These days, a new person in the Iron Man suit is uncommon, but it’s not unprecedented. That wasn’t always the case… Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Iron Man #169 awaits!
Writer: Denny O’Neil
Penciler: Luke McDonnell
Inker: Steve Mitchell
Colorist: Bob Sharen
Letterer: Rick Parker
Editor: Mark Gruenwald
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 60 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $16.00
Previously in Iron Man: Tony Stark makes you feel he’s a cool exec with a heart of steel, but the legendary ‘Demon In A Bottle’ story line introduced a flaw in his (metaphorical) armor. Tony’s weakness for alcohol became the quiet background noise of his life for several years, until Obadiah Stane began targeting Tony Stark for a hostile business takeover. In Obadiah’s ruthless style, that takeover involved softening up the legendary inventor by messing with his life and manipulating him into drinking again, leading to this issue’s destructive opener…
The people in the streets of New York are shocked as the Armored Avenger smashes his way through billboard after billboard, raining smashed bits of wood and steel down on their heads. Making his way to Times Square, Iron Man’s rampage continues, and it becomes clear that he’s targeting only those signs that advertise alcohol (which was a thing that people could do in 1983 that I think is no longer legal.) A local news crew gets the whole thing on film, and even Daredevil considers intervening before deciding that the founding Avenger deserves the benefit of the doubt. His “work” complete, Iron Man heads for home, albeit somewhat unsteadily…
Say what you will about 80s comics, McDonnell and Mitchell know how to deliver a really good looking Iron Man, one who seems to be actually made of metal rather than lumpy red-and-yellow fabric. As Tony Stark passes out in his living room, Jim Rhodes finally returns home after a slight illness (which is to say that Obadiah Stane restrained him and covered him in spiders which bit him repeatedly and left him in the hospital.) He is concerned about reports of Iron Man’s erratic behavior. When Tony Stark awakens, he has completely blacked out the memory of his billboard rampage, and threatens to sue the television station for libel. His lawyers aren’t listening though, as they’re concerned with the leveraging of company debt by an outside agency and Tony’s mismanagement not that he is once again drinking. When an old Marvel Team-Up villain called Magma resurfaces, Iron Man leaps into action to stop him.
It does not go well.
Dulled by the booze, Tony’s wits simply aren’t sharp enough to deliver the epic beat-down that a two-bit baddie like Magma so richly deserves, and he nearly gets crushed by the villain’s giant mecha. Iron Man barely avoids a squishin’ and is forced to retreat, at great cost to his ego. Flying back to Stark International, he encounters Rhodey, who is more than a little concerned at the hero’s lack of control. When Iron Man tries to boost his battery power, he instead blows all the circuits at S.I., forcing him to take Rhodey to a hidden lab with it’s own power source.
It’s a pretty shocking moment, as 80s heroes were still firmly in the Secret Identity game, but even more shocking it Rhodey’s response: “I can’t say I’m surprised.” With the revelation that Tony is actually his own bodyguard, Rhodes tries to address his boss/friend’s clear alcohol problem, but instead gets the brush-off while Tony downs even more liquor. When Magma follows Iron Man’s trail to the Stark campus, easily busting through the powerless defense systems, Tony is unconscious and Rhodey makes a fateful decision.
Now THAT is how you do an old-school cliffhanger, Faithful Spoilerites. The next issue would begin the Jim Rhodes era, with Rhodey taking on Magma one-on-one, lacking the experience and inventiveness that made Tony Stark so effective. I won’t spoil that battle for you, but Tony Stark finds that having someone else in the life-or-death situations suits him, making Iron Man #169 the beginning of Rhodey’s nearly four-year tenure as Shellhead, with a really tense O’Neil plot and some strong art from McDonnell & Mitchell, earning 4 out of 5 stars overall. Incidentally, this issue was my introduction to Iron Man, the VERY FIRST Iron Man story I ever read, which means that I like Rhodes better than Tony Stark, and this armor (which used to be designated Mark V, but lord only knows what they call it now) is my second favorite, making this a sentimental favorite for me.