“Iron Man” by David Micheline, Bob Layton & John Romita Jr.

 

Table of Contents

 

 

The Iron Man work of David Micheline, Bob Layton & John Romita Jr. was considered by many to rank amongst the best comic book bodies of work of the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Its contemporaries for such acclaim would rightly include Frank Miller’s “Daredevil,” John Byrne’s “Fantastic Four,” (and “Uncanny X-Men” with Chris Claremont), and Walter Simonson’s “Thor.” Compared to those runs though, the Micheline/Layton/Romita Jr. run on “Iron Man” had historically been under-represented in reprints until a Marvel Omnibus compilation.

Until the Marvel Omnibus release, the most commonly reprinted portions of this stretch of “Iron Man” issues included the “Demon in a Bottle” and “Doomquest” story arcs.  Not coincidentally, those arcs happened to also be the most acclaimed portions of the run.

Michelinie and Layton co-wrote most of the run’s stories.  At the time, Michelinie would have been considered one of Marvel’s premiere writers.  John Romita Jr. pencilled the majority of the issues, with finishes or inks by Layton. Although Romita Jr.’s name wasn’t as often referenced when this run was discussed by comic book pundits, he was certainly a key part of the team.

Different configurations of those three lasted from “Iron Man” (Volume 1) issues 115-157.

Most readers would likely find the episodic nature of the stories quite compelling, with issues almost-always ending on a gripping cliffhanger. Coupled with that aspect of the title was an interestingly more ‘adult’ tone to the work.  Tony Stark as a character evolved beyond simply being a playboy, a major factor in that evolution being the establishment of his romance with Bethany Cabe

At the time of this run, the relatively new Marvel Editor-in-Chief, Jim Shooter, was allowing more ‘mature’ themes in its titles.  Later runs such as Frank Miller’s time on “Daredevil” would reflect that change from the earlier status quo, but this run on “Iron Man” preceded even that work.

 

Madame Masque & The Anti-Men

The momentum that would push the run through its first year of issues began right away.

 

Iron Man #115 – “Betrayal!”

Writer: David Michelinie | Artist: John Romita Jr.

This transitional issue began with Tony Stark putting the villain Unicorn into cryostasis. Readers were aware that Tony seemed to be under observation, but it wasn’t clear by whom.

Later, Tony was attacked at his apartment by the Ani-Men, a group of criminals who had first appeared in “Daredevil” #10. Tony was knocked out during the ensuing fight by Madame Masque, who had been working with the Ani-Men. Madam Masque informed Tony that her father, the longtime Avenger’s villain Count Nefaria, had been prematurely aging. If Tony refused to help Madame Masque cure her father, then he would be killed.

Madame Masque first appeared back in “Tales of Suspense”#97 (January, 1968) and was an on-again/off-again love interest of Tony Stark. More contemporary to these issues, she had been in a romance with Tony Stark in the early “Iron Man” issue #100s that was ended after she revealed also having feelings for S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jasper Sitwell.

Unicorn’s appearance was mostly as a footnote in this issue, as the character wouldn’t be re-appearing again until “Iron Man” #154.

Iron Man #116 – “Anguish Once Removed!”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

In the middle of Tony’s fight with the Ani-Men, a bomb that was intended for Tony went off, killing the Ani-Men. That bomb had been left by the villainous Spymaster, who would continue to operate in the shadows over the next several issues. Madame Masque slipped away amid the wreckage.

Tony, as Iron Man, traced Madame Masque back to his company – Stark International (SI) – headquarters, where he battled a reprogrammed life-model decoy of himself. While also fighting Stark International’s Jupiter Landing Vehicle, Tony destroyed equipment that Madame Masque was using to help her father. Count Nefaria was then presumed dead and Madame Masque fled, unsure of her lingering feelings for Tony.

This issue marked the first involvement of Bob Layton in the run. The team of Michelinie, Layton, and Romita Jr. would for the backbone of the next forty issues. Although readers were left to assume that Count Nefaria had died in the events of this issue, that was not the case. However, the original Ani-Men did remain dead.

 

Vs. S.H.I.E.L.D.

Many of the events in this story arc foreshadowed problems that Tony would later face in the “Demon in a Bottle” storyline.

 

Iron Man #117 – “The Spy Who Killed Me!”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

After prior brief references, the Spymaster took center stage as this issue’s villain. Tony fought him after an assassination attempt, but the Spymaster got away.

At a later social function, Tony met Bethany Cabe, who would play a significant role in coming issues. The Spymaster was defeated during a fight at the end, whereby Tony discovered that the Spymaster had stolen a listing of Stark International’s stockholders. Unbeknownst to Tony, Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. was simultaneously working to take over Stark International’s weapons technology.

Iron Man #118 – “At the Mercy of My Foes Friends!”

Writer: David Michelinie | Artist: John Byrne

The plot thickened when Tony went to speak at a S.H.I.E.L.D. conference on their helicarrier, suspicious of a link that he’d uncovered between the Spymaster and S.H.I.E.L.D. Unbeknownst to Tony (and Nick Fury), a group of rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. was monitoring Tony’s actions. They noticed Tony poking around the helicarrier and knocked him unconscious. After being thrown from the helicarrier by the rogue agents, Tony managed to save himself by getting into his Iron Man armor while in mid-air.

Tony then uncovered the rogue agents’ incapacitation of Nick Fury and their plan to buy back Stark International stock from the company’s shareholders.

James Rhodes, a significant figure in the Iron Man mythos, first appeared in this issue as Tony’s staff pilot. This issue also contained the first appearance of Tony’s motherly secretary Mrs. Arbogast.

John Byrne, en route to becoming a major star at Marvel, briefly filled in on the artistic duties.

Iron Man #119 – “No S.H.I.E.L.D. To Protect Me!”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

While Tony (as Iron Man) was engaged in a standoff with the rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Buck Richlen, the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier came under attack after drifting into Russian airspace. Tony used the opening to defeat Richlen and, with Nick Fury, held off the Russians while getting the helicarrier back to Europe.

Yvette Avril, an executive from Stark International’s Paris operations first appeared at the end of this issue, as Tony dug into Fury’s plan to buy Stark International. Although Richlen and his rogue agents had used the Spymaster with a similar plan in mind, S.H.I.E.L.D. was still interested in a Stark International takeover.

The tension by the end of this arc between Tony and Nick Fury was surprising.

Yvette Avril would again appear on a semi-regular basis later in the run. Surprisingly, given Tony’s tomcat tendencies, he didn’t seem to be romantically involved with her.

 

Demon in a Bottle

I was not a fan of how this arc was traditionally packaged, since the malfunctions to Tony’s Armor that would be a key plot point began in issue #118.  Also, most people associate this arc with Tony’s alcoholism, but his drinking problem didn’t take center stage until the final two issues. Instead, this arc was really several 2-3 issue arcs, rather than a true 9-issue story.

The non-stop action that had been running since issue #115 continued without missing a beat.

 

Iron Man #120 – “The Old Man and the Sea Prince!”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

The stress from S.H.I.E.L.D.’s stock buy up of Stark International pushed Tony to drink while on a private transatlantic flight to France. In a case of bad timing, a flying army tank knocked his plane out of the air. After saving the plane as Iron Man, Tony landed on a nearby island to learn that the flying tank had been thrown by Namor, who was defending a man named Hiram Dobbs. Dobbs’ island home had apparently been designated as a toxic waste disposal site by the army.

Elsewhere, Bethany Cabe and James Rhodes rushed to fly to Tony’s aide.

Finally, at a mysterious villa, readers first met Justin Hammer. Hammer was revealed to be remotely responsible for recent ‘malfunctions’ with the Iron Man armor (specifically in issue #118).

Tony’s scientist Erica Sondheim briefly appeared in this issue, but would have a larger role starting in issue #131.

Iron Man #121 – “A Ruse By Any Other Name”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

While visiting with Namor and Hiram Dobbs, Tony realized that the military was not necessarily behind Hobbs’ island takeover. Rather, it came out that the island was rich in the rare metal Vibranium. Roxxon Oil Company had an interest in the Vibranium, so their personnel had posed as United States military officials and created the toxic waste ploy as a way to scare people off of the island.

In the meantime, James Rhodes and Bethany Cabe were captured by Jonas Hale, the head of Roxxon’s operation. Iron Man and Namor were both able to eventually stop Roxxon, but Hale ended up destroying the island.

Iron Man #122 – “Journey!”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: Carmine Infantino & Bob Layton

Most of this issue centered on a retelling of Iron Man’s origin, set during the Vietnam War. This was a retroactive continuity change, moving the original origin story’s location from Afghanistan.

However, there were bookend pieces involving Iron Man flying back to the United States. At the same time, Justin Hammer prepared for another control test on Iron Man’s armor.

Iron Man #123 – “Casino Fatale”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

Justin Hammer’s test to remotely control the Iron Man armor caused Tony’s jet boots to cut out.  This led Tony to run tests on the Iron Man armor back at Stark International Headquarters. The problem perplexed him, as everything tested out fine.

Later, Tony took Bethany to Atlantic City, but wound up in a fight with Blizzard, Melter and Whiplash.

Iron Man #124 – “Pieces of Hate”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

Iron Man’s fight against Blizzard, Melter and Whiplash continued, with Bethany saving the day. Amusingly, Bethany then chewed out Iron Man for not (from her perspective) defending Tony. The need for Tony to keep his secret identity continued in full-force, being a quirk of how the character was written in this era that might amuse later readers.

The latter portion of the issue focused on Ambassador Sergei Kotzinin of Carnelia signing a treaty at the United Nations. With Bethany serving at Kotzinin’s body guard and Iron Man nearby, Justin Hammer remotely caused Iron Man to kill Kotzinin.

The ending of this issue was a shocker, as Tony’s armor really did kill someone. There would be later repercussions for that act.

Iron Man #125 – “The Monaco Prelude”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

For whatever reason, United States authorities didn’t go to great lengths to detain Iron Man. They settled instead for Tony later turning in an Iron Man suit for examination. Tony, depressed by the assassination fiasco, got drunk. He also ended up fighting with Bethany, who thought that Iron Man should have been arrested.

Tony received help when his employee, Scott Lang, was able to learn from the captured Whiplash that his employer was Justin Hammer. Tony and James Rhodes then traced Hammer to Monaco, where they inadvertently ran into a beach invasion by Hammer’s forces.

Iron Man #126 – “The Hammer Strikes!”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

James Rhodes got away from the beach invasion, while Tony was captured and taken to Hammer’s floating villa compound. While Rhodes unsuccessfully tried to rally support from the Monaco police, Tony escaped from Hammer’s villa, only to learn that he was trapped on it in the ocean.

Tony then had to steal back his Iron Man armor from one of Hammer’s labs. The issue ended with Blizzard, Melter and Whiplash all confronting Iron Man in the lab.

Iron Man #127 – “A Man’s Home is His Battlefield…”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

Iron Man easily defeated Hammer’s employees just as the Monaco police invaded the floating villa compound. During Hammer’s attempted escape, his villa was sunk by Iron Man. Hammer’s scientist associate, Phillip Barnett, cleared Iron Man of the ambassador’s assassination after admitting to building a device to control Iron Man’s armor.

While readers might have assumed that a happy ending was coming, Tony became drunk after learning that people were still afraid of Iron Man. He then missed a date with Bethany and offended the Avengers’ butler Jarvis by bringing a random new woman back to the Avengers’ mansion. Tony finally began to realize that he had a drinking problem when Jarvis resigned.

Iron Man #128 – “Demon in a Bottle”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

Tony opened the issue by botching several jobs as Iron Man. He continued drinking before Bethany finally talked him into trying to quit. After Tony patch things up with Jarvis, he learned that Jarvis had sold what was the last of Stark International’s outstanding stock to S.H.I.E.L.D. Amid the crisis, Tony resisted again reaching for alcohol.

For as much attention as the “Demon in a Bottle” had received, the core alcoholism story only took center stage for a couple of issues. That didn’t mean that it wasn’t impactful, but the problem was only the main focus of part of one issue and Bethany’s intervention or ‘rescue’ was rather abrupt.

The context of this story might also be lost on modern readers, as that lack of perspective could soften the longer-term impact. Modern “Iron Man” readers have always known Tony Stark as having the ‘demons’ that were introduced in this arc. It was what gave him depth, as well as adding consequences to his playboy lifestyle.

Bethany made reference to losing her husband to pill abuse in this issue. That man, Alexander Van Tilberg, would later play a significant role in Tony and Bethany’s relationship.

Iron Man #129 – “Dread Night of the Dreadnought!”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

While issue #129 was not included in Marvel’s past collections of the “Demon in a Bottle” storyline, it tied directly back to the earlier arc involving S.H.I.E.L.D.’s buyout of Stark International. In many ways, it was inexplicable that this issue would be omitted form that collection, since it neatly tied up such a long-running story thread.

S.H.I.E.L.D.’s plan to force Stark International into weapons manufacturing backfired when Tony threatened to release the company’s patents. An agreement was finally reached to have S.H.I.E.L.D. return Jarvis’s stock and control of the firm to Tony. The issue’s action focused on Hydra-made Dreadnaught robot that Iron Man stopped from harming Nick Fury.

Besides wrapping up the earlier arcs, this issue marked a temporary departure for John Romita Jr. Fans needn’t worry though, as he would return with issue #141.

 

Shorter Adventures

After a string of continued issues that occurred over a year of publication time, the next several issues focused on shorter arcs. Unfortunately, without the momentum that the prior series of story arcs had built up, the stories were often less interesting. A three-issue storyline involving the Hulk was the highpoint of this stretch.

 

Iron Man #130 – “The Digital Devil”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: Bob Layton

Tony travelled to Hong Kong to investigate the deaths of four computer scientists, discovering a dragon-creature appearing in the scientists’ lab. He next learned of Soo Lin Chu, the fiancée of one of the dead scientists. Soo had a grandfather with a mystic background who tried to exorcise a demon from the scientists’ computer. It was later revealed that Soo’s fiancé had been responsible for programing mythical incantations into the computer. Soo’s grandfather eventually helped banish the demon.

This issue was an interesting change of pace, being done in a single story. However, it was a bit too conveniently mythical. Curiously, the influence of McDonald’s being a novelty in Hong Kong was shown with Tony enjoying a victory fast food dinner with Soo at one of the company’s local eateries.

 

Iron Man #131 – “Hulk is Where the Heart Is!”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: Jerry Bingham & Bob Layton

Tony was caught in a traffic jam with Bethany that was caused by the Hulk. As Iron Man, Tony fought the Hulk long enough for him to revert to Bruce Banner. Banner was taken into custody by Tony, who took him back to Stark International headquarters. Banner then had Tony’s scientists Scott Lang and Erica Sondheim create a device that could restrain his transformations into the hulk. It seemed to work until police arrived and partially triggered the Hulk’s transformation.

Scott Lang from #125 played a large role in this arc. Readers of the era would regard Lang as reformed criminal who became the second Ant-Man.

From a creative standpoint, Jerry Bingham’s run as penciller began on this issue and would span several issues, bridging a portion of the gap between John Romita Jr.’s runs.

Iron Man #132 – “The Man Who Would Be Hulk”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: Jerry Bingham & Bob Layton

Erica Sondheim managed to calm Bruce Banner into transforming from the hulk back to his normal human form with sound waves, but the victory was short-lived. When Banner again transformed into the Hulk, Tony subdued him with a super-punch that trained the Iron Man armor’s power.

Vic Martinelli, Stark International’s head of security made his first appearance in this issue. Although referred to as ‘Dick’ in this issue, Martinelli would appear frequently in a number of later issues.

Iron Man #133 – “The Hero Within”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: Jerry Bingham & Bob Layton

Scott Lang as Ant-Man was the hero of the issue and much of its focus. With Tony trapped inside his immobile Iron Man armor, Lang had to assume the role of Ant-man. By traveling inside the armor at miniature size, Lang was able to make repairs that allowed Tony to escape from his armor.

The issue concluded on a light-hearted note, with Bruce Banner safely escorted away from the police by use of misdirection in which a Stark International janitor wore the Hulk’s Pants. James Rhodes then took Banner back to the west coast. Of course, readers knew that the Hulk would return.

Iron Man #134 – “The Challenge”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: Jerry Bingham & Bob Layton

Tony tested new Iron Man armor in an opening that picked up from the earlier Justin Hammer armor malfunction storyline. After successful tests, Tony took Bethany to the Playboy club. Their evening was interrupted by a Titanium Man attack at a nearby Lion’s Club where Iron Man had originally been scheduled to appear.

Longtime “Iron Man” readers would recognize the Titanium Man as Tony’s Russian rival Boris Bullski.

Iron Man #135 – “The Return of the Hero”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: Jerry Bingham & Bob Layton

Iron Man’s fight against the Titanium Man continued into this issue. Along the way, Tony would learn that, because of the earlier ambassador assassination, the public feared Iron Man just as much as the Titanium Man. However, after Tony defeated Titanium Man, the public was quick to embrace Iron Man again.

The issue ended on a saucy note, with Tony taking Bethany back to her apartment.

The public’s forgiveness of Iron Man in this issue concluded another thread of the overall Justin Hammer storyline. It was also interesting to note by this point just how deeply invested Tony was becoming in Bethany. For the time being, his swinger days seemed to be behind him.  At least, that seemed to be the case, until the next issue…

Iron Man #136 – “The Beginning of Endotherm”

Writer: Peter John Palmer & David Michelinie | Artist: Alan Weiss

Tony visited London to investigate possible sabotage at his flat. In doing so, he flirted heavily with a female employee named Sybil Carmichal. The mystery led to a fight with Endotherm, a low-rent villain who could manipulate extreme hot and cold. Endotherm was defeated in his first appearance and revealed to be Tom Wilkens, a Stark International employee suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

This was a largely forgettable story that screamed ‘fill-in issue.’ Had Michelinie not been credited as a co-writer, I might have dismissed Tony’s flirting with Sybil Carmichal as a plot goof. Perhaps that was still somehow the case, as it seemed odd for the character to revert to his womanizing ways after so firstly establishing Bethany Cabe as a serious romantic interest. Given the emotional peak involving that relationship that had concluded the prior issue, it was disappointing for the writers to be so sloppy in their portrayal of Tony in this issue.

 

Facades

The next several issues were a definite creative return-to-form for the run, with a complicated mystery that contained many witty twists.

 

Iron Man #137 – “Chapter I: Facades”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: Bob Layton

An employee appreciation party at Stark International was disrupted when Iron Man needed to help manage the aftermath of an explosion at Stark International’s new sonic drilling rig. In the aftermath, Tony learned that the drilling rig malfunctioned due to someone named Ted Calloway stealing the ‘energizer.’ Tony was able to capture Calloway, but he then escaped.

Elsewhere, Bethany’s bodyguard business partner Ling McPherson was filling in for Bethany as bodyguard to a man named Harmon Taylor. The pair are ambushed by a gang who beat Ling into critical condition.

What was otherwise a ‘setup’ issue ended on a great cliffhanger involving Ling being near-death in the hospital. As a worried Bethany called Tony to tell him the news, readers were stunned, assuming that indeed Ling might die.

Iron Man #138 – “Chapter II: Facades and Ruses”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: Bob Layton

James Rhodes and Tony headed to the hospital where Ling was being treated. By the time they arrived, Ling had somehow managed to get into stable condition, somewhat negating the power of the prior issue’s cliffhanger.

Attention then turned to investigate Ling’s beating, with Tony, Bethany, and Rhodes heading to Harmon Taylor’s office. They discover that Taylor had been killed and replaced by the Spymaster, who then gassed everyone. Curiously, the Spymaster then escaped with Bethany and Tony’s Iron Man attaché case. When Tony and Rhodes regain consciousness, clues left in Taylor’s office indicated to them that the Spymaster was working for the Maggia crime syndicate.

Further tracking led to a factory in Connecticut where Tony and Rhodes disrupted the Spymaster’s delivery of the energizer and attaché case. Bethany was rescued and Tony was able to get into his Iron Man armor, but Madame Masque then appeared with two Dreadnought robots.

This issue contained several interesting reversals, but perhaps tried to cover too much ground at once. The return of Madame Masque was unexpected and again set up another compelling cliffhanger.

Iron Man #139 – “Chapter III: Facades, Ruses, and Masques”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: Bob Layton

Tony, as Iron Man, was able to escape from the Dreadnaughts jam with an assist by James Rhodes, who happened to create a diversion at the Connecticut factory where they’d been trapped. Bethany defied Iron Man’s orders to leave the scene in a helicopter, instead joining the fight with said helicopter. Needless to say, Bethany wanted the opportunity to avenge the earlier beating of Ling.

More Dreadnoughts appear and the situation seemed to worsen. Rhodes ended up chasing down the Spy-Master, ultimately foiling him in a helicopter crash.

Meanwhile, Madame Masque was confronted by Bethany, who spilled the key information that she used to be Tony’s lover and that Tony was Iron Man. One might assume that Masque’s revelations would anger Bethany, but she simply responded that she’d already figured out Tony’s secret identity and that Madame Masque was a bad girlfriend for leaving Tony in the lead-up to his earlier alcohol issues!

After a brief fight, Bethany glimpsed Madame Masque’s disfigured face and took pity on her. She allowed the villain to escape while, interestingly, keeping Tony in the dark regarding knowing his secrets. This was an unexpected conclusion to a notable arc within the run. It seemed hard to stomach that Bethany would let Madame Masque off, but she truly did remain a tragic figure in the Iron Man pantheon.

With the Spy-Master’s thievery foiled and Madame Masque’s plans defeated, everything seemed fine for the heroes. Of course, an old rival was about to re-appear.

 

The Return of Justin Hammer

Given how significant a role Justin Hammer had played in the “Demon in a Bottle” arc, his return was greatly-anticipated.

Iron Man #140 – “The Use of Deadly Force!”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: Bob Layton

Character recovery from the Masques arc continued into the beginning of this issue, as Tony, Bethany, Ling, and James Rhodes relaxed at Tony’s private Caribbean island where they also used his yacht. Elsewhere a cruise ship takeover by the villain Force, last seen in Justin Hammer’s employ during the Sub-Mariner guest appearance arc in issue #120-121, foreshadowed trouble.

With Ling still recovering back on Tony’s island, Force managed to steal Tony’s yacht with Bethany aboard. With Rhodes left injure from the takeover and Justin Hammer having been revealed behind the plot, Tony was left to fend off both Force and Hammer’s men as Iron Man. He was only modestly successful, as Hammer’s men managed to escape in a giant submarine.

A teaser for the next major story arc (“Star Well”) included the entire population of Allentown, Iowa suddenly keeling over dead.

This issue set up what appeared to be another Justin Hammer epic. It was nice to see the ‘civilian’ scenes at the beginning and, while Force wasn’t overly inspired, the pieces were moved into position for something interesting.

Iron Man #141 – “The Caribbean Connection”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

The momentum from the prior issue continued, as Tony took the injured Rhodes back to his island. I had to chuckle that Rhodes was allowed to have beer during his recover. Tony then took the opportunity to modify his Iron Man armor for significant underwater use.

In the meantime aboard Hammer’s submarine, Bethany learned Hammer’s plot, which involved stealing yachts that would be used to smuggle opium.

The Allentown, Iowa subplot was touched upon, with Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. appearing on the scene. Readers would have to wait until the next issue for more information on that thread. Iron Man eventually defeated Force and saved Bethany, but was not able to kill Hammer.

John Romita Jr. returned to the pencil duties with this issue.

This two-part story felt rather short, given the epic nature of the earlier Hammer confrontation. In the end, Hammer was simply trying to smuggle opium and that scheme was not very compelling. That said, Bethany Cabe continued to be well-positioned as the emerging love of Tony’s life. She was a capable and interesting character, so much so that it was apparent why someone of Tony’s stature might be taken by her.

 

Star Well

This outer space adventure contained a surprisingly interesting moral dilemma, as well as compelling action.

Iron Man #142 – “Sky-Die”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

This arc paid off an earlier series of Allentown, Iowa epilogues that had involved the mysterious deaths of everyone in that small town. Tony returned to Stark International to find that Nick Fury had commandeered their analytical lab. Stark updated Tony on the situation in Allentown.

Jonas Hale, a rival of Tony’s from Roxxon Oil, tried to first bribe Tony into disallowing Fury’s investigation and later contracted a sleeper agent with Stark International to use the Jupiter Landing Vehicle to destroy the lab. That series of events led Tony to use his new space armor, whereby he discovered that the microwaves that killed Allentown’s residents had come from the secret Roxxon Oil space station Star Well.

A side thread involved Bethany receiving a letter for ‘Bethany Van Tilberg.’ The arrival of this letter kicked off what would be nearly a year-long tease involving her mysterious past.

Readers might have recalled last seeing the Jupiter Landing Vehicle back in “Iron Man” #116.

Iron Man #143 – “Meter on the Sun!”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

Tony’s timing while discovering the ‘stealth’ Star Well space station was not particularly good, as he found himself caught in a meteor shower. The armored figure ‘Sunturion’ rescued Tony and invited him aboard Star Well, where he met the station’s supervisor – Arthur Dearborn.

Dearborn explained that Star Well was supposed to be a solar radiation storage facility that would revolutionize the solar power industry. Despite the ‘mishap’ that resulted in the devastation of Allentown, Dearborn argued that the breakthrough technology would end up benefiting millions.  This was certainly a compelling argument and the scenario made for a very interesting dilemma. Dearborn wasn’t necessarily a bad guy, but he was perhaps thinking a bit too ‘big picture.’

That debate was interrupted when a Russian satellite attacked Star Well, leading to Sunturion needing to destroy the Soviet facility that was controlling the satellite. The situation was further complicated when Roxxon’s Jonas Hale checked in with Dearborn, spotted Iron Man, and tried to destroy Star Well. While Iron Man prevented a self-destruction, Dearborn later revealed himself to be Sunturion and the two fought over the future of the space station. The resulting fight crippled Star Well and its core fell to the earth

Back down on Earth, Bethany learned from the West German embassy that there was news regarding her previously-believed-dead husband. Readers didn’t learn anything substantive though.

Iron Man #144 – “Sunfall” & “Apocalypse Then”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton & Joe Brozowski

In a reversal of their prior adversary position, Sunturion helped Iron Man stop the crashing of the Star Well station core. They were successful in their efforts, but Sunturion/Dearborn died as a result. That dramatic sequence only took up the first six pages of story in this issue, although certain repercussions to Roxxon Oil would surface in issue #146. It was a swift ending to what had been an otherwise quite compelling story, with an intriguing moral core to it.

The last half of #144 included an ‘origin’ story of sorts, involving James Rhodes being the pilot who apparently rescued Tony Stark soon after the creation of the first Iron Man suit in Vietnam. Joe Brozowski handled the pencils on this particular story.

Rhodes, being a new character as of “Iron Man” #118 had not previously figured in to the origin of Iron Man. However, this story extended his origin such that Rhodes was actually part of Tony’s rescue soon after first using the Iron Man armor to escape his Vietnam capture. After arriving safely in Saigon, Stark offered Rhodes a pilot job, but that offer was declined at the time. Of course, readers knew that eventually Tony and Rhodes were later reunited.

 

Sieges

While not directly an arc, these next four issues focused on three different siege-like situations that Tony encountered.

Iron Man #145 – “Raider’s Rampage”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

While at an engineering convention in Dallas, Texas, Tony and Scott Lang ran into the representatives of many of Stark International’s rivals, such as Roxxon and the Cord Conglomerate. Not long after arriving, the convention was attacked by three armored men called the Raiders. Iron Man and Scott Lang manage to hold off the Raiders until they retreated.

The Raiders reappeared at the convention the next day during an appearance by Iron Man. Tony was more prepared this time and defeated them. Amusingly, the entire situation at the convention was a ploy by Cord’s CEO, Edwin Cord, to win an armored suit contract from S.H.I.E.L.D. That ploy backfired with his arrest.

Iron Man #146 – “Blacklash and the Burning…”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

Following up on the Star Well events, Tony tried unsuccessfully to use damaged pictures to prosecute Roxxon Oil. He also finally catches up with Bethany’s situation, although she’s secretive and evasive, with Tony still being in the dark regarding hints of her deceased husband. Yvette Avril, the French Stark International executive last seen earlier in the run arrived to take a vice president job.

Elsewhere at Stark International, a feud of sorts was emerging between the head of PR, Artie Pithins, and security head Vic Martinelli. Pithins had allowed a photo of Martinelli to be released that led to his engagement due to past mafia ties. Readers learned in the next issue that Martinelli’s real name was Vince Martell and that he’d been in hiding after previously testifying again the mafia.

Martinelli had reason to worry about being discovered, as the revamped villain Blacklash (previously Whiplash, but with some upgrades) was waiting for him at home. Martinelli evaded Blacklash at the home, but the next day Blacklash came after him at Stark International Headquarters. Iron Man then began a vicious battle with Blacklash.

The situation at Stark International looked dire at this issue’s cliffhanger ending. The various buildings on the campus were in flames and Blacklash seemed quite formidable. Martinelli’s background problem was quite amusing, in that his position was so high-profile that it seemed like he’d have eventually been discovered again by the mafia.

Iron Man #147 – “Holocaust at High Noon!”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

Although all seemed nearly lost, Iron Man saved Stark International’s staff by knocking out Blacklash. This allowed time for people to get to safety and also for Yvette Avril to save a group of children that Artie Pithins had taken on a tour of Stark International during the beginning of issue #146. Mrs. Arbogast showed her loyalty by trying to save files before Iron Man rescued her from the burning main office building. Tony managed to put out the fires around the Stark International campus.

When Blacklash regained consciousness, he again attacked Vic Martinelli, but again retreated upon the arrival of a large emergency worker contingent. Martinelli came clean to Tony regarding his past. Finally, Blacklash later tried yet again to kill Martinelli, Iron Man finally defeated him, bringing his unconscious body to the men who had hired him and telling them to leave Martinelli alone. They appeared to agree.

This two-issue mini-arc was exciting throughout, with the odds really seeming to be stacked against Tony. Blacklash was formidable, if a bit sketchy in his approach. At times, he seemed to have the upper hand, but the character was consistently run off by large numbers of civilian forces.

Iron Man #148 – “Siege!”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

After a Stark International plant in the Central American nation of Costa Diablo was raided during a military coup, local executive Ricardo Pruz was taken prisoner. Tony then headed down to the country as Iron Man to free the staff at the plant.

Tony then broke into the presidential palace and learned that Pruz had been working with the coup leader, General Caliguerra. Tony departed, upset at the betrayal of his friend. Pruz was soon killed by Caliguerra, who didn’t want to share power.

The single-issue story had a wicked ending that I couldn’t help but suspect was quite ‘realistic.’ In some ways, the twist at the end reminded me of an old EC-style comic.

 

Doomquest

This short arc was arguably, along with “Demon in the Bottle,” the most famous storyline from this particular run on Iron Man.

Iron Man #149 – “Doomquest”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

Tony fired Stark International executive Arwyn Zurrow after learning that he had made a deal to sell electronics to Doctor Doom’s home country of Latveria.

Furious over not getting the expected delivery, Doom sent an attack vehicle to retrieve them. While successful, the retrieval led to Tony confronting Doom in Latveria as Iron Man.

During that confrontation, Doom’s disgruntled scientist henchman Gert Hauptman activates Doom’s time platform machine. Hauptman was upset with Doom over the death of his brother Gustav in “Fantastic Four” #198. Events ended on a cliffhanger, as Doom and Iron Man were sent into the past and Hauptman destroyed the time machine.

As surprising as it might seem on the surface, a rivalry between Doctor Doom and Iron Man had not been fully exploited by Marvel until this arc. The fact that Doctor Doom’s time platform, a favorite device that dated back to “Fantastic Four” #5, was used only added icing to otherwise intriguing cake. Readers would have to wait until the next issue to experience the time travel adventure that was to follow.

Iron Man #150 – “Knightmare”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

Iron Man and Doctor Doom’s trip through time landed them in King Arthur’s land of Camelot. They were quickly taken into custody by the Knights of the Round Table, with Iron Man and Doom agreeing to a truce in order to find a way back ‘home.’ Although King Arthur was a nice host, Doom ended up forcing a servant to tell him the location of his rival, Morgan Le Fray. Doom then snuck away to join Le Fray’s forces.

Le Fay raised an army of undead solders that Doom then led into battle against King Arthur. Iron Man helped Arthur’s forces drive them away. With the battle complete, Doom and Iron Man make good on their truce by using components from both their armor suits in order to construct a makeshift time machine. This effort was successful in returning them home and their rivalry was left unresolved, with Doom vowing to someday have his revenge.

Not unlike in issue #136, Tony again appeared to cheat on Bethany, this time with a servant girl. Admittedly, Bethany had more or less been avoiding Tony during the prior several issues, so it was not unsurprising that he’d stray from her under those circumstances.

From a story structure standpoint, this kind of story was unique when compared to later comic book eras. In modern comics, an epic adventure of the variety found in issue #150 would never be contained to simply a single issue, even one that was double-sized. This storyline was the critical ‘Last hurrah’ during the Michelinie/Layton/Romita Jr. run, as this storyline would become a fan favorite, leading more than one sequel in later years.

 

End of the Run

With one exception, single-issue stories uncharacteristically dominated the final issues of this run. Most were mediocre, but the conclusion of the Bethany Cabe romance packed a punch.

Iron Man #151 – “G.A.R.D.’s Gauntlet”

Writer: David Michelinie | Artist: Luke McDonnell & Bob Layton

Much of the spotlight of this issue was on Ant Man, as Scott Lang fought a haywire computer defense program inside his lab at Stark International named G.A.R.D. The malfunction occurred from damage sustained to the system during Blacklash’s attack in issues #146-147. Lang was trapped inside a locked-down lab while trying to evade G.A.R.D.’s automated defense measures. Lang shut the system down after managing to shrink as Ant-Man and enter the machine.

Tony’s presence in the story revolved around unraveling Bethany’s disappearance, something that her associate, Ling Macpherson, knew little about that she could share. The answers came to Tony in dramatic fashion at the end of the issue, when he noticed a newspaper headline with Bethany’s picture that announced the capture of an American spy in East Germany.

Luke McDonnell filled in for John Romita Jr. on pencils. McDonnell would later become a regular Iron Man penciller, outside of the Michelinie/Layton work in the later issue #100s.

Iron Man #152 – “Escape from Heaven’s Hand!”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

Tony headed to East Germany, using his ‘stealth’ armor for the first time in a search for Bethany. One important historical note that readers needed to keep in mind with this issue was that it came out during a post-World War II time period when Germany was still not a unified country. East Germany was essentially under Soviet control and not welcoming to the prying eyes of Americans.

Tony’s first stop for information was the secretive Heaven’s Hand mountain facility, but he had to retreat after setting off some of the facility’s alarms. Unbeknownst to Tony, Bethany had learned that the KGB had faked the death of her husband Alex Van Tilberg. After failing to get Alex to provide information via drug-based coercion, the KGB kidnapped Bethany as a means of forcing Alex to reveal the identities of undercover American agents.

When Tony returned to Heaven’s Hand in his normal Iron Man suit, he located Bethany, who finally revealed that she knew that he was Iron Man. The fact that her husband Alex was alive and imprisoned was also related, with Iron Man rescuing him too. Bethany escaped Germany with Alex via an aircraft that James Rhodes had waiting, but Tony was stopped when the Living Laser shot him out of the sky.

Although readers had previously encountered references to Alex, this was the first time that he actually appeared on panel in an issue. His reappearance after previously being believed to be dead certainly meant that complications were afoot for Tony and Bethany’s relationship.

Iron Man #153 – “Light Makes Right!”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

Having been captured at the end of the prior issue, Iron Man found himself tied up in front of a laser canon at the opening of this issue. The Living Laser monologued regarding his reasons for working for the East Germans, during which Iron Man melted his hand bonds.  After breaking free, he battled the Living Laser, the result of the battle destroying a nuclear reactor inside the Heaven’s Hand facility.

Most notable in this issue was the resolution of the Bethany Cabe storyline. She had escaped into West Germany with James Rhodes and her husband Alex. From there, Bethany had convinced Rhodes to fly Alex back to the United States for treatment. When Tony had also returned to the United States, he confronted Bethany about the situation with Alex and she ended up breaking off their relationship. Understandably, she needed distance to sort out her re-emerged marriage.

Bethany’s departure at the end of this issue was gut-wrenching. Given how close the character had come to ‘taming’ Tony Stark, her removal from the series meant a return to the status quo of womanizing Tony. Although that aspect of the character might have been fun for some readers, it often had a feeling of being simply more of the same, rather than providing the real character development that had occurred during the relationship with Bethany.

Iron Man #154 – “The Other Side of Madness!”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr.

The Unicorn, last seen in stasis in “Iron Man” #115, attacked Iron Man over Manhattan. At first, Iron Man didn’t realize who the attacker had been since the initial, errant attack blast had forced Iron Man to save innocent bystanders rather than pursue its source.

Tony didn’t have long to learn the source, as the Unicorn took over Stark International’s docks, where Iron Man later confronted him. It was revealed that Unicorn was mistakenly still following old orders from the Titanium Man, who had been defeated back in issue #135.  Tony had to convince the Unicorn that his ‘master’ had been defeated.

Seemingly despondent by this news and in a trance, the Unicorn walked out into the ocean, determined to find the Titanium Man in Russia. In the process, he seemingly drowned, while Iron Man looked on, not having enough power in his suit to save him.

This issue had a genuinely sad tone that was heartbreaking to read. Unfortunately, the power of this ending was undermined by further research that revealed that the Unicorn did not entirely disappear from the Marvel Universe after this issue.

Although Bob Layton did the cover of this issue, he wasn’t directly involved with the interior, at least not the usual extend with his collaboration with John Romita Jr.

Iron Man #155 – “The Back-Getters!”

Writer: David Michelinie & Bob Layton | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Bob Layton

Much of this issue focused on drug use amongst teens, while mixing in action involving both runaway construction equipment at Stark International and a runaway Merkaya tank at a high school career fair.

This was very much a ‘slice of life’ single issue story. The first half focused on the rebuilding of Stark International’s headquarters and a near-accident involving runaway construction equipment. Readers were also updated with word that Stark International had won control of the Cord Conglomerate and was integrating their data and products.

The main part of the story focused on Stark International’s public relations director Arthur Pithins. Pithins had been cast as a moody tyrant in the past, but he was sympathetic in a story that would focus on his high school son’s problems. Apparently Pithins’ son was a drug courier who had sold ‘bad dope’ that hospitalized several teens. The teens’ friends took revenge by beating Pithins’ son.

Amusingly, there was a return to the writing tactic of using thought balloons to reveal that lesser female characters had a desire to seduce Tony Stark. These throwaway-type gags had popped up in earlier points during the run, but generally disappeared during the peak of Stark’s romance with Bethany Cabe. I’d be curious to know how female readers of the era appreciated these character thought digressions. On the one hand, I could see how Marvel was trying to position Tony Stark as a ‘heartthrob,’ but in hindsight the remarks come off as odd.

Another odd note was how Pithins’ son’s high school was having a career fair. In this early-1980s timeframe, companies were still actively hiring non-college graduates and a career fair of this nature might have been more of a staple.

Iron Man #156 – “The Mauler Mandate”

Writer: David Michelinie | Artist: John Romita Jr. & Pablo Marcos

Given the Stark International acquisition of the Cord Conglomerate in the prior issue, it wasn’t surprising that Scott Lang was tasked with going through crates of their inventory.  In that process, he came across a suit of ‘Mauler’ armor.  This was essentially power armor that had been introduced in Frank Miller’s Daredevil #167 (on which David Michelinie was the credited writer).  A mercenary named Brendan Doyle was hired by Cord CEO Edwin Cord to steal the armor back.  He was successful in getting the armor away from Lang, but ended up in a confrontation with Iron Man.

During the ensuing fight between the Mauler and Iron Man, Rhodes and Doyle both recognized one another from their past days as mercenaries.  Afterwards, Doyle took Rhodes hostage as a means to re-enter Stark International while searching for a Cord Conglomerate data tape that could condemn Edwin Cord.  In the end, Doyle was in a position to shoot Rhodes but can’t follow through, abandoning his agreement with Cord.

Presumably, Edwin Cord’s particularly sensitive data was left exposed, as his overall gambit wasn’t successful.  On a personal note for Tony, the issue included a brief reference to a quite attractive woman named Cindy.  Tony made a thought mention that she was ‘fun’ and readers could presume that she’d been a rebound romance, although it was seemingly nothing serious.

I enjoyed the fact that Michelinie was able to tie this issue in with what become a notable issue of Daredevil after Frank Miller’s popularity soared.  The connection between Rhodes and Doyle could have been compelling, but was somewhat lost in the overall plot.

Iron Man #157 – “Spores”

Writer: Alan Kupperberg & David Michelinie | Artist: Alan Kupperberg

While investigating a power overload at Stark International (caused by a mysterious spore), Tony was swept into space and taken aboard a ship where the spores were also present.  He ended up fighting enlarged versions of the spores, ultimately defeating them by freezing them inside a cryogenic chamber.

Finally, a computer aboard the ship explained why Tony was brought aboard.  He’d been recruited to help capture the dangerous, rogue spores so that the ship could render them helpless.

Although this largely felt like a fill-in issue, David Michelinie was credited as having co-written it with Alan Kupperberg.  This was a very by-the-numbers story though, with a number of logical plot holes.  It was clear by the end of this issue that the Michelinie/Layton/Romita Jr. era had already ended.

 

Conclusions

After reading the full run, I would say that the “Demon in a Bottle” and “Doomquest” storylines were certainly two of the highlights, but there are other notable stories that had not gotten much attention over the years. Most of the truly epic storytelling took place near the beginning, particularly between issues #115-#129.  This portion of the run was full of a number of conspiracies occurring amid Tony’s drinking issue and Bethany Cabe first being introduced.

It was odd to look back and see how relatively short many of the story arcs were within this run. “Demon in the Bottle” was easily the longest, with most other multi-part stories being two or three issues at most. Yet some ongoing story threads, such as those involving Bethany Cabe, would later be focused on to greater degrees.

As stated earlier, labeling “Demon in a Bottle” as its own arc was somewhat misleading.  The traditional eight issues that were associated with that storyline were actually composed of several mini-arcs with the focus on alcoholism only taking center stage in issue #128.

The stories between issues #130-#157 were more hit and miss, but even the misses are not that bad. Keep in mind, I was never much of an Iron Man fan prior to reading this run, but this complete run was full of what were simply good comics. They don’t necessarily feel ‘modern,’ but they had more of a ‘zip’ to them and were ‘edgier’ in some ways than one might expect from late-1970s/early-1980s fare.

While the tone of the Michelinie/Layton/Romita Jr. run was not as dark as Frank Miller’s “Daredevil,” readers would note some similarities, as both runs were coming out at a similar time.  Also, there was what seemed like a definite James Bond influence within the run, particularly in referring the over-the-top, giant-machinery villainy of Bond’s “Moonraker” and “Spy Who Loved Me”-era.

Despite a few single issues that felt as though they were fill-ins – even when the usual creative staff contributed to them – this is a highly-recommended run of issues.

Layton and David Michelinie would return for a second run on “Iron Man” several years later.  That later run would span from #215 (Feb. 1987) to #250 (Dec 1989), but that was another story…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *