Halloween Scene: Superman Vs. Predator (2000)

A few years back, I wrote for the Blumhouse website. It had been a while since I’d actually been paid to write about horror. I’d snuck as much of the genre into ToyFare when I had that kind of sway and done a few things for CBR before it turned into a soulless machine, but that was a minute ago, as the kids say. So, writing for Blumouse — which covered the whole genre, not just the films of that particular company — was a lot of fun. I did a piece on cool Predator merch and another on great Alien comics to check out.

I was even in the process of pitching a story about great horror-super hero crossovers when the whole site went sideways. Around then, I bought DC Comics/Dark Horse Comics: Justice League Volume 1. This was part of a series of books DC and DH were putting out at the time collecting their various crossovers over the years. Now, I’m going through them for the spooky season!

Continue reading Halloween Scene: Superman Vs. Predator (2000)

The Box: Tomb Raider Journeys #3, Flash #88 & Turok Dinosaur Hunter #1

My most recent batch of random comics turned out to be surprisingly good, which was a nice treat. First up, I perused Tomb Raider Journeys Starring Lara Croft #3 from Top Cow. The book came out in 2002, was written by Fiona Kai Avery, and drawn by Drew Johnson and for a video game tie-in comic, it was a lot of fun. I don’t have a lot of experience with the Tomb Raider franchise, but I did play a few of the games for the original Playstation and enjoyed them as much as those blocky, awkward games can be enjoyed.

But the basic concept of a sexy, British lady version of Indiana Jones running around, finding treasure and being awesome is a wonderful (and broad enough) one that it actually makes perfect sense for the world of comics. This issue, which seems to be a one-off story (this is my first Tomb Raider comic, so I’m not sure about how Journeys fits in with whatever else was coming out at the time) where Lara takes a job that will allow a pair of archaeologists to prove whether a potential development site is the original location of Gomorrah or not.

The comic comes packed with some historical intrigue, a few fantasy elements (skeleton army!) and an interesting way of accomplishing her goal that isn’t super obvious, but best of all, it’s all told concisely in a single issue, something you don’t see much of these days. You need to know absolutely nothing about Croft aside from what’s right there in the title to enjoy this comic, but you also get the added bonus of Johnson’s somewhat angular artwork that reminded me of mosaics or stained glass at times. Are there other Tomb Raider comics or trades worth checking out?

Much like Web Of Spider-Man #81, which I read a few weeks back, Flash #88 (1994) written by Mark Waid and drawn by the amazing Mike Wieringo is an example not of a bad comic book story, but one I’ve read plenty of times in my comic reading career. In this case, the mostly carefree Wally West comes face to face (literally) with a woman who got injured while he was working to save other people. This snaps something in him and Flash spends much of the issue pushing himself way too hard to save as many people as possible. It’s the kind of issue where, while reading (and assuming you’ve experienced a story like this before) you get it after a few panels or pages, which makes flipping through the rest of them kind of boring.

But, they’re not THAT boring because damn if Wieringo wasn’t one of the best, most interesting and dynamic artists around. I haven’t read much of his run on Flash, just issues and trades here and there, but I think this is the first book I ever experienced his artwork on. He not only kills Wally (and all the emotions he goes through both in and out of the mask), but also puts the same amount of effort in the small army of normal folks found in this issue. Sure, I wish everyone in the book had cool powers or a fun costume so he could really show off, but you can really feel Wally’s sadness when he collapses in Linda’s arms at the end as well as the emotions flowing through the surrounding crowd.

As an added bonus, this book is jam packed with house ads for DC comics I was reading at the time and will make for a ton of fun Ad It Up posts!

Of the three books, the one I was least enthused about was Turok: Dinosaur Hunter #1 from Valiant (1993). I have not had great luck with the few Valiant issues I’ve read over the years (including Archer & Armstrong and Solar Man of the Atom issues from The Box) and know nothing about this property, but I wound up really enjoying this comic written by David Michelinie and drawn by Bart Sears.

I should note, that I had very little idea what was going on. Even though this is a number one issue, it is steeped (some might say mired) in whatever had just happened before this, which I think was the big Unity crossover that Valiant did around this time. However, even with a pretty low level of comprehension (they try to explain what’s going on, but I think it was all just too big to absorb as a new reader) I kept reading and had a fun time with a book about a Native American with a sci-fi bow hunting talking dinosaurs.

The comic is frontloaded with the continuity stuff, so once you’re done with that you can enjoy the story of a warrior finding a place he feels at home in for a while before his past catches up with him. It’s a standard part of the hero’s journey, but it’s told well and looks awesome as drawn by Bart Sears. I’ve mentioned before that the Valiant books were colored in a way I’m not as familiar with where it looks like they were finished with colored pencils or possibly water colors. That is done the best I’ve seen in this comic. I’d be very interested in reading more Turok comics by this team, any suggestions?

The Box: Defenders #10, Amazing Spider-Man #351 & Archer And Armsstrong #17

For my birthday, my pal Jesse sent me a long box full of comics from a company called Cardsone that does all kinds of bulk sales. I highly recommend checking out their site and also perusing the catalog which has some amazingly weird stuff in it. The box was packed to the gills and I felt bad for the UPS guy who had to carry it all the way to my door, but got over that pretty quickly and dove right in. Flipping through the box, I quickly realized that the majority of the books in the box were doubles, triples and whathaveyou. That’s probably a good thing because I don’t think my wife would me okay with me storing yet another long box in the house.

Anyway, my first order of business was to alphabetize everything and then go through and pull out one each of the books which was about a quarter of the contents. There were a lot of CrossGen books as well as some Valiant and Comico and a few Marvel and DC comics. With everything in order, I put them in a stack in my table (it’s got a sliding top, so you can actually put things inside of it) and have been reaching in and pulling comics out at random. I will be reviewing them in threes here on the blog moving forward, so let’s have fun with it.

I actually grabbed The Defenders #10 (2001) by Kurt Busiek, Eric Stephenson and Erik Larsen first because I remember buying the first issue when it came out. Not sure why I didn’t continue reading, but in the many years between then and now I’ve come to greatly appreciate Busiek and Larsen as creators in their own right, so then working together should be rad, right?

Yeah, it pretty much is. I’ll admit to feeling a little lost, but that’s to be expected when reading the tenth issue in a series of comics, I think. But there are enough flashbacks to get you caught up. In addition to the rad art by Larsen who gets to draw not only the Defenders, but also M.O.D.O.K. and an army of supervillains that includes Venom, Rhino, Sandman and more. It’s a fantastic example of his powers and Busiek’s ability to work so well within the world of continuity-heavy comics. Both these guys are fantastic and do an excellent job in this book. It makes me want to go and get the rest of the issues so I can enjoy this one all the more.

Up next was The Amazing Spider-Man #351 (1991) written by David Micheline and drawn by Mark Bagley. If the blurb inside the issue is to be believe, this was Bagley’s first issue as the regular ASM penciler, which is pretty cool. Man, that guy was born to draw Spider-Man, wasn’t he? He’s also no slouch rendering Nova and the Tri-Sentinel who gust star in this particular issue.

I’ve gone on record as saying I’m not the world’s biggest Spidey fan. I loved his cartoon, some of the video games and the first movie, but I’ve never really been able to sink my teeth into the comics. I don’t know what it is, but I was able to jump in and enjoy this comic. I think that’s partially because it stars Nova, a character I’ve grown to appreciate both in my own reading of books like Annihilation and also just be being friends with Rich Rider’s number one fan Ben Morse. Plus, like I said, Bagley’s art is so good and accessible that it’s hard to feel lost. He makes everyone look and feel familiar, even with characters like the Tri-Sentinel who I had never seen before.

Apparently Spidey and this thing had beef in a previous issue, but Web Head had the power of Captain Universe to help him defeat the mechanical menace. He and Nova stumble upon this while trying to find out where some high tech weapons are coming from.

Overall, the issue’s pretty fun. You’ve got great banter between Spidey and Nova, some static between Mary Jane and Peter and a big fight with a big ol’ machine. Can’t go wrong with that.

I did not enjoy Archer & Armstrong #17 (1993) by Mike Baron and Mike Vosburg nearly as much as the other two issues, however. I actually know more people who used to work at Valiant than characters in their comics (many Valiant folks moved to Wizard when the former closed up shop). I have one issue of this book in my collection where a dude is hitting another dude in front of a slot machine I think (okay, I looked it up and oddly enough it’s the issue before this one, #16) but never actually read it.

The problem with this issue isn’t necessarily in the story or the art, which kind of looks like it was colored with colored pencils, but the fact that absolutely no attempt is made to explain who these characters are. They hint that Archer (or maybe Armstrong, who knows?) is some kind of ancient indestructible fighter guy…or something. I could look it up on Wiki and maybe some day I will, but I honestly don’t care that much. If you’re writing a book like Spider-Man or Batman where the character is out there in the consciousness, then you can get away without overtly explaining who your leads are, what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. When you’re only in your second year of publishing a pair of characters you just made up? Might be a good idea to throw in some kind of explanation page or even one of those text boxes in the front that explain the basic concept. You know, something like: “Sent from a dying world, an alien boy grew up on Earth to gain amazing powers under its yellow sun. Now he fights for truth, justice and the American way as Superman!” Something like that. Based solely on this one issue, I’m not surprised that the big V didn’t work out so well.

Trade Post: Umbrella Academy Dallas, Goon Fancy Pants Vol. 1 & Iron Man Doom Quest

UMBRELLA ACADEMY: DALLAS (Dark Horse)
Written by Gerard Way, drawn by Gabriel Ba
Collects UA: Dallas 1-6
Okay, here’s the the thing. I didn’t actually read the Dallas trade, but the single issues. This is how we used to do Bookshelf back in the Wizard days. Being in the research department it fell on me to go through the massive, unorganized comic book library and dig up all the single issues from so many months back. It was terrible and dusty and hot up there, but when I wasn’t forced to dig for comics, I would do that anyway because it’s the most well stocked comic library I’ve ever seen. Anyway, I was a big fan of the first Umbrella Academy series Apocalypse Suite. Who would have thought that a rock star would write such a rad story? Anyway, I picked up the single issues as they came out, but waited to read them all at once and had a great time. Dallas isn’t an easy story to explain, but it picks up shortly after the previous story with family members going their separate ways. The main thrust of the story has to do with time travel and what happened to the diminutive #5 on his way back from the far future in the previous story. Like Apocalypse Suite, Dallas covers all kinds of territory from the aforementioned time travel to heavy-duty sci-fi killers to cartoon-headed assassins. It’s got a kind of Grant Morrison feel to it, without being as confusing. And man, Ba’s art is just sick. Way gives him all kinds of fun things to draw and I love seeing how they work together. This probably isn’t a very informative review, but if you liked the original, you’ll like Dallas and if you haven’t read either, go pick them up. Stat. Did the trade have any cool extras? I’ll get it on my shelf eventually.

THE GOON FANCY PANTS EDITION VOL. 1 (Dark Horse)
Written & drawn by Eric Powell
Collects Goon #1, 2 (Albatross), Goon #1, 3, 5, 9 (DH)
It might be hard to imagine nowadays, but even just a few years ago, Wizard magazine had the ability to help boost a book into more readers’ consciousnesses. The Goon was one of those books. It was really popular around the Wizard offices and ended up getting some pretty good coverage in the mag which helped boost the book’s sales. As a thank you for the coverage, Dark Horse and/or Powell sent the Wizard office a big box of these hardcover Fancy Pants books. I actually came in towards the end of most of this, but I benefited from it on one of my first days when a buddy handed me this volume. For some reason it took me almost four years to actually read it. I think one of the big reasons I didn’t get to it sooner is because the book reprints everything in chronological order and not as the issues came out. You can see above that the issues skip around a lot. I know some people like to read comics that way, but it puts me off going in. But, my reading experience wasn’t hindered once I actually started into this book (which Powell signed!).

As it turns out, this book is completely up my alley and awesome. The Goon killed a mobster who killed his carnie family. Now he’s got the mobster’s debt book and goes around acting like he’s working for the mobster and keeping the money for himself. He’s also assisted by his little buddy Frankie who used to be a wuss and, kind of like the kid from Son Of Rambow, now loves violence. The world is a kind of dirty, rundown version of what you might think of a larger small town back in the 40s, but with zombies. So, in addition to laying into mobsters, Goon also gets to slice, dice and punch his way through armies of zombies. I have no idea how much this book costs now, but it makes me want to get either the regular trades or the next Fancy Pants volume.

MARVEL PREMIERE CLASSIC VOL. 10 IRON MAN: DOOMQUEST (Marvel)
Written by David Michelinie & Bob Layton, drawn by Bob Layton & John Romita Jr.
Collects Iron Man Vol. 1 #149-150, 249-250
My love of Michelinie and Layton’s Iron Man is well documented in my Iron Mongering posts (find them all in the drop down to the right). As such, my buddy Ben got me this book for Christmas last year, which was super nice of him.Doomquest is definitely an interesting book, especially because the two two-issue stories have 100 issues between them. The basic idea is that the first two issues send Iron Man and Dr. Doom back into the times of Camelot where they have to deal with King Arthur and Morgana Le Fey and all that. The second two issues have them rocketing into the future where King Arthur has been reborn as a kid (as legend says will happen) along with a much hipper Merlin. This really is a wild little book. M&L nail Dr. Doom’s character. He’s just as arrogant and conniving as you would expect him to be, but in both stories he’s thrown out of his elements and has to make allegeiances he normally wouldn’t. Of all their comics I’ve read, I think this one might be the easiest to just jump right in and read because of the time travel. Aside from some stuff in the very first issue, you’re pretty much in these vastly different settings the whole time, so you’re learning things as the characters do. Well, for the most part. Iron Man 2020 kind of shows up in the future stuff. That part is kind of a combination of Camelot 3000 and any other Marvel story set in the future of the 616 where the legacies of the heroes live on in weird ways. I loved the book, but it also really makes me wish Marvel would start putting out more complete M&L runs in a Visionaries kind of series.

Iron Mongering: The Armor Wars

A couple weekends back, Em wanted to watch Iron Man again, so we did and it was great once again. I do wish the end fight would have been a little bit more awesome and well-balanced instead of so clearly one-sided on Iron Monger’s side. Anyway, it got me thinking that, over a year ago, I decided to check out various Iron Man stories and talk about whether a newbie would be able to jump right in and enjoy it or not. Well, with the news that Mickey Rourke is playing an armored version of Whiplash and pictures even surfacing, I think Armor Wars might actually be a good place for people looking to get a jump on the potential story behind Iron Man 2.

As the folks over at Slash Film have pointed out, the first two press photos from Iron Man 2 seem to be connected, with Tony Stark looking at what looks like a model of the arc reactor that Whiplash is wearing. I’m going to go one step further and guess that there might be some Armor Wars elements in the film. You see, the plot behind Armor Wars is that Tony Stark discovers that all these different armored villains (and even some heroes) have been using his Iron Man technology to commit crimes. This pisses Tony off and he goes rogue, taking out heroes and villains in a single minded attempt to neutralize their armors.

So, maybe in that first picture we’re seeing Tony discovering Whiplash ripped off his armor tech and he’s pissed. Sure, it’s an awful lot of guessing, but that’s what blog are for right?

Okay, so back to the trade. It’s written by David Michelinie, pencilled by Mark Bright and one issue by Barry Windsor-Smith and inked and co-plotted by Bob Layton. The book collects Iron Man #224-232. I’ve already gone through the basics of the story, but the devil’s in the details as Tony Stark goes a little crazy trying to neutralize the armors, he even attacks a superhero, and member of the Avengers, Stingray to do so. What I really like about the story is how nicely it fits into the overall Marvel universe. It mostly has Iron Man characters and villains, but it crosses over into other arenas when necessary, like when SHIELD gets involved or when the Avengers (the West Coast Avengers to be exact) show up to ask Iron Man what the heck is going on.

But, that being said, I don’t think this would be a difficult book for someone whose only experience with Iron Man is the movie. You’ve got Rhodey and Tony and SHIELD, elements you’d be familiar with and the villains and other heroes get explained pretty well in the book itself, but if you’re ever confused, I’d suggest hitting up Wikipedia, like when a dude called The Captain shows up looking kinda sorta like Captain America (it really is him, I promise).

So, in addition to being a compelling story, I think Armor Wars makes a lot of sense as a first look as far as comics go for new fans. It’s also a good book for current comic fans to check out if they thought Tony’s actions over the past few years seem to have come out of nowhere. This book put a few things in Civil War into context for me, though I still think no character has been screwed over and mishandled quite as much as Iron Man, though I keep hearing good things about Invincible Iron Man, I just haven’t been able to scrape the trades together.

One other thing I wanted to mention, and it’s really more of an oddity, is the size of the trade I read. I got it along with an original Guardians of the Galaxy trade in a Swap from Sequential Swap (seriously, you should all join this rad service) and both of them are kind of a funny size. You can see a scan of the cover itself, which I believe is different than the current trade cover, below followed by a scan of a regular sized comic overtop of the trade. As you can see, the trade is a little shorter and a little longer than your average comic, so they had to shrink and maybe stretch the pages when they reprinted them. Or maybe they’re just shrunk. I didn’t really notice anything while reading it, I just thought it was odd. Checking the date, this trade was created in 1990, back when there weren’t a lot of trades being produced, just the big, big stories like Armor Wars… and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Iron Mongering Part 4: The Many Armors of Iron Man

2008-11-11
2:54:44 pm

As I’ve mentioned in previous Iron Mongering posts, I really want to see a Michelinie and Layton Essential, Visionaries or even an Omnibus or two. Many Armors is nothing like that. Instead it’s a grab bag of issues by different creators introducing various Iron Man armors (a space armor, the stealth, etc.). Sounds like it could be fun right? Well, it really isn’t unfortunately.

My biggest problem with the book (which collects Iron Man #47, 142-144, 152, 153, 200, 218) is that, like with Demon in a Bottle there is no indication as to what’s been going on with Iron Man around the time these issues came out, so you’re just thrown in and have to figure it out on your own. And while the stories themselves may be kind of interesting, I really felt like I was missing a lot.

Generally I don’t like trades like this with various issues from various teams about various stories, but the ones that I think did it best was the Green Arrow/Black Canary For Better Or For Worse which did the above, but also included little prose paragraphs before each story to explain what had happened in the years between the stories. Maybe if MAOIM did that for a later edition it would be a more enjoyable book, but as it is, it really isn’t. It does REALLY make me want to see some Michelinie and Layton trades collecting their epic runs. I’ve got my fingers crossed. Maybe in time for the Iron Man sequel.

Oh, which reminds me, reading the first issue in this trade, which retold Iron Man’s origin spurred me on to watching the Iron Man DVD, so, that’s a least a point in the plus column. That movie’s rad.

Iron Mongering Part 3: Michelinie and Layton Pot Luck

2008-06-04
3:00:47 am

As those of you who have stumbled across this here blog probably realized, last week was absolutely dead in my little corner of the internet. That’s because we were working on finishing the next issue of ToyFare (or “closing” as we call it) before Wizard World Philly which was last weekend. I had a pretty good time, you may have read some of my toy-related stories on the main page or even seen some pics of me hosting the First Annual ToyFare Hall of Fame Awards or on the TTT panel which was a lot of fun (huge thanks to anyone who found their way here because of that panel and thanks to Ben and Justin for hyping it). So that leads me to what will hopefully be the first of a few posts this week, another installment of Iron Mongering.

Instead of just picking up another trade, I decided to read some books I had in my “to read” pile (a pile that, I’m sure like most of yours, keeps getting bigger and bigger). A few years ago a buddy of mine by the name of James Walker was getting rid of a bunch of his comics and I grabbed a small stack of his Iron Man comics, which I sat down and read tonight. And awayyyyyy we go:

Iron Man #218-220, 223, 228 (1987)

Written by David Michelinie and Bob Layton

Drawn by Bob Layton, Mark D. Bright

Featuring Iron Man, Rhodey, The Ghost, Spymaster, The Captain

Okay, so even though these aren’t consecutive issues, I really dug reading through this hodgepodge of issues from Michelinie’s second run on Iron Man. I’m not sure what came before #218, but I feel like I was able to grasp what was going on pretty well. And I think this is a one-off story anyway, but basically Iron Man has to use his deep sea armor to grab a cannister full of some WWI biological weapon that sank on the Titanic.

As with the Demon in a Bottle trade, I really enjoyed these issues. The art by Layton and Bright still looks crisp even after being around in single issue form for 11 years. Michelinie’s stories still have their very literary feel and he easily catches readers up to what’s happening in each issue with no more than three panels, so kudos to him for that.

Which brings us to #219, which not only debuts a brand new villain but also strips Tony of his Magnum-like haircut and replaces it with a weird Jerry curl. How ’80s. This issue sees the first appearance of techno corporate espionage villain The Ghost who can either become invisible or become intangible, both of which make him a powerful and dangerous foe for Iron Man and Tony, which leads into #220 another great issue that pits longtime IM villain Spymaster against new kid on the block the Ghost while Tony stands there, seemingly helpless. Of course, Stark’s not really helpless as he uses Rhodey’s gun to keep Spymaster from shooting a strange spinning disc blade in the Ghost’s head. Which is great because SPOILER the Ghost ends up killing Spymaster by rematerializing him in the middle of a wall. Ouch. Even though I’ve seen this kind of move before, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it kill anyone, which was a pretty big surprise.

Unfortunately, I don’t have #221, which finishes the story, so I don’t know how things were left between the Ghost, who really wanted to pop a cap in Tony’s ass and the Man of Iron. So, moving on…

In #223, a character I’ve never heard of called Force leaves Justin Hammer behind and goes to Tony Stark for help getting out of his armor, which Tony as Iron Man gladly does. The dude inside of Force offers to give Tony everything he knows about Hammer’s operation, but instead Tony sends him to jail where Beetle, Whiplash and Blizzard (all three in trenchcoats and hats, you know how much I like that!) show up to kill him. I found this pretty interesting because I’ve basically thought of Iron Man as a huge jerk since I had to read every Civil War tie-in during WizardUniverse.com’s old Civil War Room column. Here I got to see Tony doing exactly what he thought was the right thing and it completely backfired in his face. Not sure what happens after that cause I don’t have the next issue, but #228 was pretty rad too

Haha, okay, I actually started writing this after reading everything but #228, so then I got to this part and I realized that #228 (which is the issue where Tony gives Steve Rogers, now going by The Captain, his new shield) is part 4 of Armor Wars II, so I’m going to hold off on this one until I can get the rest of the issues.

These few issues of Michelinie’s Iron Man that I’ve read bring me back to my earlier days of collecting comics. I used to pick up random books in the cheap racks of cons back in the day and if I liked them I’d go a little crazy and buy every issue in that particular series (which is why I’m about 7 issues away from owning every post-Crisis, pre-JLA Justice League book that came out). Now, I’m not feeling like I need to buy every Iron Man comic in existence, but I am feeling that old urge to pick up all of his and Layton’s issues. Before I go too crazy, I’m definitely gonna check and see what’s available in trade. All I know for sure are Demon in a Bottle and Armor Wars (which I want to read now more than ever). I’ll keep you posted on how that works out for me.

Iron Mongering Part 1: Demon in a Bottle

2008-05-13
1:37:41 am

Like everyone else in the world, I really dug the Iron Man flick, but it got me thinking: What are some great Iron Man stories out there? Everyone’s always talking about Armor Wars and Demon in a Bottle, but I’ve run into some trouble getting into comics from back then, what with the huge text blocks and “I’m saying what I’m doing” dialog. So, I went up to Wizard’s comic library (a truly magical place) and grabbed a big stack of trades, old and newer, and will post my thoughts as I read through them. Huge spoilers ahead. Sorry about the smaller images below, I’m still trying to work this whole thing out.

First up, Demon in a Bottle (1979)

Collects: Iron Man #120-128

Written By: David Michelinie

Drawn By: John Romita Jr., Bob Layton & Carmine Infantino

Featuring: Iron Man, Namor, James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Bethany Cabe, Jarvis, Captain America, The Avengers, Justin Hammer, a slew of villains and booze

First, a quick bit of background on my comic-reading past. I grew up a DC guy, so most of my Iron Man knowledge stemmed from the short-lived ’90s animated series, whatever random Marvel books I’d pick up from time to time and what I read in Wizard. Like everyone else, I’ve heard a lot about Demon in a Bottle, but never really took the chance to read it until now because I kind of figured I knew everything that happened and didn’t think I’d like it.

Well, I was wrong. Though the trade is a bit difficult to jump into (there’s characters I’m not familiar with and the book starts with the last 5 pages of issue #120), it didn’t bother me all that much because it reminded me of what it was like when I first started reading comics. I had no idea what was going on and loved trying to figure it out.

Keeping that in mind (and knowing that not everyone likes to read comics the way I do), I wanted to offer a little background info that might help new readers. Up to this point Bethany Cabe (first appearing a few issues earlier in IM #117) was a lady that Tony Stark was eying after his break-up with Madame Masque. At the time this book opens, he’s got no idea that she’s really a bodyguard for hire. Also, at this point in his history, the world doesn’t know that Tony Stark is Iron Man, they think Iron Man is Stark’s bodyguard. That should be about enough to get you through the trade until the big origin recap.

Like I mentioned, the book opens with the end of #120, showing us a battle between Iron Man and Namor. The ensuing fight with Roxxon Oil over a Vibranium-filled island is an interesting one, beautifully and crisply drawn by JRJR, but it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the rest of the story. This brings up another aspect of the book I liked, it reminded me how comics used to be written. Nowadays we’re so used to six-issue arcs with set beginnings and endings that it can throw us off when we’re offered a glimpse of an older story like this. Michelinie wasn’t worrying about six issues here, he had a whole tapestry of stories and subplots weaving in and out of each other that probably started years earlier and went on for plenty after. Sure, the Namor section of the story isn’t necessary, but it does lead to Tony’s recollection of his origin and the eventual reveal that someone is messing with his armor.

Many armors of Iron Man

I really thought that I would get bored with a 12-page recap of Iron Man’s origin, especially having just seen basically the same story on screen a week before, but Michelinie’s text boxes read like a novel and guest artist Infantino’s art on this issue really captures the drama and action of his origin. In the end, the story still feels fresh after almost 30 years.

As a bonus (for me at least), the origin story included two of my favorite visuals in fiction: a splash page that encapsulates a character’s costumes/history and a character wearing a trench coat even though it’s the most conspicuous fashion choice of all time (especially if you’re a dude walking around in a suit of armor).

Iron Man in a trench coat

Okay, so after ol’ Shell Head remembers how he became a man of armor (while flying his way home) something crazy happens: his suit malfunctions, sending him flying erratically through the skies, even through the offices at Marvel. As staffers huddle in fear one calls out “Gee, Jim [Shooter, EIC at the time], I uh, realize guest stars help sales–but in editorial meetings?!” There’s even a little sign on the wall that reads “Kill All Inkers” signed by Stan. It’s a great little in-joke for fans, the kind of thing I imagine Marvel did all the time back in the day.

Tony regains control and heads back to his lab where he tests out his armor in a pretty amazing sequence mixing elements of Kirby and Steranko drawn by JRJR, who absolutely kills his issues.

Finding nothing wrong, Tony heads to a casino with Bethany Cabe only to be interrupted by Blizzard (who comes in wearing a trench coat and a wide brim hat), Melter and Whiplash. Tony suits up and makes short work of the villains only to be chastised by Bethany for not guarding Stark.

Upon returning home, Tony gets a request for Iron Man to represent Stark International at a ceremony and meet with ambassador Kotznin to which Tony agrees. He then has a drink, tries to design some sciency stuff, gets fed up and suits up as Iron Man to patrol the area.

Later that night at the ceremony, everything seems to be going fine until the mystery villain works his technical mojo, causing Iron Man to blast a hole straight through the ambassador’s chest. Man, what a great scene. I remember this being referenced back when I read Avengers, but had no idea it was coming up and was blown away (like the ambassador, heh). Even today the murder of an innocent man at the hands of a hero strikes a chord. These are men and women who have sworn to help humanity often at the detriment of themselves and, when something like this happens, even if it’s not their fault, you just know that it leaves a hole inside of them that will take years to heal. Michelinie wasn’t pulling any punches and will continue to lay it on pretty thick for our armored hero, but never shows him completely beaten because this is the kind of guy who’s gonna keep fighting until his dying breath.

All of this leads into my personal favorite issue of this story, #125. The issue opens on a shadow-covered Iron Man, again drawn beautifully JRJR, contemplating all that’s just happened. He’s able to convince the cops to let him go as long as Stark brings the armor to them for safe keeping by telling him that the armor malfunctioned. Afterwards, Tony goes on a bit of a bender, looking a lot like the famous cover that this collection gets its name from. We then see Tony showing up at Avengers Mansion where he asks Captain America to give him some fight training, which is a great scene because Cap’s got no idea that Tony and Iron Man are one in the same. We’re treated to another fantastic montage scene (one that was referred to a year ago when Cap and Iron Man were having their troubles during Civil War). What I love about this scene, besides the art, is that it just makes sense. I’m a big fan of the idea that these characters don’t automatically know how to handle themselves. Even after being a superhero for years, Tony’s always relied on his suit to help him, but what he’s got coming up, an assault on the man he only knows as Hammer, will require his prowess, not Iron Man’s.

He also knows how to get help from his friends in the superhero community. Tony sets up a meeting with Scott Lang, the new Ant-Man, who then uses his shrinking abilities to visit Whiplash in jail and get more information on Hammer. I don’t mean to keep gushing about this issue, but I love the sense of this being a shared universe that you get just by reading this one comic. Not only do you have the Avengers seeing the news of Iron Man’s accidental murder, but Tony training with Cap and getting help from Scott. These are the kinds of stories that make reading comics in a shared universe fun.

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I also love stories in which the hero has to operate in his civilian identity, but is still a badass. Ed Brubaker did a great job with this in his first year on Daredevil, starting with Matt Murdoch in prison and then sending him to Europe. In this issue we’re treated to Tony Stark playing James Bond and not just in the bedroom. Tony follows up on the info he got from Scott and heads to Monaco with his buddy James Rhodes at his side and flying his plane.

Tony and Rhodey go on to run across some hoods that they, at first, easily dispatch, but end up with Rhodey unconscious on a beach and Tony in the clutches of Justin Hammer, the man who’s been screwing with Tony this whole time. But who is this guy? Well…no one, kinda. I mean, he’s a pretty big deal rich dude, but he’s the kind of villain that’s been waiting in the wings for his moment to attack. Kind of like what’s happening with Morrison’s current Batman run (maybe).

So, now that Tony’s in his enemy’s clutches, what happens next? Tony pulls some more James Bond-like maneuvers (electrocuting his guard and using a grappling hook belt he got from Scott Lang) to get his armor back, just in time for Hammer to unleash a legion of super-villains like the Constrictor, the Beetle, Porcupine, Discus, Stiletto, Leap-Frog, Man-Killer and more. Iron Man rumbles pretty mercilessly, but awesomely, with the villains, then goes after Hammer himself (did I mention they’re on a big boat-like island?), who’s escaped, leaving Tony to return home, get skunky drunk, snap at Jarvis and receive Jarvis’ resignation the next day.

All of which leads us to the issue you’ve seen the cover of a hundred times, but (if you’re like me) never actually read. Yup, the famous “Demon in a Bottle” Tony-looks-like-hell cover.

I gotta say, this is my least favorite of the issues. Not because it’s a poorly written or drawn, but because it just seems a little too cut and dry. Sure, plenty of writers have gone back to this aspect of Tony’s personality, but this issue really seems to steam through his ordeal with booze. Even the emotional and heartbreaking scene with a drunken Iron Man crashing through his office window, things just go by too fast for me. It turns out that Bethany had a husband who was addicted to drugs and doesn’t want to see the same thing happen to Tony, so she helps him through his withdrawal (again, drawn in agonizing detail by JRJR). Our hero also patches things up with Jarvis, finding out that the faithful butler’s mother is sick and to help offset the costs, Jarvis sold his shares (there’s a subplot running throughout the whole story that S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to buy a controlling interest in his company). Tony tells his long-time friend that he’ll pay for everything and goes on to deal with the rest of his life, including a battle with self-control over a bottle of booze that he wins. End of story.

Okay, I don’t want to end on such a downer note. Again, I really liked this book and think that, given an even bigger trade that shows more of Tony’s battle with his new found bottle demons, I wouldn’t feel the way I do. Jeez, this was a really long post. Too long? Let me know.