Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Retro Review: Iron Man v.1:no.63-65

These comics are part of my haul back at Atlanta Comics Expo, which I have been slowly working my way through. They harken back to a simpler time, sort of, when Iron Man fought villians and didn't have to deal with socio-political malarkey all the time. Kinda.
IRON MAN #63Our story opens in Detroit, where Tony Stark has recently relocated (look out, Vibe!). Tony can't help but let his mind wander to the lovely Roxie Gilbert -- Firebrand's pacifist sister whom he has had more than one meeting with of late. But his thoughts have to wait as who should show up but Dr. Spectrum and his Power Prism! The bad doc knocks Tony from pillar to post, and it's only because he thinks Shellhead has kicked the bucket that the fight ends. Tony limps back to SE, where he tries to recover while comforting Pepper Hogan -- recently seperated from her sour-pussed hubby Happy. One thing leads to another, as it always does, and Hap walks in on Pepper and Tony locked in a kiss!

Trying to distract himself from the Pepper-Happy issue, Shellhead busies himself demolishing a condemned tenement in order to demonstrate a new modular construction system which Stark Enterprises has developed to ease urban renewal. But even that gets interrupted once again by Spectrum -- only this time, Tony is ready for his opponent, disabling him with a blast of UV light, the Power Prism's only weakness! Back at SE, Tony still has to deal with Happy. But that fight -- along with a visit by the mysterious African official Dr. Obatu and on-time Happy Hogan rival Eddie March -- are put on hold as the behemoth known as Rokk arrives to kill Obatu! Tony manages to drive him away when Rokk uses his powers to scan Tony's mind for the one he cares most about... Roxie Gilbert! Iron Man gives chase as the monster tracks Roxie to a grocery store, then nearly drains all of his power fighting him off. With Rokk defeated, and Shellhead on his last legs, we find out that Rokk was nothing more than a creation of the Power Prism, meant to soften Shellhead up for the killing blow!
IRON MAN #64Like a good bad guy, Spectrum and the Prism -- now actively arguing with one another -- reveal how they came to be. Namely, the Power Prism was an ambitious Skrull named Krimonn who was transformed into the gem as a punishment, but ended up on Earth thanks to the machinations of the Gamesmaster. There, he eventually bonded with the ruthless Obatu, needing a mind through which to channel his tremendous power! But now Krimonn has grown weary of Obatu, and seeks a new host -- namely, the Invincible Iron Man. Tricking Spectrum into doing his will, Krimonn transfers his consciousness into Iron Man -- who starts to wreak havoc. Luckily, someone makes a call to the Avengers, and who should show up to quell the possessed man-machine but Thor, god of thunder!

To Be Continued! WHAT?! Always a problem with stories like this, missing that one crucial issue.

Be that as it may, these three comics tell a really fun early Bronze Age Shellhead adventure, with a lot of representative characteristics of the era. Written by Mike Freidrich and drawn by George Tuska, these issues are better than one might expect given the way which this series is usually regarding. For whatever reason, Iron Man is one of those titles which is generally saddled with the "It sucked until -blank- came on board," in this case referring to Dave Michelinie and Bob Layton. And yeah, the title went through a lot of unremarkable phases in it's run. But that attitude is a disservice to these stories from the early-mid 70s, which are demonstrative of a lot of trends going on at Marvel and hold up nicely.
Case in point: Tony's ongoing struggle to move away from the Stark Enterprises munitions business (at one point telling Roxie that he won't make another dime off munitions) and into more socially-aware interests, such as space exploration and energy. Here we are, not a decade removed from his creation, and Tony is already changing in a fundamental way. This arc would continue for years, with Tony's "redemption" by pushing into more benign fields playing a major role into the 90s, and even as far as the Busiek relaunch.

Friedrich has a punchy writing style which easily evokes the era without being too dated. His Tony doesn't read all that much different from the later, more popular runs on the title, and he handles the narratives well, providing the necessary exposition and recap without making it painful or intrusive. Also impressive is his handling of the clearly-not-all-there Dr. Spectrum, who is constantly arguing with the Prism, and makes for a strong threat to our hero. Pepper and Happy's marital strife, the internal troubles of Roxie Gilbert, Eddie March's sudden re-appearance, and Dr. Obatu's shadowy motives are all handled well -- there's even a cameo appearance by none other than Luke Cage, hyping an upcoming Shellhead appearance in Power Man. Tuska is right in his element here as well, with a lot of action-shots of Iron Man and plenty of brawling to go around. The fashions on display are well-rendered, if bizarre -- not helped by a small handful of coloring mistakes that make things look even weirder. But those are minor touches, as overall these comics look amazing and dynamic -- the fact that some letter-writers were complaining about Tuska boggles my feeble mind.

I really enjoyed these issues. They're from an era which I just recently have gotten any significant amount of the title, and I think that they are much better than the reputation they currently hold. I think any Marvel fan who enjoys this period, when the Silver Age had given way to what I like to call "Social Surrealism," then this period of Iron Man, and these issues in specific (along with the next, which evidently turns this somewhat straightforward action-adventure tale on it's ear with a goofy plot twist), are worthy and worthwhile pick-ups.

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