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.