Iron Man comics in 1968 were some of the most influential in how we perceive the character today. He was a superhero who saved everyone he could but had a weakness in his heart that kept him from ever winning easily. He also had a dual life to contend with — he pretended that the man in the suit was his bodyguard, further complicating his adventures. In a brand new Epic Collection entitled Iron Man Epic Collection: The Man Who Killed Tony Stark, we experience the eclectic villains Iron Man fought, as well as the sci-fi sensibilities of his stories.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Iron Man’s nemesis, the Mandarin, has returned and he pushes the Golden Avenger to the breaking point. First, he pits Iron Man against the Incredible Hulk in a battle of the titans that only one will walk away from, and then he tears down Tony Stark after discovering he is Iron Man! It’s an all-time Iron Man classic, and there’s more where that came from. Tony Stark finds himself replaced by his own S.H.I.E.L.D. Life-Model Decoy. And this doppelganger doesn’t just want to take Stark’s place – he wants to take his life. Also featuring the Controller, the Titanium Man, the Crimson Dynamo, an epic throw-down with the Sub-Mariner and the first appearance of Madame Masque.
Why does this matter?
All of these stories are written by the late great Archie Goodwin, who was not only the editor-in-chief at Marvel for a period but helped secure the rights to Star Wars comics long before Disney bought Marvel Comics. His style of writing Invincible Iron Man kept each issue easy to enjoy on its own while he subtly progressed other elements. He’s also joined by George Tuska, who drew the majority of issues collected here.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This is an easy read that’s a bit more modern than the Stan Lee era of comic book stories, even though Lee was editor for this book. Goodwin and Tuska introduce a new villain for Iron Man to thwart almost every issue unless it was a two-parter. Villains like Gladiator, Mandarin, and the Controller offer hallmark battles for Iron Man to take on here. While each issue offered a different flavor of villain to fight, there were real ramifications in each issue. The very first issue involves Tony fighting off a robot made by a jealous fellow scientist. This weakens him to the point where in the next issue he needs Happy Hogan to help him not die and rebuild his suit. Unlucky for them, Happy gets turned into a monster that Tony dubs The Freak, and from there, there’s more battling to be had.
There are also fun sci-fi twists for Tony to deal with throughout the collection. Earlier in the collection Tony is sent three centuries into the future (where they somehow don’t know Tony Stark was Iron Man). He has no suit to fight the enemies back, but soon discovers a relic suit of his in a museum display. Later on in the collection, an ongoing subplot has Tony use an LMD (Life-Model Decoy) to convince enemies he isn’t Iron Man. This later bites Tony in the butt when the LMD becomes sentient and wants to take Tony out and become the one true Iron Man. Never mess with robots, Tony! It’s also worth noting Tony’s health is a real issue at this point in the history of the character. He literally has heart attacks and has to worry about overdoing it or he might die.
The art is very clean and easy on the eyes. It’s not the hyper-detailed work we’ve come to expect these days, but it’s masterful in mixing up layouts and bringing the melodrama. The layouts can at times seem like puzzle pieces, linking the page up like a honeycomb lattice. Tony’s facial expressions are expressed through his mask across only a few emotions, but given we learn in this book Iron Man’s mask is a sort of rubber that hardens, that makes sense.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
The secret identity angle can get a bit tiresome. It can be convoluted how Tony convinces others he’s not Iron Man, or seem unnecessary how he has to suit up in secret when things are blowing up all around him. At one point he has a thin undershirt version of his suit, but that’s not always used. It seems like a handicap that could have been cut loose earlier instead of carrying on.
Is it good?
A classic Iron Man collection with a ton of villains to enjoy and sci-fi storytelling that’s well worth reading. An example of how even in the late 1960s, Iron Man was about as modern as ever.