Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 7


By Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Gary Friedrich, Allyn Brodsky, Gene Colan, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6644-3 (HB)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him capable of astonishing acrobatic feats, a formidable fighter and a living lie-detector.

Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who had illustrated the strip. He only really came into his own, however, after artist Gene Colan signed up for the long haul…

The natal DD battled thugs, gangsters, mad scientists and a plethora of super-villains (and – as seen in this collection – even the occasional alien incursion), quipping and wise-cracking his way through life and life-threatening combat, utterly unlike the grim, moody quasi-religious metaphor he’s been seen as in latter years.

Covering May 1970 to March 1971 and re-presenting Daredevil #64-74 plus and crossover material from Iron Man #35 and 36, this seventh swashbuckling compilation (available in both hardback and eBook formats) sees the once staid and so-very Establishment Murdock move with the shifting cultural mores as scripter Roy Thomas hands over the reins to newcomer Gerry Conway in an increasingly determined move to make the Man Without Fear cutting edge and relevant… …

Following Thomas’ revelatory and reminiscing Introduction the action opens here with Horn-Head prowling the rooftops of Los Angeles. He’s there to his find love-of-his-life, who quit New York after the pressure of sharing DD’s secrets proved too much…

After trailing the star-struck Karen Page to Hollywood he gets to take out his bad mood on a handy hood in ‘Suddenly… The Stunt-Master!’ (Thomas, Colan & Syd Shores) but eventually helps his old enemy in getting a TV show of his own…

Murdock remained in LA to oversee Karen’s first acting gig – a pastiche of then-hot spooky Television phenomenon Dark Shadows – and prevented her becoming part of a murder spree in ‘The Killing of Brother Brimstone’, a classy whodunit which cataclysmically climaxed one month later in ‘…And One Cried Murder!’

Still stuck on the West Coast, DD tackles another grudge-bearing villain as ‘Stilt-Man Stalks the Soundstage’ (Gary Friedrich, Thomas, Colan & Shores) with the now-reformed and respectable Stunt-Master ably assisting our hero. Matt finally leaves Karen to the vicissitudes of Tinseltown, landing back in the Big Apple just in time to become embroiled in a plot blending radical politics and the shady world of Boxing – ‘The Phoenix and the Fighter!’

The Black Panther returns seeking a favour in ‘A Life on the Line’ as kid gangs and the birth of the “Black Power” movement leapt from news headlines to comicbook pages. The same consideration of youth in protest also inspired the seditious menace of ‘The Tribune’ (written by Friedrich) as youthful ideologues, cynical demagogues and political bombers tear a terrified and outraged city apart.

The unrest peaked in Daredevil #71 as Roy Thomas contributed his swansong script by concluding the right-wing manufactured anarchy in ‘If an Eye Offend Thee…!’

New find Gerry Conway took over the scripting with the next issue, easing himself in with an interdimensional fantasy frolic wherein the Scarlet Swashbuckler encounters a strange rash of crimes and a mirror-dwelling mystery man named Tagak in ‘Lo! The Lord of the Leopards!’ before plunging readers into an ambitious cosmic crossover yarn which started in Iron Man #35.

Here the Armoured Avenger, seductive morally ambivalent free agent Madame Masque and S.H.I.E.L.D. supremo Nick Fury all sought ‘Revenge!’ (illustrated by Don Heck & Mike Esposito) for various vile acts and specifically the near-fatal wounding of valiant young American agent Jasper Sitwell at the hand of the mercenary Spymaster.

Their efforts – and those of their assembled enemies – were somehow fuelling an alien artefact called the Zodiac Key and, when its creators sucked Daredevil into the mix to battle Spymaster and a bunch of super-villains affiliated to the cosmic device, everybody is ultimately shanghaied to another universe for more pointless fighting in ‘Behold… the Brotherhood!’ (Daredevil #73, illustrated by Colan & Shores with plot input from Allyn Brodsky) before the epic concludes with extreme briskness in Iron Man #36.

So brisk, in fact, that only the first 8 pages of ‘Among Us Stalks the Ramrod!’ (Conway, Heck & Esposito) are reprinted here, leaving this potent brew of action and suspense to wrap up with Daredevil #74: an impressive and mercifully complete conundrum with DD trapped ‘In the Country of the Blind!’ (Colan & Shores) and calling on a group of sight-impaired volunteers to help him thwart a criminal plot to cripple New York…

The social upheaval of the period produced a lot of impressively earnest material that only hinted at the true potential of Daredevil. These beautifully illustrated yarns may occasionally jar with their heartfelt stridency but the honesty and desire to be a part of a solution rather than blithely carry on as if nothing was happening affords them a potency that no historian, let alone comics fan, can dare to ignore.

And the next volume heads even further into uncharted territory…

Rounding out the comics experience are bonus pages including the cover to all-reprint Daredevil Annual #2, and a selection of house ads.

Despite a few bumpy spots, during this period Daredevil blossomed into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart, contemporarily astute stories, truly human and fallible characters and always magnificent illustration. These bombastic tales are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.
© 1970, 1971, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iron Man Marvel Masterworks volume 4


By Stan Lee, Archie Goodwin, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2678-2 (HB)

Marvel’s rise to dominance of the US 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 had been tied to a limit of 16 publications per month. To circumvent this drawback, Marvel developed “split-books” with two features per title, such as Tales of Suspense where Iron Man originally solo-starred before being joined by patriotic cohort Captain America in issue #59 (cover-dated November 1964).

Marvel’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 hardback and/or eBook edition.

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

Herein find contained in chronological order the remaining tales of the transitional period, reprinting Tales of Suspense #84-99, plus the pertinent portion of place-holding one-shot Iron Man and the Sub-Mariner #1 and at long last Iron Man #1, cumulatively covering December 1966 to May 1968.

Tony Stark is the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism; a glamorous ultra-rich industrialist and inventor – and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his secret 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…

Following a critique by critic and historian Arlen Schumer in his Introduction, this stunning all-Gene Colan illustrated volume begins with ToS #84 and picks up soap opera fashion with Stark submitting to months of governmental pressure and testifying to a Congressional Committee hungry for the secrets of his greatest creation.

However. at the critical moment, the inventor keels over…

Stark’s controversial reputation is finally restored as the public at last learns that his life is only preserved by a metallic chest-plate which keeps his maimed heart beating in ‘The Other Iron Man!’ (scripted by Lee and inked by Frank Giacoia). Somehow, nobody at all connects that hunk of steel to the identical one his Avenging “bodyguard” wears…

With the hero stuck in a hospital bed, best friend Happy Hogan foolishly dons the suit to preserve that precious secret only to be abducted by the insidious Mandarin in another extended assault that begins with ‘Into the Jaws of Death’.

Propelled by guilt and fuelled by fear the still-ailing Stark breaks into his own Congressionally-closed factory and creates new, more powerful armour before flying to his rescue in ‘Death Duel for the Life of Happy Hogan!’

The epic encounter successfully concluded, the Americans return home just in time for #87 and #88 to host the merciless Mole Man who attacks from below, prompting a ‘Crisis… at the Earth’s Core!’

The villain has no idea who hostage Stark really is, believing the inventor and his assistant Pepper Potts ‘Beyond all Rescue!’ but is soon proved very wrong, after which another old B-List bad-guy takes his shot in ‘The Monstrous Menace of the Mysterious Melter!’

Its tense, terse sequel ‘The Golden Ghost!’ fabulously features a glorious reprise of Iron Man’s original battle suit and a wonderfully twisty conclusion.

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

Giacoia returns and a new cast member debuts in #95 as eager-beaver adult boy scout S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jasper Sitwell is assigned as security advisor to America’s most prominent weapons maker, just as veteran Thor villain Grey Gargoyle attacks in ‘If a Man be Stone!’ The mismatched and overpowered maniac is then summarily defeated in ‘The Deadly Victory!’

Tales of Suspense #97 began an extended story-arc that would carry the series to the launch of the solo series and beyond, in which criminal cartel the Maggia schemes to move in on Stark’s company.

Their campaign opens with the hero’s capture, as ‘The Coming of… Whiplash!’ depicts the Golden Avenger cut to steely ribbons, drawn out in ‘The Warrior and the Whip!’ and – as the magnificent Archie Goodwin assumed the scripting reins and EC legend Johnny Craig came aboard as inker – 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, whilst Tales to Astonish seamlessly shifted 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 to carry 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 swiftly sinking submarine, intent on stealing the hero’s technical secrets.

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

Supplementing and counterpointing the ongoing graphic dramas herein are a stunning selection of original art pages and covers by Colan from the stories in this volume and even a brace of Don Heck pages from the previous Marvel Masterworks edition…

Despite some rough narrative patches this is a fantastic period in the Golden Gladiator’s career: one immaculately envisioned by Gene Colan and perfectly encapsulating the vast changes Marvel and America went through at the time. These unmissable tales of a true comics icon are some of the best and most memorable efforts of a simply transformative era and no Fights ‘n’ Tights fanatic can afford to be without them.
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iron Man Marvel Masterworks volume 6


By Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Johnny Craig & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4129-7

Having finally overtaken the aging colossus of National/DC, upstart Marvel Comics sometimes seemed to be at a loss for what to do next. The answer is obvious to us: more of the same… but back then the rules were being constantly rewritten, the country was changing and conflict was everywhere. Perhaps what was needed was more experimentation…

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 employing Yankee ingenuity, invention and wealth to safeguard and better the World seemed inevitable.

Combined with 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 Invincible Iron Man seems an infallibly successful proposition.

Of course where once Tony Stark was the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism; a glamorous millionaire industrialist/inventor and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his metal alter-ego, the tumultuous tone of the times soon resigned his suave, fat-cat image to the dustbin of history and, with ecological disasters and social catastrophe from the abuse of industry and technology the new mantras of the young, the Golden Avenger and Stark International were soon confronting some tricky questions from the increasingly socially conscious readership.

All of a sudden maybe that money and fancy gadgetry weren’t quite so fun or cool anymore…?

With an Iron Clad promise of stunning action and compelling intrigue this iconic hardback (and digital) chronological compendium covers Iron Man #14-25, spanning June 1969 – May 1970, and opens with an educational and fascinating Introduction from dynamic draughtsman George Tuska, detailing the stellar career and achievements of the veteran yet rising star artist…

Writer Archie Goodwin and illustrious illustrators Tuska & Johnny Craig continued a sterling run of solidly science-flavoured action epics as IM #14 revealed that ‘The Night Phantom Walks!’ with the scripter craftily paying tribute to Craig’s past history drawing EC’s landmark horror comics. Here the latter artist pencilled and inked the tale of a zombie-like monster prowling a Caribbean island and destroying Stark Industry installations. As well as being a terse, moody thriller, this story marks the first indications of a different attitude as the menace’s ecologically inspired reign of terror includes some pretty fair arguments about the downsides of “Progress” and rapacious globalisation…

With Craig again inking, Tuska returned with #15 and ‘Said the Unicorn to the Ghost…!’ as the demented former superspy allies himself with Fantastic Four foe the Red Ghost in a desperate bid to find a cure for his drastically shortened his life-span.

Attempting to kidnap Tony Stark, the Ghost betrays the Unicorn and retrenches to an African Cosmic Ray research facility in concluding instalment ‘Of Beasts and Men!’, where it takes a fraught alliance of hero and villain to thwart the phantom mastermind’s ill-conceived plans…

A suspenseful extended epic began in Iron Man #17 when an advanced android designed to protect Stark’s secret identity achieves sinister sentience and sneakily replaces him.

‘The Beginning of the End!’ also introduces the enigmatic Madame Masque and her malevolent master Midas, who plans to take control of America’s greatest technology company…

Dispossessed and on the run Stark is abducted and aligns with Masque and Midas to reclaim his identity, only to suffer a fatal heart-attack in ‘Even Heroes Die!’ (guest-starring the Avengers) before a ground-breaking transplant – still practically science fiction in those distant days – gives him renewed hope in ‘What Price Life?’

When the ruthlessly opportunistic Midas instantly strikes again, the mysterious Madame Masque switches sides and all hell breaks loose…

The X-Men’s dimensionally displaced alien nemesis attacks the restored and recuperating hero in ‘Who Serves Lucifer?’ (inked by Joe Gaudioso – AKA Mike Esposito) before being rudely returned to his personal dungeon dimension after which African-American boxer Eddie March becomes the new Iron Man in #21’s ‘The Replacement!’ as Stark – free from the heart-stimulating chest-plate which had preserved his life for years – is briefly tempted by a life without strife. Unfortunately, and unknown to all, Eddie has a little health problem of his own…

When Soviet-sponsored armoured archenemy Titanium Man resurfaces, it’s in conjunction – if not union – with another old Cold War warrior in the form of a newly-upgraded Crimson Dynamo in #22’s chilling classic confrontation ‘From this Conflict… Death!’

With a loved one murdered, a vengeance-crazed Iron Man then goes ballistic in innovative action-thriller ‘The Man Who Killed Tony Stark!!’ before ultimately finding solace in the open arms of Madame Masque as Johnny Craig returns to fully illustrate superb mythological monster-mash ‘My Son… The Minotaur!’ and stays on as Archie Goodwin pins Iron Man’s new Green colours to the comic’s mast in #25’s stunning eco-parable ‘This Doomed Land… This Dying Sea!

Teamed with and battling against antihero Namor the Sub-Mariner, the Armoured Avenger is forced to destroy one of his own hyper-polluting facilities, consequently overruling and abandoning his company’s previous position and business model…

Tragically, his attempts to convince other industry leaders to do likewise meets with the kind of reaction that tragically then (and again now) typifies America’s response to the real-world situation…

The galvanised wonderment concludes with a sublime selection of Tuska original art pages and covers to wrap up this collection with the Golden Gladiator being politically repositioned at a time when Marvel solidly set itself up at the vanguard of a rapidly changing America increasingly at war with itself.

These are epic exploits, still charged with all the urgency and potency of a time of crisis and a nation in tumult, so what better time than now to finally tune in, switch on or return to the Power of Iron Man?
© 1969, 1970, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iron Man Marvel Masterworks volume 5


By Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Johnny Craig with Roy Thomas, Don Heck, Dan Adkins & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3493-0

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 contractually 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 Captain America with #59 (cover-dated November 1964). When the division came, the armoured Avenger started afresh with a “Collectors Item First Issue” – after a shared one-shot with the Sub-Mariner that squared divergent schedules – with Cap retaining the numbering of the original title; thus his “premiering” in number #100.

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 ultra- high tech 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…

With an Iron Clad promise of stunning adventure and suspenseful drama this iconic hardback (and digital) chronological compendium covers Iron Man #2-13, spanning June 1968 – May 1969 and also includes an educational Introduction from comics historian Dewey Cassell, running down the stellar career and achievements of debuting artist George Tuska. Also tipped in to enhance the reading experience is a comedy short gleaned from Marvel’s comedy pastiche magazine Not Brand Echh #2.

A new era began with Invincible Iron Man #2. Long-established illustrator Gene Colan had moved on and ‘The Day of the Demolisher!’, saw EC star Johnny Craig assume the art-chores. His first job is a cracker, as scripter Archie Goodwin introduces Janice Cord as a new romantic interest for the playboy inventor. The problem is the monolithic killer robot built by her deranged father and the start of a running plot-thread examining the effects of the munitions business and the kind of inventors who work for it…

Goodwin and Craig then brought back Stark’s old bodyguard Happy Hogan in time to help rebuild the now-obsolete Iron Man armour and consequently devolve into a monstrous menace in ‘My Friend, My Foe… the Freak!’ for #3 and retool a long-forgotten Soviet super-villain into a major threat in ‘Unconquered is the Unicorn!’

This particular tech-enhanced maniac was dying from his own powers and thought Tony would be able – if not willing – to fix him…

With Iron Man #5 another Golden Age veteran joined the creative team. George Tuska – who had worked on huge hits such as the original (Fawcett) Captain Marvel and Crime Does Not Pay plus newspaper strips such as The Spirit and Buck Rogers – would illustrate the majority of Iron Man’s adventures over the next decade and become synonymous with the Armoured Avenger…

Inked by Craig, ‘Frenzy in a Far-Flung Future!’ is an intriguing time-paradox tale wherein Stark is kidnapped by the last survivors of humanity, determined to kill him before he can build the super-computer that eradicated mankind. Did somebody say “Terminator”…?

A super-dense (by which I mean strong and heavy) Cuban Commie threat returned – but not for long – in ‘Vengeance… Cries the Crusher!’

Next the sinister scheme begun way back in Tales of Suspense #97 finally bore brutal – and for preppie S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jasper Sitwell (assigned as Stark’s security advisor) – painful fruit in two-part thriller ‘The Maggia Strikes!’ and ‘A Duel Must End!’ as old Daredevil foe the Gladiator leads a savage attack on Stark’s factory, friends and would-be new love…

The saga also reveals the tragic history of mystery woman Whitney Frost and lays the seeds of her evolution into one of Iron Man’s most implacable foes…

A bold 3-part saga follows as ultimate oriental arch-fiend The Mandarin resurfaces with a cunning plan and the certain conviction that Tony Stark and Iron Man are the same person. Beginning with a seeming Incredible Hulk guest-shot in #9’s ‘…There Lives a Green Goliath!’, proceeding through the revelatory and explosive Nick Fury team-up ‘Once More… The Mandarin!’ before climaxing in spectacular “saves-the-day” fashion as our hero is ‘Unmasked!’, this epic from Goodwin, Tuska & Craig offers astounding thrills and potent drama with plenty of devious twists, just as the first inklings of the social upheaval America was experiencing began to seep into Marvel’s publications.

As the core audience started to grow into the Flower Power generation, future tales would take arch-capitalist weapon-smith Stark in many unexpected and often peculiar directions. All of a sudden maybe that money and fancy gadgetry weren’t quite so fun or cool anymore…?

Goodwin and artists George Tuska & Johnny Craig conclude their sterling run of solid science-flavoured action epics with the introduction of a new sinister super-foe in #12 as ‘The Coming of the Controller’ sees a twisted genius using the stolen life-energy of enslaved citizens to power a cybernetic exo-skeleton. Along the way he and his brother embezzle the fortune of Stark’s girlfriend Janice Cord to pay for it all. Of course, Iron Man is ready and able to overcome the scheming maniac, culminating in a cataclysmic climax ‘Captives of the Controller!’ as the mind-bending terror attempts to extend his mesmeric, parasitic sway over the entire populace of New York City…

As well as some Tuska original art pages and covers, this galvanic grimoire ends by supplementing and counterpointing the traumatic tension with a slice of period silliness from spoof comic Not Brand Echh #2 (September 1967). Here Roy Thomas, Don Heck & Dan Adkins pit 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!’

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.
© 1968, 1969, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iron Man: Armor Wars


By David Michelinie, Mark D. Bright, Bob Layton, Barry Windsor Smith & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1250-8

For many years Anthony Stark was the modern Thomas Edison; a glamorous genius-inventor and (largely) self-made billionaire. However, for much of the time he secretly moonlights as a super-hero. Unknown to all but his closest friends and allies, Stark dons a self-created suit of futuristic armour packed with his ingeniously-crafted technological marvels, making him the master of any situation, the Invincible Iron Man.

The innovations he has created to build his armour are so ground-breaking that he has never dared patent them because they have the potential to cause great harm.

In this classic and often-reprinted saga (also available in a digital edition) we see that after years of valiant crusading and the overcoming of great personal hardships, Stark’s life comes crashing down around him when he discovers his secrets have been compromised…

Collaboratively crafted by David Michelinie, Mark D. Bright & Bob Layton and latterly known as The Armor Wars, the epic serial comprises Iron Man #225-232 – spanning December 1987 to July 1988 – and begins with ‘Stark Wars!’ as the inventor examines the battle-suit of defeated foe Force and realises that the murderous weaponry and defensive systems are based on his own top-secret technology…

Researching further he discovers that not only do many tech-enhanced villains use his discoveries but so do government and military units. Plagued with guilt at the untold blood spilled with his inventions, Stark resolves to make amends by reclaiming or destroying all incidences of his stolen secrets, bringing him into conflict with his country, his friends and his comrades in the Avengers. Unwilling to compromise, unable to accept the new status quo, Iron Man’s attempts to salve his conscience can only lead to tragedy and disaster…

Diligent investigation reveals the proprietary gimmicks and systems have leaked far and wide, augmenting the capabilities of numerous criminals, mercenaries and military specialists…

Killers all…

As well as locating the source of the initial leak, Stark and his trusted team must take back or destroy every iota of his stolen ordnance if the man is to sleep with a clear conscience ever again…

With the help of Ant-Man Scott Lang, a virus is uploaded to eat all digital records and instances of Stark-tech, but the job of negating actual armoured users is one only Iron Man can accomplish…

Nobody cares when the hero starts tackling villains such as Stilt-Man, The Maulers or Controller, but real trouble comes knocking when Stark mistakenly attacks federal agent and fellow Avenger Stingray in ‘Glitch’ and goes after SHIELD operatives in ‘The Last Mandroid’ and US military personnel in ‘Who Guards the Guardsmen?’ – a clash that causes a mass escape at super-prison The Vault and brings him into conflict with one of his oldest allies: Steve Rogers, the former Captain America

In ‘Red Snow’ Stark’s West Coast Avengers allies finally demand an explanation and the end of the war but are utterly ignored. Instead Iron Man invades Russia to confront Crimson Dynamo and Titanium Man, resulting in an international incident and the first fatality of the campaign…

Shaken but obsessively undeterred, Iron Man soldiers on with everybody now against him until the unthinkable happens after the US Army bring in a new armoured titan dubbed Firepower.

The tech colossus constructed by Stark’s bitter rival Edwin Cord proves everything the military was hoping for, but as ‘The Day the Hero Died’ ends, the authorities quickly realise that with Iron Man gone nothing can stop Cord and Firepower from doing whatever they want…

Having barely escaped with his life Tony Stark strongly considered quietly retiring, but with the world again imperilled gets back to his drawing board to build something new and better and save the day once more in ‘Reborn Again’

However, even after his triumphant re-emergence, the psychological cost of his actions must be dealt with in the startling ‘Stark Wars: Epilogue – Intimate Enemies’ by Michelinie, Barry Windsor-Smith & Layton

This enthralling yarn is a compelling examination of honour, heroism and sacrifice exposing the dark side of vigilantism and cost of integrity, deeply embedded in Marvel continuity, with lots of guest-stars and plenty of action. A solid example of what super-hero comics are all about, this classic Fights ‘n’ Tights thriller is pure evergreen Marvel escapism.
© 1987, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle


By David Michelinie, John Romita Jr., Bob Layton & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3095-6(HB)                 978-0-7851-2043-8(TPB)

Tony Stark is a millionaire inventor who moonlights as a superhero: wearing a suit of armour stuffed with his own ingenious creations. The supreme technologist hates to lose and constantly upgrades his gear, making Iron Man is one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe. However, at the time of these tales (reprinting Iron Man #120-128 spanning March to November 1979), the unrelenting pressure of running a multi-national corporation and saving the world daily has started to show itself in the subtle increase in Tony Stark’s partying – and drinking.

This light, breezy compilation contains some of the best mainstream super-hero sagas of the 1980s but is also regarded as one of the most remarkable, transformative and powerfully redemptive tales of the period (crafted by David Michelinie, John Romita Jr., Carmine Infantino and Bob Layton), as an epic battle of Good against Evil became seditiously relevant to the readership through its full-on confrontation of a modern social evil.

Following an already stellar run of stories, ‘The Old Man and the Sea Prince!’ (by Michelinie, Romita Jr. & Layton) found the Armoured Avenger battling amphibian superman and sometime ally the Sub-Mariner before uniting against officious military martinets intent on dislodging aged hermit Hiram Cross from the strategically useful island he lived on.

And unsuspected in the background, financial predator Justin Hammer continued his preparations to destroy Iron Man and break Stark’s financial empire…

His first strike was to override the amazing armour in the middle of an underwater duel in ‘A Ruse by Any Other Name…’ but even with that handicap, Stark and his allies Bethany Cabe and Jim Rhode managed to expose unscrupulous conglomerate Roxxon as the cause of all Hiram’s woes… not that it did them any good…

Infantino then pencils a refitted recap of Iron Man’s origins in ‘Journey’ before Hammer steps up his campaign in #123’s ‘Casino Fatale!’ (Michelinie, Romita Jr. & Layton) as a small army of hired villains attack the hero in Atlantic City just when the Iron Man suit is at its most gremlin-afflicted…

The assault escalates in ‘Pieces of Hate!’ (“Layton & Friends” sharing inking duties) but even after scoring an incredible, improbable victory Stark is left reeling when Hammer plays his ace. Taking full control of Iron Man’s armour, the evil plutocrat makes Stark the unwilling accomplice and murder weapon in a monstrous crime, pushing the hero over the edge and into a spiral of despair…

After his super-sophisticated suit “malfunctions” again, killing a foreign ambassador at a major diplomatic function the disgraced and grieving Stark surrenders the armour to the authorities. However, undaunted and finally aware of what’s been going on, he enlists new Ant-Man Scott Lang to his small band of allies and goes undercover to find his hidden enemy in #125’s ‘The Monaco Prelude’.

Nonetheless, the villain seems triumphant when ‘The Hammer Strikes!’, abducting the heroes and gloatingly revealing his dastardly scheme. However, the smirking monster has grievously underestimated his rival’s capabilities and the power of Iron Man in the spectacular final clash ‘…A Man’s Home is His Battlefield!’

Tragically, when the dust settles and the bad guys are all disposed of, Stark has time to obsess over the lives lost and turns to the booze that has increasingly been his only solace in the past months…

The fall and rise of a hero is a classic plot, and it’s seldom been better used in the graphic narrative medium and never bettered in the super-hero field than in ‘Demon in a Bottle’ as the traumatised hero plumbs the depths of grief and guilt, buries himself in pity, and alienates all his friends and allies before an unlikely intervention forces him to take a long, hard look at his life and actions…

Available in hardback, trade paperback and as an eBook, Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle is a complex and very mature tale for kids of all ages, and an unforgettable instance of Triumph and Tragedy perfectly told. If you have let this tale pass you by, you are the poorer for it and should amend that situation as soon as possible.
© 1984, 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

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.

Iron Man Epic Collection: The Golden Avenger


By Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Robert Bernstein, Al Hartley, Don Heck, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8863-6

There are a number of ways to interpret the creation and early years of Tony Stark, glamorous millionaire industrialist and inventor – not to mention his armoured alter-ego, Iron Man.

Created in the immediate 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-all-pervasive belief that technology could solve any problem with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil and the proposition almost becomes a certainty.

Of course, it might simply be that us kids thought it both great fun and very, very cool…

This fabulous full-colour compendium of the Steel Shod Sentinel’s early days reprints all his adventures, feature pages and pin-ups from Tales of Suspense #39 (cover-dated March 1963) through #72 (December 1965); revisiting the dawn of Marvel’s renaissance.

This period would see them start to challenge DC Comics position of dominance, but not quite become the darlings of the student counter-culture. In these tales, Tony Stark is still very much the gung-ho patriotic armaments manufacturer, and not the enlightened capitalist liberal dissenter he would become.

ToS #39, with a script by Larry Lieber (over brother Stan Lee’s plot) and art by the criminally unappreciated Don Heck reveals how and why ‘Iron Man is Born’, with electronics genius Stark field-testing his latest inventions in Viet Nam when he is wounded by a landmine.

Captured by Viet Cong commander Wong-Chu, Stark is told that if he creates weapons for the Reds he will be operated on to remove the metal shrapnel in his chest that will kill him within seven days.

Knowing that Commies can’t be trusted, Stark and aged Professor Yinsen – another captive scientist – build a mobile iron lung to keep his heart beating. They also equip this suit of armour with all the weapons that their ingenuity can secretly build whilst being observed by their captors. Naturally they succeed and defeat Wong-Chu, but not without tragic sacrifice.

From the next issue, Iron Man’s superhero career is taken as a given, and he has already achieved fame for largely off-camera exploits. Lee continues to plot but Robert Bernstein replaces Lieber as scripter for issues #40-46 and Jack Kirby shares the pencilling chores with Heck. ‘Iron Man versus Gargantus’ follows the young Marvel pattern by pitting the hero against aliens – albeit via their robotic giant caveman intermediary, in a delightfully rollicking romp pencilled by Kirby and inked by Heck.

‘The Stronghold of Doctor Strange’ (art by Kirby & Dick Ayers) features a gloriously spectacular confrontation with a wizard of Science (not Lee/Ditko’s later Mystic Master), and Heck returns to full art for the espionage and impostors thriller ‘Trapped by the Red Barbarian’.

Kirby and Heck team again for the science-fantasy adventure ‘Kala, Queen of the Netherworld!’, but Heck goes it alone when Iron Man time-travels to ancient Egypt to rescue the fabled and fabulous Cleopatra from ‘The Mad Pharaoh!’. New regular cast members – bodyguard “Happy Hogan” and secretary Virginia “Pepper” Potts – proper and the first true super-villain then arrive as the Steel Sentinel has to withstand ‘The Icy Fingers of Jack Frost!’ before facing (and converting to Democracy) his Soviet counterpart ‘The Crimson Dynamo’.

Tales of Suspense #47 presaged big changes. Stan Lee wrote ‘Iron Man Battles the Melter!’, and Heck inked over the unique pencils of Steve Ditko, but the big event came with the next issue’s ‘The Mysterious Mr. Doll!’ as Lee, Ditko & Ayers scrapped the old cool-but-clunky golden boiler-plate suit for a sleek, gleaming, form-fitting, red-and-gold upgrade that would – with minor variations – become the symbol and trademark of the character for decades.

Paul Reinman inked Ditko on Lee’s crossover/sales pitch for the new X-Men comic when ‘Iron Man Meets the Angel!’, but the series only really takes hold with Tales of Suspense #50.

Don Heck became regular penciller and occasional inker and Lee concocted the Armoured Avenger’s first major menace and perpetual nemesis with ‘The Hands of the Mandarin’; a modern Fu Manchu derivative who terrifies the Red Chinese so much that they manipulate him into attacking America, with the hope that one threat will fatally wound the other. The Mandarin would become Iron Man’s greatest foe.

Our hero made short work of criminal contortionist ‘The Sinister Scarecrow’, and the Red spy who appropriated that leftover Russian armour-suit and declared ‘The Crimson Dynamo Strikes Again!’ (scripted, as was the next issue, by the enigmatic “N. Kurok”). The issue also premiered a far more dangerous threat in the slinky shape of Soviet Femme Fatale the Black Widow.

With ToS#53, she was a headliner as ‘The Black Widow Strikes Again!’: stealing Stark’s new anti-gravity ray but ultimately failing in her sabotage mission after which ‘The Mandarin’s Revenge!’ began a two-part tale of kidnap and coercion that concluded with #55’s ‘No One Escapes the Mandarin!’

‘The Uncanny Unicorn!’ promptly attacked after actually Iron Man did, only to fare no better in the end. The power-horn peril was preceded in his attempt to destroy the Armoured Avenger by a cascade of short of Lee/Heck illustrated fact features beginning with ‘All About Iron Man’, continuing with ‘More Info About Iron Man!’ and concluding with a ‘Pepper Potts Pin-up Page’.

Black Widow resurfaced to beguile budding superhero ‘Hawkeye, The Marksman!’ into attacking the Golden Avenger in #57, before another landmark occurred with the next issue. Until now Iron Man had monopolised Tales of Suspense, but ‘In Mortal Combat with Captain America’ (inked by Ayers) depicted an all-out battle between the two heroes resulting from a clever impersonation by evil impressionist The Chameleon. It was a primer for the next issue when Cap would begin his own solo adventures, splitting the monthly comic into an anthology featuring Marvel’s top two patriotic paladins.

Iron Man’s initial half-length outing in #59 was against the technological terror ‘The Black Knight!’, and as a result Stark was rendered unable to remove his own armour without triggering a heart attack: a situation that hadn’t occurred since the initial injury. Up until this time he had led a relatively normal life by simply wearing the life-sustaining breast-plate under his clothes. The introduction of soap-opera sub-plots were a necessity of the shorter page counts, as were continued stories, but this seeming disadvantage worked to improve both the writing and the sales.

With Stark’s “disappearance,” Iron Man was ‘Suspected of Murder!’, a tale that featured the return of Hawkeye and Black Widow (abruptly transformed from fur-clad seductress into a gadget-laden costumed villain), and led directly into ‘The Death of Tony Stark!’ and ‘The Origin of the Mandarin!’. After that extended epic, a change of pace occurred as short complete exploits returned.

The first was #63’s industrial sabotage thriller ‘Somewhere Lurks the Phantom!’, followed by the somewhat self-explanatory ‘Hawkeye and the New Black Widow Strike Again!’ (inked by Chic Stone), after which ‘When Titans Clash!’ saw a burglar steal the new armour forcing Stark to defeat his greatest invention with his old suit (inked by new regular Mike Esposito under the pseudonym Mickey DeMeo).

Sub-sea villain Attuma is the threat du jour in ‘If I Fail a World is Lost’ and crime-lord Count Nefaria uses dreams as a weapon in ‘Where Walk the Villains!’, returning in the next issue to attack Stark with hallucinations in ‘If a Man be Mad!’, a rather weak tale that introduces Stark’s ne’er-do-well cousin Morgan, (written by Al Hartley with Heck and Esposito in top form as always).

Issues #69-71 form another continued saga, and one of the best of this early period. ‘If I Must Die, Let It Be with Honor!’ (inked by Vince Colletta) sees Iron Man forced to duel a new Russian opponent called the Titanium Man in a globally-televised contest that both super-powers see as a vital propaganda coup. The governments are naturally quite oblivious of the cost to the participants and their friends…

 ‘Fight On! For a World is Watching!’ (DeMeo inks) amplifies the intrigue and tension as the Soviets, caught cheating, pile on the pressure to at least kill the American champion if they can’t score a publicity win, and final chapter ‘What Price Victory?’ is a rousing, emotional conclusion of triumph and tragedy made magnificent by the super-glossy inking of troubled artistic genius Wally Wood.

That would have been the ideal place to end the volume but there’s one more episode included here: ToS #72 by Lee, Heck & Demeo deals with the aftermath of victory as, whilst the fickle public fête Iron Man, his best friend lies dying, and a spiteful ex-lover hires the Mad Thinker to destroy Stark and his company forever. ‘Hoorah for the Conquering Hero!’ closes the book on a pensive down-note, but the quality of this compendium package is undeniable. From broad comedy and simple action to dark cynicism and relentless battle, Marvel Comics grew up with this deeply contemporary series.

Iron Man developed amidst the growing political awareness of the Viet Nam Generation who were the comic’s maturing readership. Wedded as it was to the American Industrial-Military Complex, with a hero – originally the government’s wide-eyed golden boy – gradually becoming attuned to his country’s growing divisions, it was, as much as Spider-Man, a bellwether of the times. That it remains such a thrilling uncomplicated romp of classic super-hero fun is a lasting tribute to the talents of all those superb creators that worked it.
© 1963, 1964, 1965, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Adventures Iron Man volume 1: Heart of Steel


By Fred Van Lente, James Cordeiro, Ronan Cliquet, Scott Koblish, Amilton Santos, Gary Erskine & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2644-7

In 2003 the ever-expanding House of Ideas instituted the Marvel Age line: an imprint updating classic original tales and characters for a new and younger readership.

The enterprise was tweaked in 2005, with core titles morphing into Marvel Adventures: Fantastic Four and Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man. The tone was very much that of the company’s burgeoning TV cartoon franchises, in delivery if not name. Supplemental series included Super Heroes, The Avengers, Hulk and Iron Man. These all chuntered along merrily until 2010 when they were all cancelled and replaced by new volumes of Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes and Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man.

Most of the re-imagined tales have since been collected in gleefully inviting digest-sized compilations such as this one which features the first four forays starring the gadget-laden Golden Avenger.

In original mainstream continuity, supreme survivor Tony Stark has changed his profile many times since his 1963 debut when, as a VIP visitor in Vietnam, observing the efficacy of weaponry he’d designed, the arch-technocrat wünderkind was critically wounded and captured by a local warlord.

Put to work with the spurious promise of medical assistance upon completion, Stark instead built an electronic suit to keep his heart beating and deliver him from his oppressors. From there it was a small jump into a second career as a high-tech hero in Shining Super-Armour…

Conceived in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis at a time when the economy was booming and “Commie-bashing” was America’s favourite national pastime, the emergence of a suave new Edison using Yankee ingenuity, wealth and invention to safeguard the Land of the Free and better the World seemed an obvious development.

Combining the then-sacrosanct tenet that technology and business in unison could solve any problem with the universal imagery of noble paladins battling evil, the Invincible Iron Man seemed an infallibly successful proposition.

Over the subsequent decades Tony Stark has been depicted as a liberal capitalist, eco-warrior, space pioneer, civil servant, statesman, and even spy-chief: Director of the world’s most scientifically advanced spy agency, the Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate.

For most of that period his best friend and frequent stand-in was James Rhodes, a former military man who acted as pilot, bodyguard, advisor, co-conspirator and occasional necessary conscience. “Rhodey” even replaced Iron Man when Stark succumbed to alcoholism and eventually carved out his own chequered career as remorseless mechanised warrior and weapon of last resort War Machine

Here Rhodey is again reduced to a technical support role and joined by a supporting cast member of a much earlier vintage. Secretary and hyper-efficient factotum Pepper Potts has been in the picture since the seventh adventure (way back in October 1963), evolving from love-struck typist into a businesswoman and hero in her own right. Here a middle ground is struck and she’s Stark’s trusted Executive Administrator, confidante and general dogsbody…

Culled from Marvel Adventures Iron Man #1-4 (July-October 2007) this machine-tooled, perfect packet of explosive yarns is written throughout by Fred Van Lente, with colours from Studio F’s Martegod Gracia and letters by Blambot’s Nate Piekos and also includes a Cover Gallery supplied by Comics legend Michael Golden.

As ever, these stories are intended to bring newcomers up to speed on key points and characterisation whilst updating the material and begins with ‘Heart of Steel’ – winningly illustrated by James Cordeiro & Scott Koblish – which once again modifies the technological wizard’s origin in tune with modern sensibilities…

It all begins as a huge robotic monster attacks Manhattan and Stark suits up in his latest miracle-armour to tackle the beast. The clash sends his mind racing back six months to the moment when the spoiled multi-billionaire idol and smug was publicly challenged by esteemed scientist Gia-Bao Yinsen. The venerable sage accused Stark of selling his war-weapons to anybody with money and thereby letting them be used to destroy the island of Madripoor

Upset by the confrontation, the young genius shrugged it off until he was summarily abducted by techno-terrorists Advanced Idea Mechanics. They wanted him to build more death-toys for them and were pretty sure he would cooperate. Tony’s heart was grievously damaged in their attack and only AIM’s doctors could keep him alive…

Dumped in a top-of the line lab/workshop, Tony found old Yinsen was also a prisoner and together they devised mobile, weaponised life-support units to fight their way to freedom. Although Yinsen didn’t make it, his final words changed Stark’s life forever…

As also illustrated by Cordeiro & Scott Koblish, Iron Man’s greatest enemy is then reintroduced in ‘Enter the Dragon’. When Stark’s Chinese factory is suddenly depleted of its entire workforce, he charges to the rescue and clashes with supreme tech-genius the Mandarin: a descendent of Genghis Khan who intends topping his ancestor in the world-conquest stakes.

Employing his monumental mechanical wyrm to attack the Great Wall, the maniac makes a pretty good start until Iron Man gets heavy…

Pepper takes centre-stage in ‘The Creeping Doom’ (with art by Ronan Cliquet & Amilton Santos) as the Stark jet touches down in a desert wilderness to interview genetic engineer and botanist Samuel Smithers who has a few radical ideas about revolutionising global Agribusiness. Sadly, by the time they arrive, Sam has moved beyond the need for investors: having merged with his creations to become a marauding Plantman intent on seizing the world for the floral kingdom.

The only use he has for meaty organic matter is for mulch and compost, but he has reckoned without the sheer cunning of his adversaries…

Wrapping up this collection is ‘Hostile Takeover’ (with Cordeiro & Gary Erskine making the pictures) as Stark Board member Justin Hammer tries to manipulate stock and gain control of the company.

His method is flawless. Hire the infallible Spymaster to hack Iron Man’s armour, sending Tony’s “bodyguard” on a destructive rampage through the city – with Stark helpless inside it – and just watch the stock price fall until it’s time to make his killing. Hammer’s big mistake was assuming Pepper and Rhodey were the sort of servile flunkies he preferred to hire at Hammer Industries…

Rocket-paced, spectacularly exciting and enthralling with plenty of sharp wit to counterpoint the drama and suspense; these riotous super-sagas are a splendid example of Iron Man’s versatility that will delight Fights ‘n’ Tights fans of all ages and vintage.
© 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Mighty Avengers volume 3: Secret Invasion Book 1


By Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev, Koi Pham, John Romita Sr., Danny Miki, Klaus Janson, Tom Palmer & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3010-9

Following the divisive and brutal superhero Civil War, Tony Stark (a staunch advocate of the draconian, nigh-totalitarian Super-Human Registration Act) formed a squad of Government-sanctioned heroes. His SHIELD-backed Mighty Avengers were designed to take care of business whilst he worked on his “Fifty States Initiative”, the objective of which was to eventually field teams of federally trained and licensed superheroes in every State of the Union.

Firstly, though, he had to restore public confidence, especially as the unregistered, rogue New Avengers continued to defy his orders to surrender to government authority: saving lives and crushing evil without his permission. Things never seemed to go Stark’s way however, and a series of catastrophic crises led inexorably to Earth succumbing to alien infiltration and conquest.

This seditious third volume is written throughout by Brian Michael Bendis and gathers Mighty Avengers #12-15 (June-August 2008), re-presenting some of the opening sallies in the major event dubbed Secret Invasion wherein the torturously unfolding plan by the shapeshifting Skrulls finally turns into a red-hot shooting war.

Since Fantastic Four #2 (January 1961), the Skrulls have been a pernicious cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. After decades of frustrating failure, the insidious intergalactic infiltrators were finally made the stars of a colossal braided crossover which ran from Spring to Christmas 2008 throughout all the company’s titles.

The premise? The aliens’ former all-encompassing empire had been crippled and scourged by a devastating catastrophe which destroyed much of their star-spanning power. Consequently the survivors underwent a mass fundamentalist-religious conversion: utterly resolved and dedicated to make Earth their new homeworld – just as their ancient scriptures foretold…

To this end they imperceptibly replaced a number of Earth denizens – mostly superheroes, villains and/or their close associates. When the plot was finally exposed no defender of the Earth truly knew who was on their side…

Moreover, the Skrulls had also unravelled the secrets of Earth magic and humanity’s unique genetics, creating legions of amped-up equivalents to the world’s mightiest heroes and villains. During this period they hid amongst us, primed and waiting to destroy mankind’s champions in head-to-head confrontations.

Not all Skrulls were fanatics however. Earth also harboured a few carefully hidden dissidents opposed to the new regime and non-fanatics simply unwilling to get properly involved…

The mysteries start to unravel in the ‘The Awakening’ from #12-13 (illustrated by Alex Maleev) where a fugitive and closeted Nick Fury – on the run for manipulating an Avengers squad into attacking the sovereign state of Latveria – discovers his current squeeze is actually a shapeshifting alien. Taking the appropriate steps, he sneaks back into SHIELD to warn his replacement Maria Hill that she can trust no-one…

Always playing a deeply convoluted game, he then contacts Spider-Woman – his mole in the Avengers, SHIELD and Hydra – to warn her of Skrull infiltration before activating his own plan B, gathering his long-cached cadre of super-powered non-entities and agents never on anybody’s radar. Then he sets all the pieces tumbling into turbulent motion…

The untitled issue #15 – illustrated by Khoi Pham & Danny Miki – returns focus to Stark’s Mighty Avengers team (field leader Ms. Marvel, Black Widow, Wonder Man, the Wasp, Sentry and Grecian war god Ares), all blithely going about their heroic business unaware that trusted major-domo Edwin Jarvis has been replaced by a high-ranking Skrull.

When the revelation day at last arrives the treacherous insider instigates a chilling plan to take incomprehensibly powerful superman Sentry out of action by attacking his mind and those he loves most…

The campaign of terror concludes with a chilling flashback illustrated by John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson & Tom Palmer, revealing how a dedicated proponent of the Super-Human Registration Act, a key component of Iron Man’s Fifty States Initiative and Founding Avenger was long ago replaced by a Skrull. What that augurs for humanity, only the coming weeks and months can tell…

To Be Continued…

With covers by Marko Djurdjevic and Bendis’ full script for issue #12 this slim tome offers another slick and stylish slice of breathtaking all-action entertainment which adds depth and weight to the impressive and appealing Secret Invasion main event but also reads perfectly well on its own merits.

Here is another Fights ‘n’ Tights “must-read” for insatiable thrill-chasers everywhere.
© 2008, 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.