This next issue of IRON MAN represented the beginning of one of the most storied runs in the title’s history, even though it was the second part to an adventure already in progress. And that’s because this issue heralded the arrival of a pair of creators who would leave their mark on the armored Avengers, David Michelinie and Bob Layton. They joined artist John Romita Jr who had debuted in the previous issue to become the series’ new regular creative team, and together they defined the look and the flavor of IRON MAN for the 1980s. Michelinie had come to Marvel after being cast adrift by DC during the DC Implosion, and he wound up working closely with Layton, who contributed to the plotting as well as inking the book.
Their interpretation of Tony Stark and his world is immediately a lot more modern and contemporary than much of what had been done with the character in recent years. We were headed into the “greed is good” 80s, and so Tony Stark as a billionaire playboy super hero living the good life was very much in synch with the times, in opposition to how out of synch with them he’d been during the Vietnam War era, when he came across as a profiteer. JRJR hadn’t quite yet grown into the artist he’d become, but he knew how to tell a story dramatically already, and Layton provided his work with a slick finish that elevated it. It immediately looked better than the prior issue.
This issue opens where the last one left off, with Tony having been betrayed by his lover Madame Masque and ambushed by her minions, the Ani-Men, a group of relatively turkey villains. Whitney Frost wants Tony’s help to restore her debilitated father Count Nefaria to his youth and vigor, as he was prematurely aged in a recent AVENGERS storyline in which he’d stolen the powers of thee other villains. Michelinie, Romita and Layton immediately set out their tent on the book by having Stark, after taking a horrendous beating, throw caution to the wind and don his armor in front of his foes, not caring in that moment about his secret identity. This was something that simply wasn’t done in super hero comics at the time, and it made an instant statement that this run wouldn’t just be the same old thing. That said, it’s pretty credulity-straining that all of the Ani-Men just stand there and gape through all of the time that it takes Stark to put on his armor, even if that period is defensively described as mere seconds.
Not only did this team make Iron Man’s armor look visually impressive, slicker and more polished than it ever had before, but they also took steps immediately to make him more of a big league hitter. In the past, a group like the Ani-Men would have given Iron Man a tough fight, but here, he smashes his way through them like the minor annoyance that they are. Of course, doing so gives Madame Masque an opportunity to slip away with Count Nefaria in tow, and leaves Iron man’s boot jets damaged so that he has to pursue them on foot, thus giving them a decent chance of making their getaway.,
Iron Man chases his foes to one of his nearby experimental labs, where new Stark Enterprises innovations are being created. But he’s jumped before he can get to them by Tony Stark–or in reality, the Tony Stark Life-Model Decoy who has been regularly standing in for Tony whenever Iron Man was called away on a mission. Of course, the L.M.D. was also equipped to stand in for Iron Man himself as needed, and so the real Shellhead has a fight on his hands. Tony is forced to rely on his cleverness to catch the thing off-guard and fry his circuits with energy from his hip-mounted power pods.
Iron Man catches up to Whitney and Count Nefaria in the lab, where Madame Masque is trying to stabilize and reverse her father’s condition. Tony is all for this, but isn’t and can’t be on board with letting Nefaria thereafter escape justice and incarceration for his crimes. he pleads with Whitney to stand down, but she makes here choice, and it’s family. Accordingly, she activates an in-development probe designed to explore the surface of Jupiter and sends it against Iron Man. The probe is much larger and insanely strong, as it was designed to survive and function in the harsh conditions on the red-spotted planet. But Iron Man understands its construction inside and out.
So with a massive effort, he’s able to hoist the thing off the ground and sent it careening into a nearby bank of machinery. Unfortunately, that machinery was what was keeping Count Nefaria alive, and he perishes as a result. (Entirely off-panel, which makes it far easier to resurrect him in the future, which would eventually happen.) At this point, the fisticuffs are over, and Madame Masque exits the series, with Tony just watching her go rather than attempting to stop her or take her to task for her actions. If nothing else, a few extraneous pieces from outgoing writer Bill Mantlo’s tenure have now been taken off the board, leaving the road clear for Michelinie and Layton to chart their own course into the future.
6 thoughts on “BHOC: IRON MAN #116”
This was a great beginning to one of my favorite runs. The Mantlo/Pollard run was a step up for Ironman so the book was already better than it had been for years…. and Michelinie/JRJR/Layton super-charged it with their run.
One bit of confusing story business is Count Nefaria being super old as a result of getting ionic powers in Avengers 164-166. His aging in the Avengers story was explained as a temporary side effect that he was overreacting too. Which only makes sense if he’s not actually aging into actual decrepitude. Someone brought it up in a letters column but the editorial response that “he can get really old and have it be temporary” undermines both stories a bit.
Also… if you’re going to sneak an old guy around I’d opt for a regular wheelchair instead of one that screams “evil!” But I guess that’s minor when you’re travelling with three animal guys and dressed for a safari.
R.I.P. the original Ani-Man.
Marvel’s editors seemed to lose track of when the Ani-Men were actual animal-men and when they were just guys in tricked-out fursuits. For example, the way Romita draws Frog-Man’s feet suggest he truly is half-froggy, but when Death-Stalker (in an issue of Daredevil the following year) sees the Ani-Men’s corpses, they’re all human.
“…and leaves Iron man’s boot jets damaged so that he has to pursue them on foot, thus giving them a decent chance of making their getaway.”
Shoulda used his built-in roller skates!
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“In the past, a group like the Ani-Men would have given Iron Man a tough fight, but here, he smashes his way through them like the minor annoyance that they are.”
The Ani-men seemed a bit juiced up from their Daredevil days when they appeared previously in X-men 95…. going toe to toe with early days Wolverine and Colossus.
But I agree…even the original versions of the Ani-men would have probably given mid-70’s Ironman difficulty. A guy who struggled with having office equipment dropped on him sometimes.
Wow! I would not have recognized John Romita Jr’s art compared to today!
A great run! There would no Iron Man movie without it. The Layton inks and JrJr layout immediately modernized IM.
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