Monday, November 25, 2013

IRON MAN #118

"AT THE MERCY OF MY FOES FRIENDS!"
Script/Plot: David Michelinie | Finished Art/Plot: Bob Layton
Pencil Art: John Byrne | Letters: Irv Watanabe | Colors: Glynis Wein
Editor: Roger Stern | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: After repairing his armor following the previous night's encounter with Spymaster, Tony Stark travels to the SHIELD Helicarrier to attend the NATO/SHIELD defense symposium, and -- having discovered that Spymaster was armed with SHIELD weaponry -- to investigate SHIELD's involvement in Spymaster's attacks.

Aboard the Helicarrier, Tony slips away from his escort and begins to hack SHIELD's computers. This spurs the renegade agents who had hired Spymaster to go after Stark themselves. They flood the Helicarrier with gas, knocking everyone out, then toss Tony out of the craft. Coming around as he plummets earthward, Tony dons his armor and returns to the Helicarrier. He takes out most of the rogue agents, but their leader escapes and takes the unconscious Nick Fury hostage, then orders Iron Man to turn his repulsor rays on himself, or Fury will die.

Continuity Notes: The only footnotes in this story point to last issue's fight with Spymaster.

Mrs. Arbogast and Bethany share a moment.
Bethany Cabe drops in to see Tony before his departure for the symposium, suggesting that they follow up on their brief encounter the night before with a real date.

Guest penciler John Byrne has the distinction of drawing two first appearances this issue, as Michelinie and Layton continue to flesh out the supporting cast: the first is Tony's secretary, Mrs. Arbogast (eventually to be given the surname Bambi), who becomes a fixture at Stark International/Enterprises throughout the eighties.

But more importantly, this issue also gives us the debut of James "Rhodey" Rhodes, Tony's personal pilot. His appearance here is limited to only three panels and one line of dialogue, however, as Tony opts to fly himself to the Helicarrier. Rhodes will of course go on to fill in as Iron Man on multiple occasions before becoming War Machine.


Of note is the fact that, according to John Byrne, no race was specified for Rhodes in the plot, so Byrne asked editor Roger Stern if there was any reason the character couldn't be black. Stern said no, so Byrne drew him with African-American features.

Lastly, as Iron Man confronts the renegade agents, the floodlight housed in his chest spontaneously activates. This is the beginning of a sub-plot which will run through the upcoming "Demon in a Bottle" storyline.


My Thoughts: I suspect that even if you know little or nothing about Iron Man, if you're a comics fan, you've probably seen or heard about this issue. The bit where Tony is dropped from the Helicarrier and forced to change into Iron Man in mid-air is an iconic sequence, inspiring the issue's cover even though the scene lasts for only a page or so. Joss Whedon even tossed a variant of the scene into the AVENGERS motion picture, when Tony is flung from his office tower by Loki.


But sadly, I don't think Michelinie, Byrne, and Layton do the bit justice. The panels depicting Tony's fall are too thin and claustrophobic, when they should really be the opposite. I can't help thinking a half or full page splash would've worked better here. And the thoughts Michelinie puts in our hero's head as he plummets to his doom are so casual and nonchalant that they undermine any sense of threat in the scene.

However, the issue's cliffhanger more than makes up for this shortcoming. The villain telling Iron Man to commit suicide in order to save Fury's life is chilling. I'm sure it's come up elsewhere in fiction -- it must have -- but I'm hard pressed to think of such an instance in anything else I've ever seen or read. Certainly I don't believe I've ever encountered it in a comic before.

Beyond that, this issue serves as a pretty good suspense thriller, though I think it could've used a few more pages to build more of a sense of menace around the rogue SHIELD agents. But this is the era of the 17-page story, when ads accounted for nearly half a comic's length, so extra pages were not easy to come by at the time.

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