The Mad Titan Thanos is about to follow up his terrible plan on the big screen! Here’s how it all began! Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Iron Man #55 awaits!
Writer: Jim Starlin/Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Jim Starlin
Inker: Mike Esposito
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Roy Thomas
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 20 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $1200.00
Previously in Iron Man: After an accident in a war zone left him with shrapnel in his heart, industrialist Tony Stark built a powerful armor out of a box of *scraps* in a CAAAVE! That escape was quickly followed by a founding slot in The Avengers and a long career of heroism began. Tony Stark fought armored Soviet super-spies, madmen with magic rings, even a hundred-foot-tall giant robot, but what he didn’t have a lot of was cosmic alien drama.
That’s all about to change. This issue opens with the very first appearance of Drax The Destroyer, desperately sending a psychic message across the planet in the hopes of reaching Iron Man. Unfortunately, Iron Man is having his proverbial clock cleaned by a couple of powerful aliens in the employ of a mysterious leader, the same creature who has Drax chained up in his mobile prison: The mad Titan, Thanos!
In his very first appearance, Thanos spends the first few panels in shadow, with only his unique headgear and armored gauntlet visible, and it’s interesting to note that the second panel looks a lot like he’s snapping his fingers, forty-five years early. Drax is likewise appearing for the first time here, and it should be noted that he’s not very much like his movie counterpart, as he’s a transformed Earth-man who speaks in complex Shakespearian jive. Left alone in his cell, Drax thinks back to his attempts to psychically contact Iron Man, leading Stark to nearly collapse during a board meeting, then run off to his office.
Honestly, the plotting of the first half of this issue is really hard to follow upon first glance, with no real hints as to when the time-jumps take place, but I absolutely love this informative and complex sequence explaining how Iron Man’s armor actually works. (This classic Mark V armor is one of the best looks that Iron Man ever had, and it’s nice to see it in action.) Drax again telepathically contacts Iron Man and explains the history of the Eternals of Titan (although they’re not Eternals yet, as the Eternals don’t exist.) He reveals Thanos’ entire history and back story, including the odd, later-retconned fact that his father Mentor and brother Eros, who will eventually become the Avenger Starfox, are also purple-skinned. Drax gives a thumbnail of his own origins, filling the time for interstellar travel to Titan with a skillfully-written infodump. When he arrives on the alien world, Iron Man breaks free, only to bump into Thanos… the hard way!
Mentor’s energy blast triggers Iron Man’s chest-mounted unibeam to fire, freeing Drax from his imprisonment, and giving the two heroes the edge needed to defeat the brutish Blood Brothers. Iron Man and The Destroyer turn their attentions to Thanos, who prepares to destroy the entire fortress and crush them both with rubble.
Man, Starlin’s art is fascinating during this period, full of Kirby-style poses and power with a much more fluid, less-angular anatomy. And Drax’s eye-brows deserve their own book. Drax and Iron Man blow up the fortress themselves, somewhat callously leaving the Blood Brothers to their own devices, and respectfully bid each other thank you and farewell.
It even ends with Iron Man stuck in space, continuing the 70s Marvel tendency to treat interplanetary distances as trivial. If the decision to use Iron Man as the stepping stone for this sort of cosmic story seems odd to you, there’s a compelling reason: This is a fill-in issue that young Jim Starlin was commissioned to do, and he worried that his career wasn’t going to last. As such, he took Thanos and Drax, characters he created in college, and inserted them into this weird little Iron Man tale to guarantee that they’d get into comics. Thankfully, Starlin did get to make more comics and expand his grand Thanosian tapestry, which led not only to ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ but to the wonderful comics than inspired it, leaving Iron Man #55 with a slightly puzzled but utterly entertained 4.5 out of 5 stars overall. As a fan of cosmic Marvel, seeing so much of Starlin’s future work seeded here makes me very happy, and even if this issue hadn’t gone anywhere, it would be an impressive read.
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IRON MAN #55
It's an odd place to introduce Thanos and Drax, but the story works and the art is amazing throughout, with the seeds of many future stories planted in these pages. Plus: Iron Man looks *AMAZING*.