Wednesday, November 21, 2007

IRON MAN #126 Marvel Comics, 1979

Many fans, myself included, enjoy bitching about how Marvel has turned Iron Man into a total facist asshole ever since Civil War. How could they get the character so wrong, we ask? Most of us are just hoping he's a Skrull and everything will go back to normal and they'll let somebody like Adam Warren or Jeff Parker write Iron Man and everything will be fine and shhh it's OK to cry.

Since I feel passionate (in a smug, ironic way) about the proper characterization of Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, I decided to go back to those comics I remember and cherish from my youth. You know, the Dave Micheline/Bob Layton era of Iron Man when Tony Stark was a real hero. I found Iron Man #126, a fantastic issue in the Justin Hammer saga. It's written by Micheline with art by John Romita Jr. and inks by Layton. This is the Iron Man of my childhood! Noble, intelligent, cunning, brave...

Hey. What the HELL?!! This Iron Man is a dick, too!

Apparently I forgot that the Tony Stark of 1979 was a major league pimp with a fondness for whiskey sours, fighting dirty, gold chains, and reefer.

In this penultimate issue of the storyline we call in retrospect "Hammer Time," Stark is captured by his new enemy Justin Hammer, a Peter Cushing looking dude that always wears a smoking jacket. You know the type.

Anyway, Stark is kept apart from his armor for the whole issue, so he must use all his cunning and total lack of scruples to survive. I think Micheline was going for a ruthless, debonaire Bondian approach in his portrayal of Tony Stark, but he seems like a violent kung fu synthesis of Larry Dallas, the scuzzy neighbor on Three's Company, Matthew McConaughy's character in Dazed & Confused, and Eric Roberts in Star 80.

Here's Tony Stark sucker punching a guard just for the hell of it. It's been six hours since his last whiskey sour and he's gonna take it out on somebody, damn it.

Tony embodies that late 70's Marlboro Man swinger vibe that might seem cheesy and vaguely creepy to us now that we have a couple of decades of pop culture between us and Iron Man #126, but I assure you that look was very cool in the 70's. Tony Stark would have been a hairy-chested Golden God back in The Day, lord of the discotheque - now he looks like a sex offender who hangs out at truck stops.

One thing that is hilariously consistent - Tony Stark drinks like a fish. Here's a little flashback of Stark unwinding with his pal Mr. Jim Beam after a stressful day:

It's almost as if they're making fun of him, isn't it? Drinking is his second favorite indoor sport. I wonder what the first is? Probably air hockey.

Oh, wait - I think they mean f&%*ing.

Even when Stark is locked up on Hammer's floating estate, his first thought is booze, not escape. Hey, he thinks better after he's had a few, OK? Lay off, man - let's see you design a repulsor ray after swigging a 40 ouncer and a bottle of Nyquil. Here he is trying to talk a vogueing guard into bringing him some frickin' booze, fer Chrissake:
The guard denies his entirely reasonable request, which pisses Stark off to no end. That's when he starts to get all classist and demeaning and plans on showing this mere hourly employee who exactly he is dealing with:
Enraged that this lackey is refusing his request for booze, he lures the uneducated peasant into his room with the old fake hernia gag. "Guard, I have a painful hernia! Come look at it!" That shit works every time.

The guard enters, concerned about his prisoner's abdomenal well-being, and falls into trap #2, the old electrical appliance + pool of water gag. Stark's unique twist on this time-honored gag? That's not water, it's human urine!

That's right. Bring Papa Tony his drinky and nobody gets hurt, a'ight?

Stark does eventually escape from captivity even without his drink and searches for his Iron Man armor so he can turn the tables on Hammer and his small army of B-list villains. If he happens to find a wetbar or wine cellar before he finds his armor, that's OK, too. While hiding from Hammer's goons Stark does stumble across the aging crime lord's personal marijuana crop (left). It's strictly medicinal of course - help's with Hammer's arthritis.

After stuffing a couple of Hefty bags full of weed, Stark continues his search for his armor and maybe some rolling papers...
After a quick detour into a tool shed where he crafts an electric hookah out of a Chevy engine block, a propane tank, and a hair dryer, Stark finds his armor. Wow, he is so high right now. The suit, it looks so shiny... Man, he could go for a pint of Haagen Daaz ... His fingers feel tingly...

Finally at the every end of the comic, Tony Stark suits up and is ready to kick ass once again. Just in time, too, because Hammer's army of second-rate villains has been sent to hunt him down and crush him. Too late. My man Tony Stark has a serious buzz on, he's queued up some Blues Traveller on the suit's MP3 player and he is ready to trip out while he kick everyone's ass. Then it's ice cream time! (OK, no he doesn't really get stoned. That would be wrong. He just drinks.)

The last page is ten kinds of awesome, as Tony strikes a pose and delivers a rambling tough guy speech to the assembled squad of costumed losers:

It sounds best if you sing the last line: "Then I'm coming after you! LOOK OUT!"

OK, so my trip into yesteryear didn't yield any proof of classic Tony Stark's non-dickishness. But it did unearth an example of a smooth, casually cruel character with an unshakable sense of his own place in the world and precisely how awesome he is. I give 1979's Tony Stark zero points for heroic purity and 250 Caruso Points for sheer manly force of personality.


Tyler said...

I never understood why the 70's era Tony Stark didn't just design a wetbar INTO his armor. For being a genius level engineer and an alcohol, you'd think he would have had both the motivation and the know-how to do that.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for putting that David caruso image up there, it somehow made my day.

Anonymous said...

There was some cool shit in that run of Iron Man in the late 1970s. #126 is just a few issues away from "Demon in a Bottle" where the supporting cast had an intervention and told Tony to stop his drinking. (This is why Pepper and Happy were so AWESOME. If the Hogans had still been around, Tony's decision to stop drinking would have had something to do with Happy turning into the Freak - again - thus setting off a new round of hilarity and complications.

Jon the Intergalactic Gladiator said...

Can tony Stark whip off his sunglasses and David Caruso-esquly say a quip that is both pretty cool and insanely stupid at the same time? Something like "Looks like this is the last last call you're ever going to have."

I dunno, mine needs work, but you know what I'm talking about.

Anonymous said...

"Here he is trying to talk a vogueing guard into bringing him some frickin' booze, fer Chrissake:"

I seriously shot Pepsi up my nose when I read that. Thankfully no rum in it, or Unc'a Tony would have come after me for wasting some alkey-hol.

Anonymous said...

...he's queued up some Blues Traveller on the suit's MP3 player...

Dude! It's 1979. He's cued up some Edison Lighthouse on the suit's onboard eight-track.

Ryan said...

Luckily for all of us, it looks like Tony's back on the slippery slope back into the dark lands of whiskey sours and leisure suits. Sure he's all "fuck you, i am the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. now, but I give him halfway into the skrull war before we see him drunk dialing Tigra.

Anonymous said...

Actually, one of the issues in that run does have Tony trying out his new built-in AM/FM radio to listen to some Poco...

Anonymous said...

Odd, at that time Mr. Stark had quit that particular alcoholic habit after it nearly lost him the company. Also, Clavical based knowledge is taught in most, if not all, henchmen colleges as an intriductory course. Odd.

Also, the font is different from in #200. More like in modern photoshops.

Your move Campbell.

Anonymous said...

Damn, now all he needs is some frickin' cool sunglasses and a 1970s pornstache. Then he'd be the man. The man small children are told to stay away from. Jesus.

SallyP said...

This was incredibly well-researched! I too, have come to the sad conclusion, that yes, Tony was ALWAYS a dick.

tavella said...

A number of people have commented that the real difference is not that Tony wasn't a dick before, it's now that he's a dick that Marvel is saying is always right. Before, people got to call him on it; now he's doing it For The Good of You All, Even if You Are Stupid To Understand.

And if you are against him you are with the terrorists.

Unknown said...

That's news to me, tavella, but gosh darn am I ever glad to hear it!

There's an abundance of evidence showing Stark being an utter dick in the past. I'm so glad people are acknowledging that it's in continuity for Tony to do all of the stuff he's done.

Anonymous said...

Stark breaking that dude's clavicle was the best thing I've seen all day. Bless you Dave Campbell, for making this the Best Thanksgiving Ever.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Tony´s current portrayal, I think what people are taking issue with is the fact that he no longer acts like an unselfconscious "major league pimp". It´s the only way to make the character palatable, for people who are to the left of Genghis Khan along the political spectrum.

That´s why Hammer works so well as an IM villain. Peter Parker may be a nerd, but he´s a youthful, likeable, responsible one. Doc Ock is all about the ugliness of the archetypal misfit, with some Cold War fear of the atom thrown in for good measure. In a similar vein, the "Peter Cushing looking dude that always wears a smoking jacket" vibe brings the weapons manufacturer/lobbyist side of Tony into sharp focus.

Plus, it´s a great line.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I was never a big iron man fan, but those layton covers were cool.

hey, in the era of bushworld, tony is dead-on.

the movie looks cool, tho.....

Anonymous said...

To me, the most startling thing about all of this...

They had karaoke bars in 1979??!

Dan McDaid said...

I showed this to my girlfriend and even though she has no interest in /awareness of Iron Man, we both thought this was very funny. MY favourite bit is: "SURPRISE!". Ha ha! That poor fucking guard. Tony Stark is awesome.

Anonymous said...

My favorite part of that story is when Tony, totally incognito and in his role as "financier of the Avengers" shows up on the mansion's doorstep and asks Captain America to tutor him in hand-to-hand combat. His explanation? Well, you see, with his bodyguard being investigated (not that that ever happened, but the armor was impounded by the NYCPD), he's a target for anyone who wants to take a shot at him. So naturally he needs to be able to protect himself. Like most modern millionaire playboys, Tony wants to be able to rely on just one anonymous man in an electronic onesie to protect him 24-7 even though that selfsame erstwhile bodyguard is almost never to be seen in the same room as him. Apparently Iron Man is really good at removing Mr. Stark from danger and then coming back to break some fools. Once the principal is out of danger, then you go back to pick what's left of the fight. I think that's what gets taught in bodyguard school, but I fell asleep during that particular Costner epic. There was a school, though, right?

Anyway, Cap says, "Uh-huh. Sure thing." and gives the "surprisingly-in-good-shape-for-a-desk-jockey" engineer a "couple of hours" intense instruction in basic close-quarters combat. This includes breaking bamboo staves with one's wrists and leaping kicks at head level. Cap is the hardest of hardcore if that's his "basic tutelage" course.

They payoff, of course, comes when Tony's stuck on that floating island/houseboat thing of Hammer's and proceeds to lay out henchman after henchman in order to escape. He winds up at one point sternum-kicking a guy behind him WHILE delivering bamboo-crushing karate chops to two other guys, knocking them all cold in ONE PANEL of complete desk-jockey badassery. Fortunately, we're brought back down to the cold, harsh reality of the situation by the thought balloon wherein he reveals that that little move hurt. "Don't know how Cap does this every day!" My guess is Cap only does this every day because he for some reason doesn't have a FLYING SUIT OF SHOOTY ARMOR to rely on.

Anyway. I love that scene.

Anonymous said...

Quick question:

Look at the cover. How come he puts his gauntlets and boots on before his sleeves and pants/greaves?

(Word verification: qigqi - what Queequeg's cute little nephew used to call him.)

Gene said...

IIRC, the sleeves/pant legs unfurled from the boots and gloves...

Anonymous said...

"...even though that selfsame erstwhile bodyguard is almost never to be seen in the same room as him"

Yeah, is the remote-controlled/artificial intelligence IM armor a very recent idea? Why wouldn't he just program a set of armor to walk around behind him so he can hop in whenever.

Anonymous said...

Ah. Thanks, Gene. That makes more sense.

Scott... I'm not certain, but I think remote-piloting the armor on a regular basis is a very recent development, starting with the end of the Extremis arc (first arc of the current volume). Before that... the armor wasn't smart enough to walk around by itself, and remote-piloting would have taken too much attention. Extremis, among other things, boosted Tony's processing power and gave him an innate link to the armor.

It's also the official reason for the personality change. Not only is he considerably more powerful, but the treatment was literally mind-altering.

Oh, and I believe sometime around the era we're talking about, Tony kept his armor in his briefcase. Hard to believe it could fit in there and be light enough to carry around all day, but that's the Silver Age for you. More recently, Tony had a thought balloon or two (well, technically narration boxes) about how much the armor has changed over the years, and how he can't believe he used to fit it in a briefcase.

(Word verification: gfyugyhn
Translation from Mmmphese, the international language of bound and gagged henchmen and victims: "[I'll] Get you, *struggle* Iron Man!")

(Okay, not my best effort, but I've had a long week.)

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ghostman. Well stated and informative. :)

Harvey Jerkwater said...

Larry from "Three's Company" had a last name?

Man, this blog is educational.

Matt Singer said...

I've read who knows how many Iron Man/Avengers comics, but for the first time ever, staring at that JRJR splash page, I suddenly wondered: why in the world does Iron Man have perfectly defined abs? Who is he trying to impress? Maybe his actual muscles are so strong they are buckling his mighty armor or something...

Anonymous said...

Whatever the reason is, Matt, it has to be better than the reason for Batman having nipples. But I'm going to guess that Tony just wanted to show off his six pack while he was Iron Pimpin'.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave,

You, sir, are singularly awesome.

Everything about this post is amazing. You only need to add the series of panels Ghostman put up of Tony trying to toke up with War Machine to make this into sheer perfection.

Also - please keep posting your desire for Adam Warren to be permanently assigned to Iron Man on a daily basis. If this blog flogging (or "flobbing" if you prefer) results in Mr. Warren becoming an ongoing writer of Iron Man, I will become your own personal Jarvis. By this, I mean to say that I will make you whiskey sours at 3AM, drive you around town and eventually ditch you to shag Aunt May . . . but only after butlering for many years. I will not, however, clean your windows.

Keep Rockin' Your Long Box,

Someone Who Is Totally Not Chris Sims

Anonymous said...

Dave, I'm not picking on you, but I wanted to mention that in the first paragraph it says that people accuse Tony Stark of being a "total facist asshole". I'm not sure what a facist is, but for some reason seeing "facist" right next to "asshole" is amusing to me. Is that like being a brown-noser?

Congratulations on getting mentioned by Kelvin Green on the Invincible #46 letters page, though. In reference to Boob War, no less. Awesomeness.

The Wandering Eye said...

Tony being a dick and a drunkard is why I like him. He was my favorite hero when i was kid, and after civil war, he became my favorite hero again.

Will said...

I laughed by my ass off at this, so much so that I linked it in a blog post. Keep up the good work.

Eric said...

Look at that final page splash panel, and tell me he's not farting repulsor energy.

Anonymous said...

Ha! Good catch, Eric--the Sphincter Blaster provided a speed boost when Iron Man was using his rocket skates, and was also effective against opponents attacking from the rear.

Dave said...

Well said! I've been fighting this argument for a long time now and it's good to see someone else agrees. Only it's not only in the 70's He's always been like this. A control freak and quite frankly, a dick
Look at the facts.
This is the same guy that took down allies including the gov’t controlled Mandroids and Stingray in a quest to get his technology back (Armor Wars)
The same guy that would later lie to his best friend Jim, by allowing Jim to believe that he had inherited Stark’s company and that he himself Tony Stark had died, when obviously neither was the case.
The same guy who took an opportunity to wipe everybody's mind of his secret identity.
Sorry I don’t have exact issues or story titles, but I can produce them if need be.
I mean good grief. He started out as a playboy/weapons dealer.
Hey I love Iron Man. He was one of the 1st super hero books I ever picked up. Granted at the time that was Jim Rhodes wearing the red and gold, but I learned to like Tony too. But even I have to admit.
Dude. The guy’s a dick.


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