In black and white on cheap paper, Essential Iron Man # 5 follows the usual pattern. It contains reprints of Iron Man # 62-75, # 77-87 and Iron-Man Annual # 3. Iron Man # 76 was probably a reprint and that’s why it’s not included. They have the cover which shows Iron Man fighting the Hulk. The issue may have been a victim of the ‘Dreaded Deadline Doom’ as they called it at Marvel in the 70s. I don’t think they ever suffered this under Stan Lee’s control but when the hippie generation of writers and editors took over it was a frequent occurrence.
Issues # 62-81, except # 78, are scripted by Mike Friedrich, formerly a writer at the Dastardly Competition. He does a pretty good job of mixing the combat with personal issues in the mighty Marvel manner. Iron Man has to fight Whiplash, Doctor Spectrum, the Melter, the Mandarin, Sunfire, the Unicorn and the Freak. Then in a grand epic called ‘The Super-Villain War’, he combats the Mandarin, Yellow Claw, Modok, the Mad Thinker and Firebrand. All this is engineered by the Black Lama, Dalai’s evil cousin. Finally, of course, the Black Lama’s secret is revealed, but I won’t spoil it for you. There was a fashion for long story arcs at this time, initiated by Jim Starlin, maybe with his Thanos thing, but it’s hard to avoid an anti-climax when you get to the end.
Friedrich’s scripts were usually enhanced by the attractive pencils of that old pro, George Tuska, who always turns in a competent set of pages and sometimes subtly beautiful ones. Much of ‘The Super-Villain War’ was pencilled by Arvell Jones, a new kid who came out of the Detroit fan scene, following in the footsteps of Rich Buckler. The small inset panels of that school don’t appeal to me but, given his beginner status, he does a reasonably good job.
Len Wein took over the scripting with issues # 82-85 and had a new art team of Herb Trimpe and Marie Severin. Trimpe is a sort of poor man’s Jack Kirby with a few tricks picked up from Steranko but I like his art and, with the right inker, it can be good. John Severin excellently inked some of his Hulk pencils and Marie Severin does similar work here when Iron Man battles the Red Ghost and the Freak. The final two issues are scripted by Bill Mantlo, drawn by George Tuska and feature a villain called Blizzard. He turns out to be someone from Tony Stark’s distant ‘Tales Of Suspense’ past. Many of the new generation of writers in the 70s went back to the old comics and dug out forgotten details to revive and I believe Bill Mantlo was particularly fond of this.
The book closes with a story from Iron Man Annual # 3 in which quirky Steve Gerber mixes up Molecule Man, Man-Thing and Iron Man in the Florida everglades. Quite caption heavy and Gerber strays into metafiction, drawing attention to the work’s status as an artefact when he tells us Molecule Man seems defeated that there are four pages to go so this can’t be the end. Marvel writers, starting with Stan Lee, have often spoken directly to the reader via the captions so it’s not really startling. The art is by our pals, Sal Buscema and Jack Abel, so it’s fine.
There’s no way to pretend this is the ‘Essential Iron Man’ but for fans who want a complete collection, it must be had. By this time, Iron Man was a second-rate title with able creators at the helm but nothing about it to arouse great enthusiasm. That said, it’s perfectly okay, a pleasant, undemanding read and George Tuska’s art is quite pleasing. For the money, it’s not a bad deal.
This review first appeared at https://www.sfcrowsnest.info/