| Some things are better with age.
Like a robust Pinot Noir. Like a loyal hunting dog. Like your
own deluded embellishments of the best sexual experience you
Other efforts fare worse beneath the tank treads of Father
Time. Take 1983 in True Believer Land, for
example. Its arguable that 1983 is the worst year in
the Modern Age of Comics. The Claremont/ Byrne X-men had reached
its zenith just previous; by 1983 those mind-bending mutants
of upstate New York had been transformed into an insipid team
of galaxy-trotters, with Cyclops dad a swashbuckling
solar system-hopper in charge of the even more insipid group
called the Star Jammers.
Spider-Man was enmeshed with big-time storylines that include
Arch-Villain Stilt Man. Stilt Man?!? Get real. Even true blue
Friends of Old Marvel could see there was a dangerous skid
going on. FOOM!
Across midtown the talented DC team of Marv Wolfman and George
Perez had shot their creative wads on the first 12 issues
of the New Teen Titans; 1983 opens with Titans sermonizing
"Kids, dont become junkies!" Unfortunately,
it doesnt post the mean-street credentials (or the Neal
Adams pencils) that made watching Speedy (Green Arrows
sidekick) getting hooked on smack so darn enjoyable about
ten years earlier.
Over at the Baxter Building, the Fantastic Four manage, for
the bazillionth time, to trot out a cover that proclaims,
"It CANT be! Reed is...DEAD!" It wasnt
true, of course, but
the reader soon wished it were, as Reed and Sue decided to
retire so they can raise poor little Franklin like a normal
Power Man and Iron Fist, one of my specialties in those days,
had descended from Himalayan peaks of brilliant action and
snappy dialogue into a long barren plain of buddy-superhero
mediocrity. Highlighting the rapid decline, the masterful
artwork of Kerry Gammill was replaced by that of Denys Cowan,
who in this writers laser vision still holds the distinction
of producing some of the sketchiest chicken-scratch art ever
published in comic book form.
And yet, amidst the dry wanderings in this 80s storytelling
desert, there was still some prime entertainment to be had.
Not good, Silver Age-strength, grab-you-by-the-lapels action,
but inadvertent kicks more in line with the "Speedy is
hooked on heroin" social melodrama.
This particular life lesson for budding boozers of the Reagan
Age came courtesy of Tony Stark himself, the Invincible
Iron Man. As it turns out, Iron Man is invincible to every
foe, man or beast, save one: namely the eternal threat referred
to in many a Texas church house as The Soul-Stealing Unholy
Demon o Rotgut Likker!!!
Iron Man #169 (Denny ONeil - writer; Luke McDonnell
- penciler) opens with Shellhead levitating around midtown
destroying every billboard he can find advertising booze -
by flying through them. Safe enough target for Marvel - they
couldnt even advertise the hard stuff! Lets see
them decry the dangers posed to society the Daisy repeating
BB rifle, or the diabolic threat posed by Big League Chew
and Hostess Snack Cakes to diabetic tots nationwide.
So what the hell is going on? The picture clarifies when
we discover how Ol
Ironsides rewards himself for defending the city from the
insidious onslaught of outdoor advertising. You guessed it:
four fingers of rotgut. The hootch. Hi-test. The unclean spirits
of Dr. Jim Beam.
He then passes out.
Oh yeah, theres a villain too, some chump named Magma,
a bench-warmer who rides around in a big mechanical tripod
that looks like the alien ships from "War of the Worlds."
Iron Man at first would seem to be one of the weakest Marvel
heroes of the major arcana in terms of his perennial foes.
But recall that we do have the Mandarin, who ranks below Galactus,
Dr. Doom, the Kingpin and the Red Skull,
yes, but perhaps above the Leader, all of
Daredevil's other foes except maybe Bullseye, and every disposable
pimp in day-glow tights Luke Cage ever tussled with. Really
it's Daredevil who had the cruddiest roster of foes. He had
to import Electro when Spidey was tangling with Stilt-Man
(yes, Stilt-Man!). Of course, it was Spidey himself who battled
the Rocket Racer, a truly embarrassing skateboard villain,
nearly as deafening as the roller-discoing Dazzler in sounding
the death knell of comics as the coolest force in the universe.
But lets be fair. What Iron Man did have big time is
the best Commie and Oriental Peril-type Villains - the nationalist
Nipponese mutant Sunfire, the "Behind The Steel Curtain" juggernauts
Crimson Dynamo and Titanium Man. Who but a Yankee imperialist
running dog could question their revolutionary battle prowess?
For his part, Magma is bent on paying Iron Man back for some
defeat suffered back in a stray issue of Marvel Team-Up, not
exactly the red-hot branding iron
of vengeance that makes for a compelling conflict. Still,
the quickest way to get Iron Mans attention is, of course,
to attack the Stark Industries compound, which is exactly
what Magma does.
In the initial encounter, Tony "Stolichnaya" Stark
is quickly bested by Magma, due either to being soused or
to being pummeled with dialogue such as, "You are flying
ERRATICALLY - and SLOWLY! Perhaps my blast damaged you?"
Defeated, "Wild Turkey" Tony retreats to recharge
his armor and pound a couple of hi-balls.
He then passes out.
times demand tough men, but all weve got laying around
is Jim Rhodes, Starks personal pilot. Before his eyes
roll up in his head, Stark blabs everything to Rhodes about
his super-secret persona.
With Stark unconscious, Rhodes strips his armor off and dons
it himself. The issue ends with Stark propped up against a
wall, wearing naught but his tighty whitey briefs whilst Rhodes
muses, "Soon as I drop this helmet on, Ill actually
be Iron Man! Then what?"
Beats me, but I would recommend rolling "Stony"
Tony onto his stomach so he doesnt choke on his own
Rhodes spends most of issue #170 trying to figure out how
the armor works
while Magma smacks him around with more bad dialogue. Jockey-clad
Stark spends his time trying to get access to one of his old
suits of armor and drinking harder than an Irish cop on Election
Then, for no particular reason, Smegma or whatever his name
is exits his indestructible mecha-pod and confronts his
foe face-to-face - which provides the new Iron Man ample opportunity
to defeat him mano-a-mano. A real nose-holder, even for a
Now comes the epilogue, where Stark tells Rhodes to keep
the armor, hes got other things to do - like keep a
noontime date for cocktails with an unnamed actress. In this
fashion does Rhodes become the first Black Iron Man.
And so one lesson rings clear for impressionable young readers
- if drunken
carousing appeals to you more than defending humanity, you
can always turn the hero suit over to a helpful black guy
whos itching to let fly with some ass-whomping repulsor
rays. The public wont know the difference, and with
a hot babe on your lap and your eyes crossing like Jim Morrisons,
neither will you.
Excelsior, everyone, and until next time - Flame On!