Iron Man Epic Collection: By Force of Arms

By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Don Heck, Gene Colan, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0011-3

Marvel’s rise to dominance of the American comicbook industry really took hold in 1968 when most of their characters finally got their own titles. Prior to that and due to a highly restrictive distribution deal the company was tied to a limit of 16 publications per month. To circumvent this drawback, Marvel developed “split-books” with two features per publication, such as Tales of Suspense where Iron Man was joined by patriotic cohort Captain America with issue #59 (cover-dated November 1964).

The company’s fortunes prospered – thanks in large part to Stan Lee’s gift for promotion, but primarily because of superbly engaging stories such as the ones collected in this enticing Epic Collection.

With a new distributor came a demand for more product and the stars of the split books were all given their own titles. When the division came, the armoured Avenger started afresh with a “Collector’s Item First Issue” – after a shared one-shot with the Sub-Mariner that squared divergent schedules – and Cap retained the numbering of the original title; thus premiering in number #100.

Herein find contained in chronological order the remaining tales of the transitional period, reprinting Tales of Suspense #73-99, plus the pertinent portion of place-holding one-shot Iron Man and the Sub-Mariner #1 and at long last Iron Man #1. Also added in is the Sub-Mariner portion of Tales to Astonish #82, which held a key portion of an early comics crossover and a comedy short gleaned from Marvel’s comedy pastiche magazine Not Brand Echh #3, cumulatively covering January 1966 to May 1968.

Tony Stark is the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism; a glamorous millionaire industrialist and inventor – and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his alter-ego, Iron Man.

Created in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and at a time when “Red-baiting” and “Commie-bashing” were American national obsessions, the emergence of a brilliant new Thomas Edison, using Yankee ingenuity and invention to safeguard and better the World seemed inevitable. Combine the then-sacrosanct belief that technology and business could solve any problem with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil and the concept behind the Golden Avenger seems an infallibly successful proposition. Of course, it helps that all that money and gadgetry is great fun and very, very cool…

This volume begins with Tales of Suspense #73 and picks up, soap opera fashion, on Iron Man, rushing to the bedside of his best friend Happy Hogan, who has been gravely wounded in an earlier battle against the Titanium Man, and now missing from his hospital bed.

‘My Life for Yours!’ by a veritable phalanx of creators including Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gene Colan & Jack Abel (in their Marvel modes of Adam Austin & Gary Michaels), Sol Brodsky, Flo Steinberg and Marie Severin, pitted the Avenger in final combat against the Black Knight to rescue Happy. After this the creative team stabilised as Lee, Colan & Abel, for ‘If this Guilt be Mine..!’ wherein Stark’s inventive intervention saves his friend’s life but transforms the patient into a terrifying monster.

Whilst in pitched battle against ‘The Fury of… the Freak!’ (who scared the stuffings out of me as a comic-crazed seven-year-old), Iron Man is helpless when the Mandarin attacks in #76’s ‘Here Lies Hidden…the Unspeakable Ultimo!’

The saga continues in ‘Ultimo Lives!’ and closes as the gigantic android goes bombastically berserk in ‘Crescendo!’, dooming itself and allowing our ferrous hero to escape home, only to face a Congressional Inquiry and a battle crazed Sub-Mariner in ‘Disaster!’

The Prince of Atlantis had been hunting his enemy Warlord Krang in his own series, and the path led straight to Stark’s factory, so when confronted with another old foe the amphibian over-reacts in his customary manner.

‘When Fall the Mighty!’ in ToS #80 is one colossal punch-up, which carries over into Tales to Astonish #82, where Thomas and Colan begin the conclusion before the penciller contracted flu after delivering only two pages. The inimitable Jack Kirby, inked by Dick Ayers, stepped in to produce some of the finest action-art of their entire Marvel career, fully displaying ‘The Power of Iron Man!’ as the battles rages on to a brutal if inconclusive conclusion.

TOS #81 then trumpeted ‘The Return of the Titanium Man!’ – and Gene Colan – as the Communist Colossus attacks the Golden Avenger on his way to Congress, and threatens all of Washington DC in the Frank Giacoia inked ‘By Force of Arms!’ before succumbing to superior fire power in ‘Victory!’

Stark’s controversial reputation is finally restored as the public finally learn that his life is only preserved by a metallic chest-plate which keep his maimed heart beating in ‘The Other Iron Man!’ – but nobody at all connects that hunk of steel to the identical one his Avenging “bodyguard” wears…

The Mandarin kidnaps the inventor’s recovering pal – temporarily wearing the armoured overalls – in another extended assault that begins with ‘Into the Jaws of Death’ as the still-ailing Stark flies to his rescue in ‘Death Duel for the Life of Happy Hogan!’

In #87-88 the Mole Man attacks, prompting a ‘Crisis… at the Earth’s Core!’ and ‘Beyond all Rescue!’, before another old B-List bad-guy takes his shot in ‘The Monstrous Menace of the Mysterious Melter!’ and its sequel ‘The Golden Ghost!’

‘The Uncanny Challenge of the Crusher!’ offers an all-action tale – possibly marred for modern audiences by a painful Commie-bustin’ sub-plot featuring a thinly disguised Fidel Castro – and the impressions of the on-going “Police Action” in Indo-China are also a little gung-ho (if completely understandable) when Iron Man goes hunting for a Red Menace called Half-Face ‘Within the Vastness of Viet Nam!’

The visit results in another clash with an incorrigible old foe in ‘The Golden Gladiator and… the Giant!’ before our hero snatches victory from Titanium jaws of defeat in ‘The Tragedy and the Triumph!’(this last inked by Dan Adkins).

A new cast member is introduced in #95 as eager-beaver preppie S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jasper Sitwell is assigned as security advisor to America’s most prominent weapons maker, just as old Thor villain the Grey Gargoyle attacks in ‘If a Man be Stone!’ and its summarily defeated in The Deadly Victory!’

Tales of Suspense #97 began an extended story-arc that would carry the series to the start of the solo-book and beyond, in which criminal cartel the Maggia schemes to move in on Stark’s company. Their campaign opens with the hero’s capture, ‘The Coming of… Whiplash!’, depicts the Golden Avenger cut to steely ribbons in ‘The Warrior and the Whip!’ and – as the magnificent Archie Goodwin assumes the scripting reins and EC legend Johnny Craig comes aboard as inker – and finds Iron Man trapped on a sinking submarine ‘At the Mercy of the Maggia’, just as the venerable Tales of Suspense ends with its 99th issue…

Of course, it was just changing its name to Captain America, as Tales to Astonish seamlessly transformed into The Incredible Hulk, but – due to a scheduling snafu – neither of the split-book co-stars had a home that month (April 1968). This situation led to the one-and-only Iron Man and the Sub-Mariner #1, and the concluding episode ‘The Torrent Without… The Tumult Within!’ wherein sinister super-scientists of A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics, acronym-fans) snatch the Armoured Avenger from the Maggia’s submarine, intent on stealing the hero’s technical secrets.

Invincible Iron Man #1 finally appeared with a May 1968 cover-date, and triumphantly ended the extended sub-sea-saga as our hero stood ‘Alone against A.I.M.!’, a thrilling roller-coaster ride supplemented by ‘The Origin of Iron Man’: a revitalised re-telling that ended Colan’s long and impressive tenure on the character.

Supplementing and counterpointing the drama is a slice of period silliness from spoof comic Not Brand Echh #2 (September 1967) with Thomas, Heck & Adkins pitting clownish 20th century crusader the Unrinseable Ironed Man against a parody-prone 40th century stalwart fans will recognise even if here he’s known as ‘Magnut, Robot Biter!’

Also on offer are a 1965 T-Shirt design by Kirby and Chic Stone, a selection of original art pages and covers by Colan from the stories in this volume and a gallery of classic Kirby covers modified by painters Dean White and Richard Isanove, originally seen on assorted Marvel Masterworks edition…

Despite some rough patches this is a fantastic period in the Golden Gladiator’s career and one that perfectly encapsulates the changes Marvel and America went through: seen through some of the best and most memorable efforts of a simply stellar band of creators.
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.