This next issue of IRON MAN was the preamble to what would, in time, be considered one of the very best runs that the title had to offer. His arrival had been touted on the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page all month, and so here was John Romita Jr., the son of Marvel legend and art director John Romita, taking on his first regular ongoing assignment. JRJR would become perhaps the most natural and effective Marvel-style comic book storyteller of his generation, but at this point, he was just starting out. So while the work here is certainly of a professional level, John hasn’t quite gotten the experience necessary to catapult his approach to another level. Still, his appearance immediately made IRON MAN, a title that had been mostly anchored by longtime artists, primarily George Tuska, look a lot more modern.

This would also wind up being the last issue of the series written by Bill Mantlo, who had done a great job of pulling the character out of the doldrums and getting him back on the path to stardom. I know that IRON MAn was a n assignment that Mantlo relished, so I don’t know whether this change was his choice or was foist upon him by other parties. But as this issue ends smack-dab in the middle of several plotlines that Mantlo had been building up for some months, I tend to think his departure was unexpected. Still, I can’t say that with any certainty. JRJR was inked in this first outing by Dan Green, a good inker, but one whose style wasn’t all that simpatico with what JRJR was doing. As such, a certain stiffness in the figure work is accentuated rather than played down, and some of the line work, particularly on Iron Man himself, feels artificial and robotic.

As the issue opens, the Avengers are finishing the task they’d shown up to do last month before the attack of Arsenal: transporting Iron Man’s defeated foe the Unicorn to where he might get medical attention. Iron Man in particular is interested in who saved the Unicorn and sent him to destroy Tony Stark’s company, so the Armored Avenger hooks his foe up to a memory extractor, and we are treated to a series of flashbacks to both older issues and new in-between material. Here again, the identity of the Unicorn’s benefactor is concealed but it is obvious to any long-standing Iron Man reader. While this is going on, from afar, another figure is spying on Iron Man, working out the defenses of the place and preparing to assassinate Tony Stark. This is another plotline that Mantlo wouldn’t get to finish up, although his successors moved into it with the same overall solution.

At this point, no closer to discovering who it was who struck at him from the shadows using the Unicorn, Iron Man is ready to resume his everyday like as Tony Stark. But before he does so, he needs to deactivate the Tony Stark Life-Model Decoy that he’s been using to stand in for him over the course of several months. Many of the beats of Mantlo’s run contained echoes of Archie Goodwin’s earlier stint on the title, and Archie had famously done a storyline in which a Stark L.M.D became semi-sentient and tried to displace him. I don’t know if that’s where Mantlo was going with this subplot, but he’d never be able to take it to fruition, and in this instance, his successors went in a different direction.

And so, Tony returns to his penthouse apartment, hoping to get in some quality time with his girlfriend Whitney Frost, the former Madame Masque. But after he navigates the security measures that he’s put in place to safeguard his home, he is suddenly attacked as soon as he steps into the place. His assailants are a quartet of super-villains from Marvel’s past, alternately known as the Ani-Men or the Unholy Trio (though now that there are four of them, that sobriquet no longer applies.) These guys typically mix it up with Daredevil, so they don’t seem like a huge threat for Iron Man to deal with–if he was wearing his armor.

Accordingly, Tony Stark gets his ass kicked by the quartet of animal-styled villains, almost losing his life when Ape-Man accidentally hurls him over the balcony. All during the one-sided fight, Stark’s only real seeming concern–apart from surviving, of course–is the whereabouts and safety of Whitney Frost. The Ani-Men, though, prevent him from getting to his attachĂ© case and the armor secreted inside it, And without it, he’s just a regular guy. As the four Ani-Men circle him, Tony is struck down from behind by an unseen figure, the identity of which should be obvious to all simply from this description.

That’s right, it’s Whitney Frost, Madame Masque, who has betrayed Tony and let the Ani-Men, her hirelings, into his private quarters. In a recent AVENGERS story, her father, Count Nefaria, was prematurely aged into infirmary. Now Whitney wants Tony Stark to undo this process–and rather than simply asking him, she’s chosen instead to attack him and force him to comply, in the manner of the criminal syndicate the Maggia which she and her father used to run. With a powerless Tony Stark down and out, that’s where this issue if To Be Continued!

And since we mentioned it above, here’s that Bullpen Bulletins page that heralds John Romita Jr.’s arrival on IRON MAN, as well as a number of other things that were then going on. While my interest would wax and wane depending on just what was discussed every month, these Bullpen pages really did do a good job of humanizing (or at least caricaturing) all of the assorted people who were then working for Marvel. It fostered a family feeling to the place, unlike the somehow more corporate and cold DC.

7 thoughts on “BHOC: IRON MAN #115

  1. I had been reading Ironman since issue #71 grabbed my attention. As much as I loved the character the stories could be very hit or miss. Mantlo’s run sparkled compared to what came before, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Didn’t hurt that Keith Pollard delivered some great pencilling work as well.
    It’s my understanding that when Michelinie/Layton came to Marvel that they asked for a low selling title to turn around. If true that would lead me to think that Mantlo was booted off the title due to Michelinie/Layton’s pitch. Based on the results I’d say Marvel made the right call.
    In regards to the Ani-men… they might have started as Daredevil villains but they were depicted as somewhat heavy hitters in X-men 94-95 and gave the new X-men some trouble.

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  2. As I understand it, the reason Bill got removed from IRON MAN was that David Michelinie had been hired by Marvel and they needed books for him to do.

    Giving him AVENGERS was an easy choice, since Jim Shooter had had schedule trouble since he became editor-in-chief during the big Korvac storyline, so getting a new writer there would help get it back on an even keel.

    With IRON MAN, it’s pretty well-known that Jim didn’t think much of Bill’s writing — and the final nail in his coffin on IRON MAN, I was told at the time, was that Herb Trimpe-drawn issue a month or two back, where we got a big spread of the new Stark International, and it was full of stuff like a day care center and profit sharing and that sort of thing. It was considered way too leftist for a corporation-based hero, so once there was a new writer in town who needed books to write, Bill was removed in favor of Dave.

    This was “through the grapevine” news, so I can’t say it’s true, just what I’d been told at the time.

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  3. Speaking about the BULLPEN BULLETINS: when Herb Trimpe was a guest at a Seattle comic show EONS ago, I was lucky enough to =sit across from him at dinner one night. Everyone chatted, and I can’t remember exactly what stories were told, but I do remember, very clearly, at one point Herb said: “Remember those old Bullpen Bulletins? How they made it sound like Marvel was the best place in the whole world? It was BETTER than that!”

    As to DC’s more “corporate” feel: I remember thinking as a kid that I would probably like the DC comics better when I got older, that they were more “mature” and “grown up” than the Marvel books I preferred.

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  4. I believe that JRJR was doing breakdowns at this stage of his career and didn’t do full pencils until Daredevil.


  5. By the end of the 170’s on Uncanny X-Men, Dan Green settled in as JR, Jr.’s inker. And they’re still up there for me as 1 of my favorite art teams. JR,Jr came into his own on that run. His figure fundamentals were strengthened. Faces were expressive. Dan Green gave it a kinetic finish. Their run included some of the best images of Wolverine, Storm, & Nightcrawler for me. I honestly can’t say I’d have predicted all that from this, his 1st issue of Iron-Man. But they both developed into some of the best, to me, artists in the business.


    1. Forgot to mention that “around” this time, late 70’s, Dan Green inked John Byrne on Avengers. And I really liked what I saw. Dan’s thick lines really shored up Byrne’s figures. Added “volume” as Dick Giordano reportedly liked to say about good inking. This’ll sound a little nuts, but looking at great inking effects my brain in a similar way as tasting chocolate syrup. Without the risk of dental plaque or sugar weight gain.


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