There were only a couple of the mainstay Marvel super hero titles that I wasn’t buying at this point in my comic book development, and so I began starting to sample those books as well, as I was enjoying so much of the Marvel line. Iron Man hadn’t made much of a positive impact on me when I read his earlier stories in SON OF ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS. This was possibly due to the fact that neither of the two stories that ran in that book were illustrated by Jack Kirby–but also, the first Iron Man story was only tangentially a super hero story; it could easily have been a one-off adventure for one of the monster titles of the era. And the later Iron Man story in that volume had Iron Man flat on his back for almost the entirety of its 10 pages–not the greatest showing for a super hero. But enough time had passed that I’d already revised my initial opinion of AVENGERS, and so it was time to take a chance on an issue of IRON MAN, I thought.
It has to be said, the 1970s were not a great time for Iron Man. While some good people worked on his series, it never felt like a title that anybody particularly wanted to write or draw. It was definitely a second-tier book, and seldom got the services of the best and most in-demand creators. Additionally, in the era of the Vietnam War, Iron Man’s true identity as a pro-government arms manufacturer was woefully out of step both with the largely Anti-‘Nam young audience and even the perspectives of most of the creators writing the series. As such, a series of stories were written in which Tony Stark learns of the horrors of war firsthand, and pivots his enterprises away from making weapons, becoming himself a peacenik in the process. None of this really felt especially genuine either, and it left the series with a bit of a hole at its center. Still, by 1978, writer Bill Mantlo had been helming the character for a while, and he seemed like he relished the opportunity to make something out of him. Bill would only be in the chair for another couple of issues when I dove in, but better days were right around the corner for ol’ shellhead in the person of the following creative team. But that’s a story for another time.
This, as it turned out, wasn’t really the best or most representative place to come in on the Armored Avenger’s adventures. It was slap-bang in the middle of a multiple issue space adventure that drew heavily from the concepts of Jack Kirby, in which the Colonizers of Rigel were in pitched combat with the High Evolutionary’s New Men of Wundagore. Iron Man and his super hero protégé, Mantlo’s creation Jack of Hearts, find themselves in the middle of this pitched combat, having been transported to a Rigellian ship in the last issue. When the ship they’re standing on is blasted during the battle, Iron man is hurled out into space, where he becomes an incidental target of both sides. But given that it’s the Rigellians who are attempting to colonize the New Men’s world of Wundagore, II Iron Man casts his lot with the defenders. But even his armored might isn’t enough to halt the Rigellian war machine, and he’s blasted from the sky, falling to the surface of Wundagore II below.
Left behind on the Rigellian ship, Jack of Hearts begins to learn just what this conflict is about. Apparently, in a recent THOR story, the colonizer’s homeworld of Rigel was destroyed. Their people reduced to being nomadic wanderers of the stars, they were looking for a place where they could start over. And so they came across Wundagore II, a planet that contained highly advanced cities, but no sign of intelligent life, only beasts, animals. The Rigellians sent probes down to the surface to test its suitability as a new homeworld. But the radiation from those probes triggered a reversal of the High Evolutionary’s process which had devolved his New Men back into the beasts he made them from in yet a different old story, and restored to intellect and intelligence, they took up arms to defend their planet. The Rigellians could simply move on in their search, but having found such a suitable planet (and unwilling to share it with the New Men) they’ve chosen to take it by force if they must.
Elsewhere, Iron Man has recovered from his fall to the planet, but as he gathers his wits, he’s immediately attacked by a giant Preying Mantis monster, like the one showcased on the cover. This thing has also been evolved by conditions on the planet, but it’s still a mindless bug, and so Iron Man has to fight for his life–which he does. Shellhead is able to drive it off, but not before seriously depleting his armor’s power reserves. So he’s in no position to fight back when a patrol of New Men stumble upon them. As he feels a kinship with the position of the New Men, Iron man allows himself to be taken to one of their cities for questioning. He also surreptitiously plugs his armor into the power cells from their vehicle to pick up a quick recharge.
As they group travels to the nearby city, it’s time for yet another exposition dump about a bunch of additional older stories–Mantlo was building this issue out of concepts from across the Marvel publishing history in a manner that would become more commonplace in the 1980s era of Mark Gruenwald. Here, the Knights of Wundagore give Iron Man the lowdown on their creation–how they had been raised up from mere beasts into intelligent creatures by their benefactor, the High Evolutionary. After an encounter with Thor, they had headed off to find their own plane to live on, settling here. But in a later Hulk story, the High Evolutionary was struck down by his evil creation, the Man-Beast, and forced to evolve himself to godhood in order to save himself. Once he had done so, he chose to restore his experimental New Men to the beasts they had been. But as we learned earlier, the arrival of the Colonizer’s machines inadvertently reversed this process.
As the issue wraps up, Iron Man pledges his good right arm to the cause of the Knights of Wundagore. Meanwhile, Jack of Hearts tries to turn down the Rigellian Commander Arcturus’ overtures that he should join forces with them, since Iron Man is dead and he’s got no way back to Earth. But Arcturus is a villain through and through–he reveals that his fleet split off from the main Rigellian force by choice, and that he plans to start his own intergalactic empire. And if Jack of Hearts won’t help him take Wundagore II, he’ll instead attack and subjugate Earth! Not the most convincing of arguments for acquiescence, but that’s where we’re left as this issue is To be Continued. There wasn’t a whole lot in this story to latch onto for me–the stakes all involved other far-off planets, and most of the characters were relatively faceless and alien. Even Iron man himself never shows his face as Tony Stark in this one. It’s clear that writer Mantlo was inspired in doing this story by the overwhelming success of the movie STAR WARS, which led to an immediate hunger for more SF-excitement. But it made for a strange issue of IRON MAN, and one that I wasn’t really all that enamored of. To be blunt, I didn’t really give a damn who eventually ended up with Wundagore II, and in this instance, I found all of the mountains of history being ladled out across this story off-putting.