By Gerry Conway, Mike Friedrich, Robert Kanigher, Gary Friedrich, Roy Thomas, George Tuska, Herb Trimpe, Barry Windsor-Smith, Jim Starlin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6623-8 (HB)
First conceived in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis at a time when the economy was booming and “Commie-bashing” was an American national obsession, the emergence of a new and shining young Thomas 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 faith that technology and business in unison could solve any problem, with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil, Tony Stark – the Invincible Iron Man – seemed an infallibly successful proposition.
Of course, whilst Tony Stark was the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism – a glamorous millionaire industrialist/scientist and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his alter-ego – the turbulent tone of the 1970s soon relegated his suave, “can-do” image to the dustbin of history.
With ecological disaster and social catastrophe from the myriad abuses of big business the new zeitgeists of the young, the Golden Avenger and Stark International were soon confronting a few tricky questions from the increasingly politically savvy readership.
With glamour, money and fancy gadgetry not quite so cool anymore the questing voices of a new generation of writers began posing uncomfortable questions in the pages of a series that was once the bastion of militarised America …
This grand and gleaming chronological compendium – available in hardback and digital editions – navigates that transitional period; reprinting Iron Man #39-53 (July 1971 to December 1972) as the title experienced an unprecedented and often uncomfortable number of creative personnel changes whilst the country endured a radical and often divisive split in ideology.
Tone and context for the times comes courtesy of Gerry Conway’s Introduction ‘A Few Last Words’ and the follow up essay from Mike Friedrich writer who replaced before Conway & Herb Trimpe open the graphic proceedings with ‘A Twist of Memory… a Turn of Mind!’ Insidious oriental mastermind White Dragon deviously turns Stark into a brainwashed pawn, thereby inadvertently enslaving the Golden Avenger too.
Stark’s devoted assistant Kevin O’Brian comes to the rescue, but is led down a path to inevitable doom when he assists his mind-locked employer in a torturous ‘Night Walk!’ (by regular penciller George Tuska & Jim Mooney) to save his sanity and defeat their sinister foe.
Simultaneously, Marianne Rodgers, the woman they both love, begins a slow glide into madness as her telepathic powers gradually grow beyond her control and eat at her mind…
Issue #41 continued a long and convoluted storyline dealing with mystery mastermind Mr. Kline. (For the full story you should also track down contemporaneous Daredevil and Sub-Mariner issues: you won’t be any the wiser but at least you’ll have a full set…)
‘The Claws of the Slasher!’ sees a squabbling pair of paranormal saboteurs attack Washington DC during a Senate investigation into Stark Industries; accidentally triggering a psychic transformation in Marianne.
She temporarily morphed into a mind-warping harpy in ‘When Demons Wail!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia), culminating in a blockbusting, extra-long battle against psionic godling Mikas in ‘Doomprayer!’(Mooney inks).
During that cataclysmic conflict O’Brian dons his own super-armour to join the fray as The Guardsman; causing his own mental state to rapidly deteriorate and making his eventual showdown with Stark ever more unavoidable…
Plotted by Conway, scripted by DC A-Lister Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Tuska & Vince Colletta, Iron Man #44 finds Stark near death after his last battle.
In ‘Weep for a Lost Nightmare!’ he is watched over by Kevin and Marianne as Kline dispatches a robotic copy of old Stark enemy The Night Phantom to finish the ailing hero off. The tale is truncated midway and completed in the next issue – presumably due to deadline problems.
Gary Friedrich scripted concluding chapter ‘Beneath the Armour Beats a Heart!’ in #45, after which Stark faces a revolt by his own Board of Directors who convince the jealousy-consumed O’Brian to stand with them.
When student protestors invade the factory, greed-crazed capitalist and reactionary revolt instigator Simon Gilbert convinces O’Brian to don his Guardsman suit and murderously teach the kids a lesson, leading to a horrific escalation in ‘Menace at Large!’ (inked by John Verpoorten) wherein Iron Man intervenes to save lives and causes the out-of-control O’Brian’s death…
In the aftermath Stark traumatically reviews his origins, twin careers and now-obscured objectives in the classic ‘Why Must There be an Iron Man?’ (# 47, by Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith & Mooney) after which, emotionally reinvigorated, the Armoured Ace welcomes new scripter Mike Friedrich and old artists Tuska & Colletta to face a renewed threat from radical incendiary anarchist Firebrand in ‘The Fury and the Inferno!’
Meanwhile, whilst attempting a new start in life, Marianne’s final breakdown begins…
‘… There Lurks the Adaptoid!’ finds her experiencing horrifying precognitive visions of a power-mimicking robot attacking Iron Man, leading to her accidental betrayal of the man she loves when the automaton arrives and evolves into an unbeatable new form in #50’s ‘Deathplay’.
This coincides with equally-troubled Z-list villain Princess Python attempting to kidnap Tony, even as the hero is targeted by power-leeching sub-atomic tyrants, before the bizarre saga concludes with bombastic battle in ‘Now Stalks the Cyborg-Sinister!’
New Age mysticism and West Coast celebrity-cults informed Iron Man #53 as Stark confronts ‘Raga: Son of Fire!’: an emotion-fuelled, flaming maniac trained by an evil guru who subsequently takes over from his failed disciple when things get too hot.
‘The Black Lama!’ (with additional pencils from star-in-waiting Jim Starlin) is also unable to destroy the Golden Avenger, but would subsequently return to become one of the hero’s greatest foes of the period.
Don’t fret folks; it all turns out alright in the end…
The galvanised wonderment also includes the cover of Iron Man Annual #2 and a selection of house ads to wrap up this collection with the Golden Gladiator being carefully politically repositioned at a time when Marvel solidly set itself up at the vanguard of a rapidly changing America increasingly at war with itself.
With this volume Marvel further entrenched itself in the camp of the young and the restless, experiencing first hand, and every day, the social upheaval America was undergoing. This rebellious teen sensibility and increased political conscience permeated the company’s publications as their core audience evolved from Flower Power innocents into a generation of acutely aware activists. Future tales would increasingly bring reformed capitalist Stark into many unexpected and outrageous situations…
But that’s the meat of another review, as this engrossing graphic novel is done. From our distant vantage point the polemical energy and impact might be dissipated, but the sheer quality of the comics and the cool thrill of the eternal aspiration of man in perfect partnership with magic metal remains. These superhero sagas are amongst the most underrated but impressive tales of the period and are well worth your time, consideration and cold hard cash…
© 1971, 1972, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.