Friday, May 7, 2010

Stark, Tony Stark: Demon in A Bottle, part 1

Iron Man #126 (Sept 1979)
"The Hammer Strikes!"
Writer: David Michelinie
Pencil Art: John Romita Jr.
Finished art/conceptual assist: Bob Layton

Karen: It seemed like a good time to go back and look at one of the most talked-about Iron Man stories of all: Demon in A Bottle. It's hard for me to believe this story happened 31 years ago! Tony's been a recovering alcoholic now for most of his history. While it's certainly not what defines him as a character, it sure made for a lot of jokes in Twisted Toyfare Theater and Robot Chicken.

Karen: We've started wi
th issue 126, which does a nice job recapping the plot of the previous issues. Essentially, Iron Man was framed with murdering an ambassador (his armor was remotely controlled), he has to give up the armor to authorities, and his alter ego, Stark, has to investigate and figure out who's behind it all.
Doug: I'm a novice to this story, as this was published right about the time I got out of reading comics for a few years. Not a regular buyer of the Iron Man title, I was pretty centered on his adventures in the pages of the Avengers. I thought the recap was helpful; however, had I been a regular reader of the magazine, I suppose I'd have been kind of ticked that editorial used almost half of the book to rehash old material. The scene where the ambassador was killed was quite intriguing -- I think we've all been there when the car doesn't start when it's supposed to, or some appliance suddenly malfunctions. Shoot, and not to be flip, but look at the quality control issues Toyota has experienced lately. This sort of thing, while grossly unfortunate, was certainly a believable plot point.

Karen: Unfortunately for Stark, he gets captured by rival industrialist/bad guy Justin Hammer, who looks an awful lot like British actor Peter Cushing. This is a cute little in-joke, as Cushing starred in numerous Hammer horror films in the 60s and 70s. Hammer escorts Stark around his luxurious estate, pretty much giving up his plans like any good James Bond villain would do. Just when Stark thinks he's made his escape, he discovers that the estate is actually a colossal floating island!
Doug: And also like any megalomaniacal do-badder, Hammer wears his ego on his sleeve and his name on the side of the floating paradise!
Karen: Stark is recaptured, escapes again, and manages to get to his brief case with his spare Iron Man armor just in time to greet a pack of grade-C villains Hammer has brought to the island. The Golden Avenger turns to face them and says, "So I tell you what I'm going to do: I'm going to take every one of those two-bit lackeys of yours and I'm going to rip them into so many pieces that you'll need a guide book to put them back together! And then Mr. Hammer - then I'm coming after you!" Whoa!
Doug: That was really a great scene, and the last page splash was a killer!

Karen: This was a fun issue in that Stark is definitely out of his element, yet manages to come out ahead. We do see signs of his struggle with alcohol; even when he is imprisoned he asks the guard for some liquor. Besides the problems with Iron Man being charged with killing the ambassador, SHIELD is attempting to take legal control of Stark Enterprises. Tony's under a lot of pressure and the strain is getting to him.

Doug: I thought it was interesting that earlier in this arc Stark had gone to seek the tutelage of Captain America in the area of martial arts. I'm guessing that's not the sort of thing one learns overnight, and let's face it -- with all of the tech, Tony's never had to really rely on fighting prowess. But, as you mentioned James Bond above, it does fit into the story and Tony puts a few moves on his captors. I had to laugh, though, at the scene when he pulls off his belt, and the buckle transforms into a grappling hook. If that didn't evoke memories of Adam West and Burt Ward, I don't know what would!!

Karen: I enjoyed the artwork in this issue. I've always enjoyed Bob Layton's work, and he does a great job here. This issue had a very cinematic feel to it. Not only does Hammer feel like a Bond villain, this whole issue felt like a 70s Bond movie! It's big and flashy and goofy. The ending, with a pissed-off Iron Man ready to take on a pack of baddies, just makes me want to get to the next issue already!

Doug: I think the best thing about the art is that Bob Layton shines through more than John Romita, Jr. Layton just has a polish to his linework -- he was quite suited for Iron Man. And a note on JRJr... I'm sorry, but I just do not at all care for his work over the past 25 years or so. I think in an effort to distance himself from his immensely talented father, John the Younger has achieved an oft-rushed, always-scratchy, somewhat-plain style that has never been to my liking. Give me the standard superhero fare that he offered us when he was first making his own name for himself, and I'd be happy.
Karen: Agreed -I don't know what happened, but his recent stuff just looks so rough. I picked up the free comic book day issue featuring Iron Man and Thor, and I can't say it has me excited for the new Avengers title. Between the scratchy Romita art and Bendis "all my characters have the same voice" writing, I don't think there's going to be much there for me.
Karen: Next up - Iron Man vs. Everybody!


MaGnUs said...

"Floating island"? I should hope so!!! :)

I must confess I've never read this story, basically because I wasn't an Iron Man reader until a couple of years ago (yes, when the first movie came out, I admit it), but it's one of the Marvel classics I know I have to read someday.

Karen said...

Doh! yes , I think I meant floating fortress or some such thing and got crossed up. In any case, you really should take a look at the Michelinie/Layton run. I had been reading Iron Man on and off since about issue 40, but it wasn't until these guys came on board that it became a must-read book.

MaGnUs said...

Yeah, I know that's a definitive run for the character... some years ago I got my hands on the classic "Captain America No More" run by Mark Gruenwald (arguably, an equivalent run for Cap to the Michelinie/Layton one for Tony), and loved it, and it infused me with a love for Cap as a character that I didn't have before.

This month, in my radio show, I'll be doing an "Iron Man greatest sagas" reading list piece, and Demon In A Bottle is obviously there.

Edo Bosnar said...

This is going to be an enjoyable series of posts. I started reading Iron Man regularly from about issue 120, and that run to about issue 150 or thereabouts is what I consider "my" Iron Man - the best stories, the best supporting cast, the best armor(s), and most importantly, the best girlfriend.
One thing I really liked about it was that Michelinie tackled some serious issues, like this storyline with the murdered ambassador, or Tony's alcoholism, without become too dark or angsty.

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