For those unacquainted with the Epic Collection line, Iron Man Epic Collection: Return of the Ghost is the latest in a line of volumes collecting various stories of Marvel’s heroes. The content within each collection is presented in chronological order, but the volumes are printed out of order, allowing readers to collect a wide array of stories without having to wait for the line to arrive at a particular era.
For its part, Iron Man Epic Collection Return of the Ghost is a collection of work by David Michelinie and Bob Layton with Iron Man. Michelinie and Layton provided some of the most iconic stories in Iron Man’s lengthy history (“Demon in a Bottle” and “Armor Wars”), and it’s nice to see their later work joining the existing collections.
The centerpiece story sees the return of Iron Man’s nemesis, the Ghost, who uses subterfuge and misdirection to exact his revenge. Michelinie and Layton, joined by breakdown artist Jackson “Butch” Guice, do a wonderful job plotting these issues and keeping the reader constantly on edge. Tony’s supporting cast: Rhodey, Marcy Pearson, and Kathy Dare provide ample real-world drama to go with the superheroics, keeping the book entertaining even when Tony Stark isn’t in his armor. Michelinie and Layton handle the twelve issues that make up the bulk of the collection, with Jackson Guice doing the breakdowns on eight of the issues. This gives the book an incredibly consistent aesthetic in comparison to not just today’s current books, but even in other Epic Collections where creative teams shuffled frequently. And even when Guice does drop away, it’s artists like Denys Cowan who fill in, keeping the book’s quality.
The main collection is brilliantly framed by two other entries in Iron Man’s canon. The collection begins with the never-before-reprinted Iron Man: CRASH by Mike Saenz, which has the distinction of being the first computer-generated graphic novel (programmer William Bates assisted with the generation of the graphic novel). The work immediately captures the eyes with its unique visuals — the pixel artwork and otherworldly colors give it a cyper-punk vibe fitting for the futurist hero.
The use of standard capitalization in the lettering also feels a bit futurist as well. Marvel’s Ultimate line of comics would follow that route in its attempt to provide an access point for the “modern” reader, and so it’s kind of cool that this was an idea, even in 1988.
It helps that the story is also a great success — I’m a bit surprised Marvel’s never elected to reprint this before. Saenz’s take on Tony Stark is a calculating man, always two steps ahead of everyone else in the game. Without getting into spoilers, Tony ultimately finds himself outsmarted, but he still has a sporting respect for the individual that pulls it off.
Closing out the volume are a series of Marvel Fanfare issues by Ken Steacy. Working with writer Roger McKenzie, these issues see Iron Man face off with Doctor Octopus and Doctor Doom. One of the great appeals of the Marvel Universe is seeing heroes face off against villains outside their own rogues gallery, and that is no different here. Steacy’s artwork has a style unlike anything else in the volume, making it a great choice for the closing act.
If there is one place where the Iron Man Epic Collection: Return of the Ghost falls flat, it’s in the supplemental materials. The Epic Collection line is really hit and miss in terms of what extra material gets provided, and unfortunately this volume falls on the underwhelming side. There are beautiful pinups by Bob Layton and Ken Steacy that came from several Marvel Fanfare issues, along with smaller images of the original cover art by Jackson Guice and Layton. An afterword by Marvel editor Ralph Macchio helps provide some context for the stories in the volume. Perhaps it’s greedy to want more, but I personally prefer when the supplemental materials provide more insight into the creation of the work.
Is it good?
David Michelinie and Bob Layton are the geniuses behind some of Iron Man’s most famous stories. While Iron Man Epic Collection: Return of the Ghost lacks stories with the renown of “Demon in a Bottle” or “Armor Wars,” the tales are brilliantly crafted and offer their own surprises and innovations. The inclusion of Mike Saenz’s groundbreaking Iron Man: CRASH graphic novel gets the collection started in dramatic fashion. While the small amount of supplemental materials is a disappointment, Iron Man Epic Collection: Return of the Ghost is a must have for Shell-Head lovers and the inclusion of CRASH makes it well worth looking into for anyone interested in the medium’s experimentation and evolution.