This issue of IRON MAN was a bit more like it. After a pair of issues that were concerned with a war in deep space that I found it difficult to care about (the influence of STAR WARS was all over those issues, at least broadly) with #113 we were back in Earth, with grounded concerns and grounded super-villains. And we were right on the cusp of this series getting really, really good–it was already moving in a positive direction, and had been for a few months, but a trio of creators were waiting in the wings who would define Iron Man for the 1980s. But that’s still all to come.
On the other hand, this particular issue was penciled by Herb Trimpe, and I wasn’t a big fan of his work. He was a mainstay at Marvel for three decades, and I enjoyed his long run on HULK (especially when inked by John Severin, who often made the end product look more like his work than Trimpe’s). But as time went on, while his storytelling chops never flagged, Trimpe’s style became more stiff and stylized and less appealing to me. There’s a reason why his best-remembered runs of this period were on GODZILLA and SHOGUN WARRIORS–he was adept at drawing colossal lizards and intricate giant robots. But his human figures tended to have flat faces and to be framed and posed oddly. His work wasn’t really fluid. So he was one of those artists that I never really warmed to–and in fact, I would buy certain titles despite his presence rather than because of it.
This issue opens with Tony Stark unveiling the newly rebuilt headquarters of Stark International in a double-page spread drawn by penciler Keith Pollard that almost certainly started out as the design drawing of the place. Having returned from space, Tony Stark is rededicating himself to first principles, to making the world a better place through the efforts of his company. Along the way, we bit goodbye to recurring supporting characters Jack of Hearts, who heads off to a solo adventure in MARVEL PREMIERE, and S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Jasper Sitwell, whose mission to guard Stark has once more come to an end. In effect, writer Bill Mantlo was clearing the deck for what was to come next. One thing he didn’t get rid of is Tony Stark’s Life-Model Decoy, who does double-duty at this event by posing as Iron Man while Tony himself is giving remarks. This thing was a little bit too convenient to have around when it came to safeguarding Iron Man’s secret identity, so it’d get blown to pieces in a couple of issues.
Later on, Iron Man is just lounging around atop his new complex in his full armor, as you do, when an explosion catches his eye. It’s his old thought-dead foe, the Unicorn, who has emerged from the sea and who is being prompted by an unseen voice–whom he refers to only as “The Other”–to seek out the solar converter that powers the new Stark plant and destroy it, consuming the entire place. As enemies go, the Unicorn was something of a loser, and even his new costume design can’t make up for the fact that he’s attacking Iron Man with a blaster that’s strapped to the top of his head.
The rest of the issue is simply a long, plotless fight in which Iron Man attempts to defeat teh Unicorn and prevent him from blowing up his company’s new facility. And it’s not even a great fight–Trimpe’s stiffness meant that most panels don’t have a whole lot of motion to them. The look like photos of staged action figures or some such, very lifeless. And I don’t think Joe Rubinstein’s inking really helps, the environments are so spartan and empty that the issue verges on feeling like a coloring book. I wonder whether Trimpe really did full pencils or was maybe working in breakdowns and Rubinstein didn’t do enough work connecting the dots when finishing them.
Seriously, I wish there was something of greater substance to say at this point, but there really isn’t. Just look at the page above for an example of how this one went. It’s not going to win any awards. There was a criticism sometimes levied against the Marvel books of the 1970s that they weren’t so much stories as they were shapeless fights with just enough scaffolding around them to make them seem like a story. That wasn’t always the case, but it’s a pretty apt description of this issue. Sure, the Unicorn’s powers are killing him, and that’s marginally interesting, and he’s got a mysterious benefactor who is pulling his strings, and it’s fun to work out who that might be. But in terms of substance, this issue is lightweight fare, without much of anything to make it truly memorable.
And the issue ends just as you might expect it would: the the Unicorn being smashed just as he’s about to reveal the identity of the secretive Other. Of course, for any Iron Man reader going over this story, the answer is obvious based on the character’s silhouette and the abilities he displays–it’s not much of a mystery at all. But it’s about all the book has to offer, so at least give it that.