Iron Man #149 (Aug 1981) "Doomquest"
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.
Karen has joined the ranks of podcasters along with her friends Larry and Bob on the Planet 8 podcast. Click on the image to hear them explore all things geek!
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Karen and Doug met on the Avengers Assemble! message board back in September 2006. On June 16 2009 they went live with the Bronze Age Babies blog, sharing their love for 1970s and '80s pop culture with readers who happen by each day. You'll find conversations on comics, TV, music, movies, toys, food... just about anything that evokes memories of our beloved pasts!
Doug is a high school social science teacher and department chairman living south of Chicago; he also does contract work for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He is married with two adult sons and a daughter-in-law.
Karen originally hails from California and now works in scientific research/writing in the Phoenix area. She often contributes articles to Back Issue magazine. She is married. She hangs out with Joe Biden occasionally.
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