Invincible Iron Man Epic Collection volume 3 1968-1970: The Man Who Killed Tony Stark


By Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Johnny Craig & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1630-5 (TPB)

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 solo features per publication, such as Tales of Suspense wherein 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 rationalised divergent schedules – with Cap retaining the numbering of the original title: thus his “premiering” in number #100, while the Steel-Shod Avenger got a first issue at last….

Tony Stark is the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism; a glamorous millionaire-industrialist and inventor. He is also 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 (just like now), 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 commerce 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 trade paperback (and digital) chronological compendium covers Iron Man #2-24, spanning June 1968 – April 1970, and features a creative dream sequence as master scripter Archie Goodwin worked with EC legend Johnny Craig and Golden Age veteran George Tuska.

A bold new era began with Invincible Iron Man #2. Long-established illustrator Gene Colan had moved on and, with ‘The Day of the Demolisher!’, the slick understated mastery of Craig adds a sheen of terrifying authenticity to proceedings. His first job was a cracker, since Goodwin introduces Janice Cord as a new romantic interest for the playboy inventor. The problem thwarting true love is a 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 nature of those inventors who work for it…

Goodwin & Craig then bring back Stark’s old bodyguard Happy Hogan to help rebuild the now-obsolete Iron Man armour before consequently devolving him back into a monstrous super-strong menace in ‘My Friend, My Foe… the Freak!’ for #3; surpassing themselves one issue later by retooling a long-forgotten Soviet super-villain into a major threat in ‘Unconquered is the Unicorn!’

This particular ultra-enhanced maniac is dying from his own powers and believes Tony would be able – if not initially willing – to fix him…

With Iron Man #5, another venerated veteran from the industry’s dawn 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 decade and become synonymous with the Armoured Avenger…

With Craig adding his solid dependable inks, ‘Frenzy in a Far-Flung Future!’ is an intriguing time-paradox tale wherein Stark is kidnapped by the last survivors of humanity. They are 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 then returned – but not for long – in ‘Vengeance… Cries the Crusher!’

Next, a sinister scheme started way back in Tales of Suspense #97 finally bears brutal – and for preppie S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jasper Sitwell (assigned as Stark’s security advisor) – painful fruit in 2-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 daring 3-part saga follows as ultimate oriental arch-fiend The Mandarin resurfaces with a cunning plan and the certain conviction that Stark and Iron Man are the same person… Beginning with an apparent Incredible Hulk guest-shot in #9’s ‘…There Lives a Green Goliath!’ and proceeding through the revelatory and explosive Nick Fury team-up ‘Once More… The Mandarin!’, the epic climaxes 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…?

The sterling run of science-flavoured dramas resumes 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, tensely culminating in cataclysmic clash ‘Captives of the Controller!’, wherein the mind-bending terror attempts to extend his mesmeric, parasitic sway over the entire populace of New York City…

IM#14 revealed that ‘The Night Phantom Walks!’, with Goodwin craftily paying tribute to Craig’s past history drawing EC’s landmark horror comics. Here the artist pencilled and inked the story of a zombie-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…!’ The demented former superspy allies himself with Fantastic Four foe Red Ghost in a desperate last-ditch bid to find a remedy for his drastically shortened life-span.

Attempting to kidnap 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 kicked off 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 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 reluctantly 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 moonlighting Mike Esposito) before being rudely returned to his personal dungeon dimension, after which African-American boxer Eddie March briefly becomes a new Iron Man in #21’s ‘The Replacement!’ Stark – free from the heart-stimulating chest-plate which had preserved his life for years – is understandably tempted into a life without strife, but 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 former 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, vengeance-crazed Iron Man goes ballistic in innovative action-thriller ‘The Man Who Killed Tony Stark!!’ before ultimately finding solace in the open arms of Madame Masque.

Ending this compilation in classic style, Johnny Craig returns to fully illustrate a superb mythological monster-mash in ‘My Son… The Minotaur!’

The galvanised wonderment is supplemented with a sublime selection of Tuska and Craig 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 – so, no change there then…

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, 1970, 2019 Marvel. All rights reserved.