‘Essential Iron Man Volume # 4’ presents us with Iron Man # 39-61, featuring the golden avenger and a lot of villains, including some oddities like the White Dragon, Slasher, Demetrius and Soulfather. Importantly, it also features the very first appearance of Thanos of Titan, who went on to big things. The first five issues are scripted by Gerry Conway in his verbose period. Wordy captions feature the captivating prose of a young would-be novelist over-writing for all he’s worth. Added to this are lots of thought balloons in which characters agonise over everything. Do you think of yourself in the third person when you think, reader? Do you ask yourself lots of questions? (Do you, Eamonn? Do you?!) No, I don’t! Conway’s scripting always had these tendencies though I think he got better over time. Stan Lee’s captions seldom went beyond ‘Meanwhile…’ or ‘Later…’ partly because he knew that this was better, probably also due to a lack of time. He had a lot of comics to write.
To be fair, the plots are quite good but there are gaps. The White Dragon belongs to some larger organisation called the Council Of Nine but we never hear of them again after he’s defeated. Other villains are pawns of a man called Kline but he, apparently, gets killed off in Daredevil # 84, so we never hear of him again neither! Cross-over stories like this, spanning more than one title, are generally resolved with a team-up of the heroes involved and the ‘Essential’ volumes usually print all episodes of the cross-over even if they are not those of the character on the cover. Not this time. I don’t know why.
Mike Friedrich took over the scripting with issue # 45, after a one-shot in # 44 by Robert Kanigher, an oddity because he usually worked for the Decent Competition. Friedrich is not as caption happy as Conway but, in his early issues, he either has trouble with continuity or plays cheap tricks with cliff-hanger endings. Issue # 45 concludes with an angry crowd of students chucking rocks at Iron Man and issue # 46 opens with a Daily Bugle report on what happened! The whole cliff-hanger crisis ending of one episode is simply dispensed with and next time we see him our hero is cuddling his girl-friend, Marianne. Then, at the end of issue # 50, Iron Man is stood over a vat of deadly chemicals with his boot jets not working, dramatic because his girl-friend Marianne has had a vision of him plunging jetless into that very vat. The Cyborg-Sinister is approaching the factory and we infer that the crisis is imminent. Issue # 51 starts with Iron Man supervising a rocket launch. The vat and villain episode is delayed. The Cyborg-Sinister, by the way, was evolved from the Super-Adaptoid by an alien on the sub-atomic world of Bast where they tend to talk backwards. Tyrr, the villain, speaks of his Domination-Royal and his cousin tells him he has ’crossed the line uncrossable’.
Friedrich makes no further errors of this sort and the plots get more interesting in the latter half of the book. These yarns are from the early seventies, so concerns such as women’s rights are raised. The attitude of ‘Happy’ Hogan to his wife ‘Pepper’ Potts having a job seems stone age now but this was forty years ago. There’s a sort of intermission in which Jim Starlin and Steve Gerber do a couple of issues. Starlin began his Thanos epic in the pages of ‘Iron Man’ when shellhead met Drax the Destroyer, the Blood Brothers and Thanos himself. Steve Gerber does a very Gerber-esque yarn about a mad magician and starts a story featuring the Mandarin and the Unicorn.
So the stories are a bit hit and miss but get better. The book is notable for the art, mostly by George Tuska, who is not a spectacular penciller and those used to the more stylised and dramatic work of later comics, might underestimate him. Don’t! He tells the story very well, the figures are in proportion and the backgrounds minimal but sufficient. He’s an excellent artist. Vince Colletta’s inking, often lambasted, seems to do him justice here. Oddly, as the stories get better in the latter half of the book, the art gets a bit worse. This might be due to the inking of Mike Esposito, never my favourite on anyone.
With the films of this hero making big bucks at the box office, some might be interested to catch up with the original adventures. ‘Essential Iron Man Volume # 4’ is not the best place to start, not because it’s bad – it’s okay – but because it’s quite far along Tony Stark’s story. However, I can certainly recommend volumes one, two and three of the series which feature great work by Stan Lee, Artie Simek, Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Gene Colan and George Tuska. I’ve read them all, I just haven’t got round to writing the reviews yet. On the sub-atomic world of Bast, they would call me the Slacker-Irredeemable.
This review first appeared at https://www.sfcrowsnest.info/