Or – “How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Red & Silver…”

Everyone has deeply held, inexplicable beliefs about the exploits of their comic heroes.  My friend Dusty won’t read Avengers without Iron Man, Cap and Thor.  Stephen is still burning about the cancellation of ‘Legend of the Dark Knight.’  Otter Disaster can’t stand the way Superman “swims” through the air, and used to say that when he learned to fly, he’d do it STANDING UP.  I am often the target of derision at the store (GATEKEEPER HOBBIES, Huntoon & Gage, Topeka!  Ask us about Matt Wagner’s Demon mini!) for my assertion that the Mark VII Silver Centurion armor is what Iron Man should look like, and that all the other suits are just pretenders.  I’ve never believed in Iron Man or identified with his adventures the way I did with this armor, and given that he now has a seemingly permanent monkey-face, I may never again.  But for a time, Iron Man was my favorite hero, the one I doodled incessantly, the one whose adventures moved me like none other.  If you want to know how that obsession started, my friends, look no further than the jump…

Iron Man #200
Written by Denny O’Neil
Pencilled by Mark Bright
Inked by Akin & Garvey
Letters by Rick Parker
Published by Marvel Comics

Previously, on Iron Man:  Tony Stark is a man with demons…  Driven for years to be the best, the greatest, the poster boy for American know-how, Tony found his biggest weakness in the bottom of a bottle of bourbon.  He overcame his alcohol issues once, but it wasn’t long before a man named Obadiah Stane began intentionally targeting Stark’s weak spots, using a systematic campaign of aggression to take away his livelihood, his friends, and eventually his business.  Stark International became STANE International, and the Iron Man armor passed into the hands of James Rhodes, who continued in his boss’s footsteps.  Tony himself dropped off the face of the planet, living in a skid-row hovel, surviving (if you can call it that) from bottle to bottle.  It took the death of a fellow hobo and friend to draw him back into the world, where Tony Stark haltingly put together a new business with his partners, Morley and Clytemnstra Erwin.  For months he scraped and slaved, until eventually his business became a moderate success.  It was then that Obadiah Stane struck again, blowing up Circuits Maximus and nearly killing Tony, Rhodey, and his partners, just to see Tony Stark again at his lowest point.  But Stane is about to find out about the IRON in the MAN

Some hours after the explosion that obliterated his new business, Tony Stark is told that his friend didn’t make it.  Rather than immediately tell us which friend, we are taken inside Tony’s mind, to see the events of recent months firsthand.  It should be noted that for a couple of years previous to this issue, Iron Man was JAMES RHODES, and Tony just a supporting character in his adventures.  With Rhodey’s armor damaged beyond immediate repair, though, Tony moves into focus.  It’s a nice moment, and well-handled, especially when first Rhodey then Clytemnstra arrive, leaving the identity of the decedent obvious.  Cly believes that the identity of their attacker should be equally self-evident…

In recent issues, Tony had found that several of his friends (Pepper Potts, Happy Hogan, Bambi Arbogast and others) had disappeared, and he now believes them to be in the hands of Stane.  While Tony sets off angrily for Avengers Compound (the then-HQ of the West Coast Avengers) we see Obadiah Stane, laughing about his inevitable triumph, knowing that he has turned Stark back down a path he’d abandoned.  This is, indeed, true, but the old habit Tony is returning to isn’t the path of Jim Beam as Stane suspects…

There are a number of never-before seen changes to the armor with this iteration, by the way, including the non-circular unibeam (which was the standard for the current armor until the movie used a circular one, I believe) more heavily armored gauntlets and greaves, and the removal of the traditional hip pod power packs.  Tony’s new toy reminds me in a lot of ways of the original armors, thicker and broader, more like actual ARMOR!  If you want to know why Matthew loves this armor, here’s why:

DAAH DUM DADA DUMM!  “Nobody helped him… now he has his revenge!”  Hawkeye and Mockingbird are surprised to see a very determined Iron Man rocket out of the compound and into the atmosphere, letting the turning Earth do most of his work for him, then letting his sophisticated navigational computers bring him back down to Earth in New York, where he rockets towards the Stane Enterprises Long Island headquarters.  His entrance is one of the more entertaining uses of armor in my memory…

Even though he hoped to drive Anthony right back to the bottle, Stane is enraged to see his foe not only standing upright, but DEMANDING a confrontation, trespassing on the land that Obadiah has somewhat legally stolen.  Still, Obadiah has plans in place for just such a contingency, the first of which comes from scouring the grounds for any and all scraps of information that might allow someone to glean just how Tony makes Iron Man suits, anyway.  His search has proven at least somewhat successful, and a prideful Obadiah sets out to meet Iron Man on his own terms…

I think my favorite part there is that the technician types what he wants to say, so that his crazy autocratic boss won’t hear his doubts.  It’s an effective tool to show how much of a control freak Obadiah is, and undermines his Nutsy Kookoo in a nicely subtle way.  Stane’s Iron Monger suit isn’t as versatile a tool as the Iron Man, but it is huge and overpowered, and he catches Tony off-guard with a shot or two.  The more experienced armor-wearer quickly takes the initiative, though, and Iron Man gets the upper hand.  Smashing into a hidden bunker (built AFTER he left Stark International) Iron Man finds his kidnapped friends, a motion detector, and a machine that will electrocute them all if he moves so much as a fiber-plast-motor-under-iron-mesh muscle.  Ever the class act, Stane not only gloats, but taunts the recovering alcoholic with champagne…

Maybe that sort of thing would have worked on a lesser hero, but Iron Man uses his built-in arsenal to overcome the trap and free his friends.  Well, ALMOST all of his friends…  Remember the bit about befriending a woman on skid row?  Her death came, not from booze, but during childbirth, and Obadiah has also captured that innocent baby to use as a pawn in his game against Stark.  “Either you remove your helmet,” Stane grandstands, “or I will crush this frail flesh to pulp between my palms.”  It’s a standoff worthy of John Wayne, and Iron Man ends it by firing his most powerful weapons… STRAIGHT DOWN.  The beams destroy the lab beneath them, and not by accident, the massive supercomputer that had been assisting Stane in operating his armor.  The Iron Monger drops from the sky, and Iron Man quickly scoops up the little one, depositing her with firemen on the ground, and catches up to Obadiah.  Stane cannot control his armor, crashing to the ground, and (amazingly) admitting defeat.  “But I have always believed that the essential part of winning is to enjoy your opponents humiliation at losing,” Stane explains.  “Of that I can deprive you…”

Obadiah Stane unleashes a full-power repulsor blast, effectively removing his own head, before Iron Man can respond.  A silent Iron Man walks out of the inferno that has engulfed Stane International, and a passerby asks what happened.  “Somebody lost,” he sadly replies as we fade to black…

That ending really surprised 14-year-old me in it’s intensity, and even now I’m kind of amazed that Denny and Mark were allowed to kill off an effective villain like that, regardless of how appropriate it is for the character.  In a day and age when Norman Osborn is dragged out of the grave to remind us all how much we loved Gwen Stacy, it’s kind of jarring to have Obadiah kill himself as the climax of the story.  Those who are only familiar with Stane from Iron Man the movie are probably also scratching their heads, as all the cinematic backstory given for the character originated there.  Still, this is an effective tale, especially as regards the rehabilitation of Tony Stark, who had spent nigh on three years stargazing through the bottom of Jack Daniels bottle.  It re-establishes his important relationships, it gives him a powerful (seemingly TOO powerful) villain, allows him to defeat the villain through the use of brains and will, and leaves us with a half a dozen plot points to follow up on after the anniversary issue, important to the ongoing nature of the comics world.  Even 25 years later (and now I feel old) it’s powerful as hell.  Mark Bright’s art isn’t quite what it would become on this character (issue 218 to the end of the Armor Wars are really where he hits his stride) but it’s still clear storytelling that makes the main character look like a man IN ARMOR.  (Much as I love his work on early issues of this title, Gene Colan never quite pulled that off.  Of course, he’s Gene Colan, so it looked frickin’ amazing anyway.)  It’s good when my teenage self and I agree on something (he and I are still at odds about a lot of things, although The Twilight Zone, American Gladiators and Alan Parsons Project are still simpatico) and this issue reads as well now as it did back in the day.  Iron Man #200 earns a damn-near perfect 4.5 out of 5 stars overall.  I’m proud to say I sold this issue to one of our Faithful Spoilerites recently, and recommend it to all the rest of y’all as well…

Rating: ★★★★½


The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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1 Comment

  1. John P.
    August 20, 2015 at 8:02 am — Reply

    I absolutely love this issue of Iron Man! I have read almost every issue of Iron Man and this is tied as my favorite Iron Man story arc. My other favorite being the first appearance of Titanium Man (Tales of Suspense #69-71). Tony Stark is at his best when his friends are in danger, nothing stops him physically or mentally to save/protect them.

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