/Romita Jr./Layton run. No character excited me more. I can even remember that emotional buzz I used to get. Something about him just sparked me. I realize that some of those earlier issues would fall flat but I'd love to have them just to study the evolution of the character.

Agreed, this villain just isn't up to par. It happens. Rather nice art however.

BobC said...

I don't want to piss anybody off, but I really, really hate George Tuska's art. Always have. I hate how he used the same poses over and over and over. Talk about a "catalogue of poses." And all those up-the-nose-shots--UGH.

Maybe I'm in an allergy related bad mood, but I don't understand why Marvel artists always drew venom fangs on constrictor snakes. Either a snake kills by constricting (squeezing to death) its prey, or it uses venom from its fangs. Never both. Even my beloved John Buscema drew anacondas (constrictors) with fangs!! City boys!!

Anonymous said...

Aw another mismatch issue! Well first off I must say that like many other fans Tuska's artwork has never been a favourite of mine, too many stock poses, etc. but yes he and Vinnie Colletta turn in a decent (gasp!) effort here.

As for the mutated snake, well, this is one of those issues where a hefty suspension of belief is required. Also, to be honest, I frankly prefer the more sombre introspective version of Tony Stark that we see here instead of the RDJ snarky wise-ass from the recent movies. Apart from the overused trope of his chestplate running out of juice at critical moments in a fight (didn't he need power from a flashlight in one issue?) it's quite refreshing to see a vulnerable hero who doesn't have all the answers.

- Mike 'which reminds me, gotta pay my light bill now' from Trinidad & Tobago.

RobAnderson said...

Fun review! Of an issue I picked up during my flea market nirvana, which I wrrote about a while back -- so I really enjoyed reading this.

One note on the source of those DVD/CD comics. Someone at Marvel at that time told me, IIRC, that almost all of those books were scans of Ralph Macchio's collection at the time. I seem to remember hearing that interns or staffers would sometimes drive to his place and grab long boxes left in his entrance for them.

So I don't think it was a matter of how hard it was to find a copy of an issue -- they were just scanning what was in the longbox.

Hope I'm remembering that right, and that story was accurate, but interesting at least!

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