Friday, May 3, 2013
On May 3, 2013 the feature-length film Iron Man 3 will premiere. In honor of the new film from Marvel Studios and Walt-Disney Pictures, I'll be doing a list of my top ten favorite comic book stories featuring The Invincible Iron Man! Also, if you already haven't, please check out the All Iron Man show over on Fanholes Podcast!
10. Iron Man #6-8
I know, I know....what's a Marvel Now! title doing here? Normally I'm not one to put the most recent titles into one of my top ten lists. If I do, I usually limit it to one new book for the sake of variety. However (if you have come to know anything about my predilection for Super-Heroes and Science Fiction set in Outer Space) this extremely recent arc from 2013 has a premise that I simply cannot ignore. IRON MAN IN SPACE!!!
I like that the arc doesn't try to sidestep the idea that this isn't Iron Man's first Outer Space rodeo. They acknowledge events like the Kree/Skrull War or Operation Galactic Storm, but they also play up the idea that saving the universe is different than the exploration of it. Growing up on things like Star Wars and Star Trek, you can't help but appreciate Tony's attempt at some Captain Kirk-like debauchery with a poor man's Lilandra. Even Greg Land's weird tracing of racy magazines actually fits the mood for a change!
While I comprehend that Kieron Gillen's twist on the idea of Kirk gallivanting around the stars is supposed to make me reflect on discrimination or cultural differences, I'm also getting the notion that "teh wimmenz" can be fickle no matter what universe they come from.
Tony ends up being put into Trial by Combat, because the Voldi see his shattering of the Phoenix Force in Avengers Vs. X-Men as blasphemy against what they perceive as a religious deity. Fans of Transformers should be happy to see the bounty hunter Death's Head making a splash as Tony's main opponent in the gladiatorial ring. Although their skirmish is hardly conclusive, I think it serves each fan-base of the respective characters best, as neither really loses any "face."
9. Tales of Suspense #69-71
" If I Must Die, Let It Be With Honor!"
"Fight On! For A World Is Watching!"
"What Price Victory?"
A classic 3-part Iron Man tale from Stan "The Idol of Millions!" Lee and Don "The Toast of Two Continents!" Heck way back before the Armored Avenger ever had his own solo magazine! The main reason this one makes the list, is that it contains the first appearance of one of my favorite Iron Man villains, The Titanium Man.
Ah the good ol' days, when a duck sounded and quacked like a duck and the wonderful world of 'Commieland' was confined to the U.S.S.R.! Boris Bullski is the man behind the Titanium Man armor and has the suit constructed in the labor camp he runs. He soon issues a challenge to Iron Man, who has little choice but to accept. It's like a prize fight between two mechanical titans!
It also has some good interplay between Tony Stark and his supporting cast. Pepper Potts is around still hopelessly mooning after Tony and poor Happy Hogan is the dutiful comrade despite his own feelings for Ms. Potts. Happy's no fool either and with his self-sacrifice to aid Iron Man in his confrontation against Titanium Man, makes it pretty clear that he's known Tony Stark and Iron Man are one and the same.
Of course true to the operatic nature of the Marvel Comics of the day, it ends with Happy Hogan still on the edge of death and Pepper Potts despising Tony Stark for (in her eyes) leaving them both in the lurch. Thankfully though, Democracy and Capitalism triumph and Boris is sent packing.
8. Ultimate Human #1-4
I may not big the biggest fan of the Ultimate Universe, but I feel like Iron Man may be one of the easier Ultimate interpretations for me to swallow. One thing I am certainly a fan of though, is writer Warren Ellis. I may mock folks for wanting answers to what is essentially "comic book science," but the author of this four-issue mini-series certainly has a zeal and passion for cutting edge scientific theory and works it rather seamlessly into his books.
The art by Cary Nord is also quite good. He's worked on quite a bit of comic books before this, but I think I first noticed his work in 1996 during the Daredevil run where he collaborated with writer Karl Kesel. In case anyone out there is not "in the know", the Ultimate Universe is a separate sub-line from Marvel that aspires to be a simpler and more easily accessible form of Comic Book. After being published for over 10 years, I'm not quite sure the line retains it's "easy access." The characters usually tend to have core elements of original 616 character they are based upon. However, they are alternate takes on existing characters and thus many liberties can be taken by any author who writes for the line. Here, I suppose that translates into all the drunkenness of Tony Stark without any of the consequences.
The crux of the story brings together and systematically compares Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. Both may have their gifted intellects and devotion to science in common, but Bruce sees his own life as a constant struggle and Tony's as a life of privilege. Bruce begs Tony to cure him. Tony immediately accepts and everything goes to pot after that. Of course that's the main event that you paid for, to see Iron Man and the Hulk in a knock down, drag out fight.
The title character refers to a character that Warren Ellis created in his run on Excalibur, one Peter Wisdom. In an effort to compete with the modern day super-humans of the day, the Ultimate version of Pete Wisdom ends up using himself as a test subject for a new procedure that combines the DNA stack of the Hulk with the nano tissue of Tony Stark. The result basically transforms Wisdom into the Ultimate version of the Hulk's arch nemesis, The Leader.
Though the absolute best bit in the entire book comes from when Stark turns off the nano-machines that are suppressing the cells that transform Banner into the Hulk. When Tony finally shuts the nano-machines down in order to save both their lives from Widsom, Banner insists that nothing has changed because he hasn't already transformed into the Hulk. A frustrated Stark deprived of his morning Stoli swiftly headbutts Banner and the following bit of genius results.
Priceless. Just Priceless.
7. Iron Man #258-266
"Armor Wars II"
I can't say I was always a regular reader of Iron Man, but I can say that I tended to follow the work of both writer/artist John Byrne as well as artist John Romita Jr. As my pal Thoom might say, this Iron Man arc is written by "the great" John Byrne, so let's just get this out of the way up front. Was the title "Armor Wars II" solicited before John Byrne was even assigned as the ongoing writer of Iron Man? Yes. Does the story have anything to do with the original Armor Wars? No. Does that make it any less of a good story? Nope!
Here's a quote directly from Byrne on the matter:
"As I was told at the time, Michelinie and Layton bailed on IRON MAN rather unexpectedly, so when I was asked to write the book it was with the provision that the first story I did had to have this title. I said okay, as long as it could be a completely different story. Michelinie and Layton may have been content to repeat themselves, but I certainly didn't want to start out imitating them."
Fans of Bryne's work on West Coast Avengers should appreciate the guest appearances by Hank Pym and Wonder Man during this story arc as well.
As far as Romita Jr's career goes, he may have worked on prominent titles such as Uncanny X-Men and Amazing Spider-Man before this, but I think his work on titles such as Daredevil and Punisher War Zone showed the way his art style grew out from under the shadow of his father's work. Iron Man is also one of the comic book runs Romita Jr's done where his art certainly came into its own.
Fans of the Neo-Classic armor will be happy to see the suit literally punch through the pages as Iron Man faces off against the Ghost of Titanium Man and then the newly designed Living Laser.
This arc brought Iron Man's arch foe, The Mandarin, back into prominence along with the old school Marvel Monster Fin Fang Foom.
Between these two and the more stable relationship Tony Stark has with his friend and confidant James Rhodes, I feel like the work done here probably laid the groundwork for much of the characterization from the 90's Iron Man animated series.
For me that animated series and this story arc have a sense of familiarity when it comes to how I perceive Iron Man. He's not a drunk, a relapsed alcoholic, a murderer, a teenager, suited up with smokestacks, or unfairly written as a fascist by JMS, he's just a Marvel Super Hero fighting the good fight.
6. Iron Man: Legacy of Doom #1-4
Legacy of Doom is a four-issue mini-series that serves as a sequel or follow up to the events of the story "Knightmare" from Iron Man #150. In that particular story both Doctor Doom and Iron Man are transported back in time to Camelot. Though the two eventually are forced to work together in order to return to the present day, Doom also swears vengeance on Iron Man. Simply put, this mini-series from David Michelinie, Bob Layton and Ron Lim chronicles Doom's revenge.
Doom tricks Iron Man into accompanying him into Mephisto's hellish realm, where he trades him like a piece of property for Morgana Le Fay and a shard of the famed sword Excalibur. A Marvel Hero fighting off Mephisto in his own realm may be like a dude having his turn with the town trollop, but you have to admit that a good time is going to be had by all. Soon enough, Tony figures out how to escape Mephisto's clutches. Meanwhile, thanks to Morgana Le Fay's spell, the prized shard has merged with Doom's armor into what I like to refer to as his "Excalibur Armor."
Doom now can use the Excalibur sword himself which can cut through Tony's armor like ribbons. Tony makes a strategic retreat, only to encounter Merlin the Magician. Merlin advises Tony that Doom getting Excalibur set off his Merlin-sense or whatever and that he needs to pick up the Scabbard of Excalibur. When the Invincible Sword and the Invulnerable Scabbard are put together they are said to make the user unstoppable. Of course one thing Tony and I have in common is that we think all this magic stuff is for the birds.
Iron Man does keep Doom from attaining the Scabbard, however this results in his attaining its magical power leading to his own Excalibur armor. Ultimately, the two characters are forced to perform what my fellow Fanhole Mike coins as a rival fusion. The only way to stop the other-dimensional demon Doom has ticked off is by adhering to the legend that the sword must go into the scabbard. Iron Man takes this to be a self-sacrifice and is hesitant to believe in the merits of magic, but luckily when Doom plunges the sword into his armor all becomes right with the world once again.
5. Iron Man: Crash
In this modern age of Marvel Comics, Tony Stark is often described as a Futurist. Simply put, the guy knows what's coming. It is a broad term than can be applied to both scientists as well as artist-writers. In this sense, Mike Saenz is quite the Futurist himself.
Saenz is the creator of the first Computer Generated Comic Book called Shatter, published by First Comics in 1985. By 1986 he created the drawing tool ComicWorks for the Macintosh.
Iron Man: Crash is the first computer generated Marvel Graphic Novel ever created. Seeing as how most film adaptations are too embarrassed to mention they are based on a comic-book, the terminology of the Graphic Novel has become quite sheik, whether it is accurate or not. Looking from the vantage point of 2013, pretty much all comic books or Graphic Novels are created using computer technology. From lettering to coloring and even interactive tablets that serve as drawing boards for what would formerly be pencil and pen artwork. However, back in 1988, using a Mac and Adobe Illustrator to create a comic book wasn't exactly the path of a straight line.
There is quite a bit of technological terminology thrown into the book almost to the point of overwhelming a less than familiar reader. However, my father worked in the semi-conductor industry of Silicon Valley for many years and my current job title is that of an Information Technology Specialist. So I'm pretty sure I can keep up. From that standpoint, interactions with both Japan and Palo Alto, CA in the high-tech business world of Tony Stark tend to lend an air of credulity to someone like myself.
The book is also released under Marvel's Epic Imprint, thus it did not follow the now defunct Comic Code Approved mandates. In my personal opinion, for better or worse, Crash is written like a lot of modern comics today. There are action sequences that are violent, but not quite as gruesome as I've seen some modern comics get.
Also, there are a few T&A shots, which could explain how Saenz went on to do more erotic computer games rather than more comic book work.
Saenz's interactive computer game Virtual Valerie is even referenced at the beginning of the story
For all the acclaim Wizard heaped on Joe Quesada back in the day for "The Mask in the Iron Man", Saenz introduced the concept of a suit of Iron Man armor with Artifical Intelligence about twelve years earlier and it was not nearly as stupid.
The most simple pitch that I could give the graphic novel is that it is Dark Knight Returns meets Batman:Digital Justice with Iron Man. Oh and Nick Fury is still an old war horse that kicks ass. I'm sure there are folks out there that could be highly judgmental of the art, but the book is quite an interesting read as well as way ahead of its time. The historical significance and predictive manner it took for the medium as a whole is at least worth a look.
4. Iron Man #150
While the tale titled "Knightmare" is indeed a double-sized anniversary issue, as my friend and fellow podcaster Thoom likes to say it is also a great done-in-one comic book. The cover really tells you all you need to know about the plot. David Michelinie, Bob Layton and John Romita Jr. pit the arch-nemesis of the Fantastic Four, Doctor Doom, against the armored Avenger, Iron Man. It seems pretty obvious when you stop and think about it. I absolutely love how Doom addresses Iron Man in this issue.
Anyway the two foes are transported back in time thanks to Doom's time platform. They emerge in the era of Camelot where they are mistaken for Knights and brought before King Arthur. I have mentioned this issue before in the video on Doctor Strange as Doom leaves Camelot to forge an alliance with Morgana Le Fay. Doom seeks aid in releasing his mother's tormented soul from the clutches of hell itself, and Morgana agrees to do so under the condition that Doom help her slay her brother King Arthur.
Doom leads Morgana's army of undead warriors against Iron Man and King Arthur's soldiers. An epic battle ensues where Doom and Iron Man face off in the sky, while Arthur and his men combat the undead hordes ground side.
Iron Man makes a hasty retreat to cut off the undead army at their source, Morgana herself. LeFay chooses to flee rather than face Iron Man, and with Morgana unable to keep her bargin Doom is left with little choice but to work side by side with Iron Man in order to return to the present day.
Doom's much discussed personal honor or code comes into play as he and Iron Man cannibalize various components of their armors so they can trigger a time warp to return them to the present day. A fun comic book that triggers an awesome rivalry between these two characters that was quite popular. So much so, that "Knightmare" would be followed up one hundred issues later during the Marvel event "Acts of Vengeance."
3. Bad Blood #1-4
Tony Stark's acting self-important, oblivious to his closest friends, and straight up out of control! No, you're not reading a write-up for the Iron Man movie, but the four-issue Iron Man mini-series titled "Bad Blood." Something's way off with Tony Stark and folks like Pepper Potts, Happy Hogan and James Rhodes know it in their bones. Each issue Tony's decision making process gets more and more corrupted and his actions more extreme.
Turns out that Tony's personality shift is the result of the machinations of one of his oldest foes Justin Hammer. Luckily, Tony's got a great friend like Rhodey to look out for him and help him fight off Hammer's "Rogue Cells." Beyond being a fun Iron Man story, this also serves as the swan song for one of the great Iron Man adversaries.
I tend to think of "Bad Blood" as a snapshot of a bygone era of Iron Man comics from David Michelinie and Bob Layton. In the same way that Batman: Dark Detective attempts to recapture the glory days of the Englehart/Rogers run on Detective Comics, this mini-series successfully captures that lightning in a bottle from Michelinie and Layton's two previous runs on Iron Man. There have certainly been other runs and interpretations of Iron Man, but I have to say that this is representative of the Iron Man that I grew up with at a time where he wasn't so easy to find. Oh, and the Silver Centurion inspired Space Armor is pretty sweet, too!
2. Iron Man v3 #53-55
"Book of The Ten Rings"
I know that some folks were turned off right away by the animated series Armored Adventures or as I like to call it "Teen Tony." However, I wasn't one of them, and the show probably has this three-part story from Mike Grell, Ryan Odagawa and Michael Ryan to thank for that. You see, this story introduces Iron Man's primary antagonist for the arc, the son of the Mandarin, named Temugin. I was just getting into Dragon Ball Z at the time, so I could appreciate the idea of this villain harnessing his "chi" to physically confront his father's "killer."
Though the conflict between Temugin and Tony Stark is not conclusive, the outcome leads to a rather important contribution to the Iron Man mythos. The back-up feature in #55 called "Out of the Bottle", features both story and art by the talented Mike Grell. This issue would mark the first time that Stark somewhat blatantly exposes his secret identity for all the public to see.
Outing Iron Man as Tony Stark was actually a new and groundbreaking idea at the time, and led to some interesting stories. Also I found myself thoroughly fascinated by the way Temugin chose to honor his late father regardless of his own desires and goals. He comes across as someone who probably wouldn't have chosen the life of a super-criminal, but commits to that path wholeheartedly. In case you're curious, Grell's entire run went from #50 to #66, where he left mid-story on the 2nd part of the arc titled "Man Hunt." While there is some social commentary brought up throughout the entirety of the run (that may or may not be off-putting to readers), overall the Mike Grell run was one I definitely enjoyed and followed month-to-month.
1. Iron Man #225-232, Captain America #339-341
The premise of the Armor Wars is a terrific concept and wonderfully executed. Tony's greatest asset, the very technology that makes him Iron Man, is stolen. Iron Man then takes it upon himself to recover all the tech, whether misused or even merely utilized for altruistic purposes. While this obviously brings Iron Man into conflict with many of his old armored foes, he would also come to blows with many heroes of the Marvel Universe. While Iron Man going after guys like Stiltman and Beetle didn't ruffle any feathers, taking down S.H.I.E.L.D. Mandroids or the government operative Stingray doesn't go over so well.
Tony's only solution is to give himself the pink slip as Iron Man. Obviously, this is something that couldn't happen in a movie-era storyline as Stark is already well-known as Iron Man. However, this is one of the key moments of the series making it clear to the audience that there would be no turning back.
The Armor Wars even leads to a crossover with my favorite run from Captain America where Steve Rogers was going by his then new identity, The Captain. The wedge this storyline put between their friendship didn't go away overnight and is often brought up even when it comes to their long history of being on the opposite sides of an argument.
Iron Man even loses his Avengers membership after an intense fight with both Crimson Dynamo and Titanium Man in the Soviet Union. While Dynamo's armor is negated, the Titanium Man meets his end while attempting to slay Iron Man in his stealth armor. The final issues lead to confrontation with the last armor on the list belonging to the government suit designated as Firepower. The Round One fight sees Iron Man get a brutal beat down from Firepower. This is followed up by the decently justified Round-O TWO Powah win from Stark's all-new Iron Man armor. I'm sure there are plenty of reasons why folks would WANT to relate to Tony Stark. Reasons such as ginormous wealth, beautiful women, and wondrous technology. But as to something a regular person can actually relate to, I would say I most relate to the way Stark gets caught up in his work. The way he'll tune out everything else in order to get the primary job done, which in this case is the creation of his new armor.
Honestly, for a little bit, I'd have to say this was the only Iron Man story that I really had a soft spot for. The reasons for this are probably twofold; Firstly that Iron Man was specifically the favorite character of a grade-school chum of mine. So, most of my exposure to Iron Man comics was through his collection, the majority of which I believe were from the first and second Michelenie and Layton runs. This early exposure made the Silver Centurion armor my favorite of Iron Man's many armors and seared that particular run in my mind when it comes to Iron Man forever. Their run truly set the bar pretty high and informed how poorly I would come to see other Iron Man runs from then on. (Stupid Living Armor! I quote Erik Larsen, "My clothes are out to kill me!") Secondly, while I normally would read Iron Man comics "second-hand" as it were, the Armor Wars was something I picked up from the good ol' spindle racks of Thrifty's all on my own. So it certainly has a nice warm feeling of nostalgia surrounding my early days of breaking into comic book collecting.