Wednesday, November 23, 2005

IRON MAN #160 Marvel Comics, 1982

What must be going through Iron Man’s mind on the cover of Iron Man #160, where he is being molested by Anaconda?

Probably not: “Unngh! Powerful snake-like tentacles - strangling me! C-can’t breathe…”

I would think it would be more like: “God, this is embarrassing. I hope nobody has a camera.”

If you’re a heavy hitter like Iron Man and you’re having trouble with a pack of losers like The Serpent Squad, you are seriously off your game.
Writer Denny O’Neil’s run on Iron Man was full of hilariously mismatched hero-villain fights – Iron Man was always going up against somebody who had no chance against him. I heard that O’Neil was more interested in chronicling Tony Stark’s descent into alcoholic hell than in who Iron Man was fighting each month, and I can believe it. O’Neil had Iron Man – who is like, a nuclear powered killing machine – go head-to-head against jokers like Vibro, The Brothers Grimm, The Fucking Termite*, and The Serpent Squad, among others. These match-ups did not make for gripping comic book battles.

In this issue Iron Man fights Anaconda, Death Adder, and Black Mamba – The Serpent Squad! Fortunately for the villains, Iron Man also has to fight Denny O’Neil, who crafts the plot in such a way that our hero actually has a hard time against the loser villains. If I were writing the book – that’s right, if I jumped in the Wayback Machine, traveled back to the year 1982, kidnapped and replaced Denny O’Neil, and then wrote Iron Man – I would have Stark wipe The Serpent Squad out in two panels, and then we’d move on to something more challenging, like Iron Man vs Runaway Stagecoach.

Here’s how my script for Iron Man #160 would look:

Panel 1. Iron Man turns around to face The Serpent Squad, who cower.

IRON MAN: “Hey! The Serpent Squad!”

DEATH ADDER: “Wait! We surren-- ”

Panel 2. Iron Man blasts The Serpent Squad with his repulsors and his omni-beam. The villains are blown into the air like steaks in a tornado.


ANACONDA: “My balls!”


IRON MAN: “That was funny. Time for lunch.”

Panel 3. In the Stark Industries cafeteria, Iron Man eats a very thin ham sandwich through his mouth slot.

IRON MAN: “Mmm... Ham.”

TOWNSFOLK (off-panel): “AIIIEEEE! Runaway Stagecoach!”

IRON MAN: “Eh? Trouble?”

…and then Iron Man spends the rest of the issue saving townsfolk from an out of control horse-drawn coach.

One of the highlights of this issue for me is the Steve Ditko art, which is adorably simple and old-fashioned. That may sound patronizing, but that’s my charitable spin on the art in this issue. Years ago I made a vow by candlelight never to make fun of Steve Ditko, and I’m not about to start now.

The first page of Iron Man #160 is a dream sequence where Tony has been bested by the one adversary he can never truly defeat: Scotch. I’m not sure if some other artist drew the first page, or if Ditko was adopting a different style just for this scene or what the deal is. Here’s Tony Stark’s worst nightmare:

Sorry about the crappy scan; I had to do it at work. (Just kidding! I never work on my blog at work! Not me!)

I love this splash page because as I have mentioned before, drunk superheroes are always funny. It’s a comedy home-run – guaranteed laffs. Stark is so fucked up that he has forgotten the incredible arsenal of space age weaponry at his disposal and has opted for a broken bottle as his weapon of choice. It’s hard to see because the scan sucks, but there it is in his right hand – a broken bottle. And look at the guy on the floor clutching his face! Oh my God, Iron Man cut that dude’s face with a broken bottle! That will teach the guy to mouth off about the Red Sox in front of Iron Man.

After Stark’s horrific dream he hops in the shower and gets ready for a big party at the zoo tonight. We get this HOT panel:

Such is the power of Steve Ditko’s art: I am now gay for creepy eyeless Tony Stark.

The rest of the comic? Man, do I really have to? The Serpent Squad show up, they give Iron Man a hard time, he wins, et cetera. After their defeat, The Serpent Squad decide to expand their ranks by recruiting villains like Bushmaster and they become The Serpent Society. Where I grew up in L.A. we had a pimp that hung out at the neighborhood Bob’s Big Boy restaurant that everybody called Bushmaster – I wonder if it’s the same guy?

I forgot to mention! At the party there is lots of crazy-ass dancing, like this old guy who is getting hella krump:

This was published in the 80’s - perhaps that’s The Safety Dance that he’s doing. Or maybe he’s Wang Chunging…

* I know, I can’t believe Marvel named a character The Fucking Termite. Would Stan Lee put up with that? Think about the kids, Marvel!


Anonymous said...

After that first panel, they should have had Tony "Wang Chunging" all over his boots.


Anonymous said...

"O’Neil had Iron Man – who is like, a nuclear powered killing machine – go head-to-head against jokers like Vibro, The Brothers Grimm, The Fucking Termite*, and The Serpent Squad, among others."

But you can hardly ask for a better way to push Tony off the wagon, now can you?

Hell, the sucky villains probably started thousands of kids drinking, too.

LT said...

I'd bet good money that the splash page you scanned was drawn by Marie Severin - it looks exactly like the work she used to do for Not Brand Ecch!.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that's Marie Severin doing the splash page (although she may have very liberally inked over Ditko's layout). She rocks.

Jeremy Rizza said...

I think O'Neil was far ahead of his time. In the days before decompressed storylines, the "Tony Stark: Boozehound" plot lasted for-freaking-ever. O'Neil had Stark fall off the wagon, give up his armor, and lose Stark Industries to a wannabe Lex Luthor named Obadiah Stane, and the whole depressing, stupid mess took years -- YEARS! -- to finally get resolved. The only really good thing to come out of it, I think, was that bulky silver-and-red armor. (Although, I think I'm the only person who ever liked it.)

Captain Infinity said...

I know, I can’t believe Marvel named a character The Fucking Termite. Would Stan Lee put up with that? Think about the kids, Marvel!

What, are you dense? Are you retarded or something? Who the hell do you think I am? I'm the Fucking Termite!

(Sorry. I think I'm the only person left on internet who hasn't used that quote in some fashion, so I figured it was time to get it over with.)

Nik said...

Oh yeah! I actually owned this one, back when I was an urchin of 11. I liked Iron Man 'cause he was cool looking and I started buying the comic book, which turned out to be a sadistic downward spiral of a Raging Alcoholic Man rather than Iron Man. And that's when I began to drink, too. Damn you, O'Neil! Damn you all to hell!

Anonymous said...

Blockade Boy: You are not alone. I thought the silver and red armor was BOSS.

BTW, O'Neil's editor on IM? Mark Gruenwald. And issue #194 was the first Scourge killing, to boot.

Around issue #178, Bob Harras wrote a 12 page story as part of Assistant Editor's month that just completely took the piss out of O'Neil's storyline. Since the book was taking it so seriously at that point, to see it parodied with a bunch of 8 year olds, one of whom was drinking... apple juice, was just awesome.

That said, I liked the O'Neil run, because I could buy cheap back issues and read it all in one chunk. At least in those days, editorial would lean on the creative team to have something happen each issue, no matter how long it took to get to the damn point.

Chris said...

Ah, the O'Neil run. (sniff) This is right about when I first started reading comics, Iron Man in particular, and man, let me tell you -- I thought for years that alcohol would ruin anyone who came in contact with it.

(Later of course, I would come to find out that alcohol is Nature's Perfect Food That Makes Everything Better.)

The best part of this? Totally the splash page by Severin. Stark's got that "Reefer Madness" Public Service Announcement look on his face and the bottle in the hand.

And yeah, the Silver Centurion armor was indeed, "boss".

Great work as per the usual, Dave.

Anonymous said...

My Anaconda don't want none unless Stark is hung, hon!

Marie Severin, definitely.

Anonymous said...

As lame as the Serpent Squad is, it's not too far a step down from what I've usually seen Iron Man fighting. I've read a fair share of Iron Man stories in my time, and maybe I've just seen the really bad ones, but he never seemed that formidable to me. Generic giant robots, generic big monsters, and generic Thanos-wannabes, all set against a backdrop of needlessly convoluted corporate shenanigans and After School Special "demons of alcoholism" melodrama--it's like everyone's trying too hard to justify the "icon" label of a C-list character. Then when he's in AVENGERS, where he can really cut loose and be a Big Gun against the Big Evil, he becomes Exposition Guy who shoots laser beams and always seems to lose battery power.

None of which I can fathom. Iron Man IS a Big Gun. He's up there with Thor and Doctor Doom among the Pantheon of Powerhouse. He's in the same Mensa class as Reed Richards, Hank Pym, Hank McCoy, and Bruce Banner. He should be Grant Morrison's wet dream, fighting interdimensional conquerors with his crazy genius and array of sci-fi-closet-to-go weaponry. The suit should be the most amazing thing this side of Green Lantern's ring, the physics-defying edge of the cutting edge. He's not just Steel with repulsor beams.

Kevin Church said...

I think I've got a much worse Iron Man experience to recount.

Anonymous said...

You almost made me spit gimlet on my powerbook. Damn you, you magnificent humorful bastard!

Anonymous said...

Death Adder can't talk but it was still hilarius.

Anonymous said...

Rumor has it that they had to get Marie Severin to draw the splash page, because Ditko refused to draw a hero staggering around drunk. Because, you know, right is right and A is A and good guys don't do things like that.

Anonymous said...

Beacoup Kevin- that Iron Man issue was near the tail end of Bob Layton's second run, where he was fired because he was so late with his scripts, thus forcing Marvel to slot in crappy fill-ins, and Iron Man has had a long, painful history of shitty fill-ins. That issue wasn't even the worst of that period. Issue #257, with some story by Ron Frenz's brother and Tom Morgan, is in my top ten worst comics of all time.

Chris Arndt said...

Kevin says that issue sucks but part of the reason he got wrong...

Iron Man bursts in on the third-rate crooks and coincidentily the dudes holding his own friend hostage have Ironmonger armor.

See, before that issue Iron Monger appeared once and that one time was a great issue with a load of importance.

But essentially that battle in that issue would be like Captain America bursting in, interupting a home invasion, and finding that the burglar is a dude dressed in the first Baron Zemo's costume.

Of course, as the Iron Man series goes on, more and more of the old villains get undercut in one manner or another.

David Campbell said...

Now I'm intrigued - I must get that Gene Colan issue and Iron Man #257. Bad comics are my life blood.

And just for the record, the red and silver "Christmas Armor" was no damn good - Blockade Boy and Coyle are the only people on the planet who like it.

Of course, that doesn't make them bad people... It's the whole "Night Ranger Principle" -- somebody has to like the Xmas Armor.

Anonymous said...

Chris A: Actually, the Iron Monger armorappeared once before, in Another Fingeroth fill-in- the issues he wrote between the O'Neil and second Layton/Michelinie run.

And Dave, you might as well seek out issue #258, the utterly confusing Nicieza/Trimpe Crimson Dynamo story.

Anonymous said...

A. You rock. (I suspect you already know this, but I'm including it for reinforcement.)

B. Thanks for giving Iron Man some props -- it seems like he always used to get hassled by losers in his own book, and when he was with the Avengers, he'd get punched in the chest and that would be it for him.

C. Damn straight you don't make fun of Steve Ditko.

D. Mouthy Red Sox fans (do they even have non-mouthy fans?) deserve the broken-bottle-in-the-face treatment.

E. I'm hoping there's some Doc Strange love coming before long. Please?

Tom the Dog said...

I will be chuckling about the thin ham sandwich for a long time.

Re: that cover, I think Iron Man would be thinking, "Is someone trying to strangle me? Too bad I don't have thick metal armor protecting my throat. Oh, wait, I DO. Dumbass."

And did you just cap on Night Ranger in your comment? Don't be talking smack about the band that told me I can still rock in America. I'll cut you like Iron Man!!

Gayest Neil said...


Phillip said...

gwalla said...

The Night Ranger principle has limits, though. See: Vibe.

Hmmm... you must not be familiar with scipio, then.

thekelvingreen said...

If you’re a heavy hitter like Iron Man and you’re having trouble with a pack of losers like The Serpent Squad, you are seriously off your game.
Clearly this is the same Iron Man who's in the current Not Avengers team.

"Shit! Ninjas! And all I have is this high-tech suit of battle armour packed chock-full of killer weapons and gizmos! How will I ever manage to survive this?!?"

And I too liked the Xmas Armour, even the little triangular chestplate window thing.

Then again, I also liked it when he converted the Destroyer into a special Iron Man suit in order to fight Thor. But that may just have been because Alan Davis was drawing it.

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