BHOC: IRON MAN #114

Another new issue that I bought at Heroes World was IRON MAN #114. Not because I was particularly a huge IRON MAN fan, but because I went and bought all of the new books that they had that I didn’t yet own before delving into the back issues. In retrospect, that may have been a self-defeating approach. I can remember going to the 7-11 a week or two after this and being profoundly disappointed that there weren’t any new-to-me comics that I could pick up, only the books I’d read a week or two earlier. I might have spent that money on back issues and everything would have been fine. On the other hand, there’s no way that I could have walked out of that Heroes World leaving those new issues behind–I’d have been too paranoid that I’d never again be able to get them. So really, this was the only way that events could have played themselves out.

There was a guest artist on the issue. One of the things that writer Bill Mantlo was good about was finding and helping to shepherd in new artistic talent. By this point, Keith Giffen had done a bunch of jobs for Marvel, but he was something of a problem child in terms of his reliability, something he’d get better about in the months to come. He was using a style that showed a strong Jack Kirby influence at this time, something that was always welcome in the Marvel Comics of the period, and so he did a nice job of making the Avengers look good here.

After last month’s fight, Iron Man has brought the catatonic body of his foe the Unicorn to Avengers Mansion, where he’s hoping that Yellowjacket will be able to cure him. The Unicorn had been sent to attack Stark Industries by an unseen mastermind, and Shellhead wants to find out who it was. He’d be in for a long wait, as this plotline got dropped in an issue or so as a new creative team came onto teh title, and it wouldn’t be wrapped up for some years. Yellowjacket sets the Unicorn up under the Avenger’s Revitalizer, and the heroes wander off, leaving the Unicorn to the company of the incredibly aged Count Nefaria, who is himself in suspended animation in order to save his life when the powers he stole in an AVENGERS three-parter prematurely aged him.

Unfortunately, the Unicorn revives a whole lot faster than Yellowjacket had planned, and he wordlessly rises off of his slab and smashes his way out of the lab to confront the Avengers. He’s being remotely prompted by his shadowed master–whose identity is obvious if you have any working knowledge of Iron Man’s gallery of villains, but whose identity I’ll let remain a secret here until we eventually get to it. Amazingly, the Unicorn is able to hold his own against a full compliment of Avengers, and the battle trashes portions of the Mansion. Unicorn winds up falling into a hidden sub-basement area that nobody else was aware of–and then something strange happens.

The Unicorn’s Master discovers that his broadcast signal to the Unicorn is being interfered with by another similar signal. Bereft of his master’s guidance, the Unicorn falls to teh ground and passes out–but not before a nearby wall panel rises up, revealing a colossal android that announces itself as Arsenal. What it’s doing in the workings of Avengers Mansion is a mystery, but it’s been activated by the signal that was controlling the Unicorn, and now it’s rampaging almost senselessly, itself waiting for orders from some unseen hand.

So out of nowhere, the Avengers have a new opponent, one that wastes no time clobbering the standing team. Even the late arrival of Captain America and the Scarlet Witch, who return from dinner to find their headquarters in absolute chaos, is enough to turn the tide. Arsenal, though, seems as though it’s looking for something, waiting for a signal from its creator, instructions. But without them, it’s wiping out its perceived enemies indiscriminently.

But before Arsenal can finish off the Avengers and no doubt because this is his magazine after all, Iron Man reappears, his armor’s power having been juiced up, and he clocks Arsenal in a cool splash page. On the receiving end, Arsenal chooses the better part of valor, and he disappears in a blinding light. The only apparent fatality in the whole brawl appears to be the Unicorn, who was in Arsenal’s path as it first emerged. So after two fights in which it can’t be said they really one even once, the Avengers are stymied by both the identity of the Unicorn’s master as well as what Arsenal was, where it came from and who was behind it. Iron Man swears to get to the bottom of the mystery–and a blurb tells us that this storyline will be followed up on in an upcoming issue of AVENGERS. This is pretty typical of a lot of 1970s Marvel books in that the whole issue amounts to a couple of seemingly-pointless fights, a bit of characterization and a few fun quips along the way, and not a whole lot more. So it’s fun, but feels a bit empty in the aftermath. It’s a situation that would begin to improve as the 1970s gave way to the 1980s, and as Jim Shooter’s new editorial structure allowed for feedback and revision on some of these stories at the plot stage.

4 thoughts on “BHOC: IRON MAN #114

  1. This was a pretty solid comic and the follow up Avengers annual is likewise well done. It’s a bit of a stretch that Howard Stark would have 30 + year old tech that could challenge the Avengers but the idea that he would have a sleeper plan in the Avengers basement that mirrors the Red Skull’s is neat.

    I dug Mantlo’s run on Ironman quite a bit. I’ve loved the character since reading a tattered copy of Tales to Astonish #82 in a barbershop at age 8. That love came with the price of reading more than a few lackluster stories in Ironman’s solo comic throughout the mid-70’s. Mantlo and the occasional Archie Goodwin story were some of the few bright spots prior to Michelinie and Layton turning on the stadium lights.

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  2. I wasn’t an Iron Man buyer back in ’78 so all this is new to me… except Arsenal whom I recall from Avengers Annual #9. The Annual was, well, ok-ish story-wise, but it sticks in my mind because it contains one of the relatively few art jobs that the late great Don Newton did for Marvel. He wasn’t well-served by Jack Abel on that book, but Joe Rubinstein proved a far more sympathetic inker.

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  3. I wonder if this might have been an issue of “Marvel Fill In Comics,” since the agenda there was to have issues written and drawn that could have been used for more than one series. This could have been used as a filler for IM or AVENGERS….

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