Monday, December 2, 2013

IRON MAN #120

”THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA PRINCE!"
Words/Plot: David Michelinie | Finished Art/Plot: Bob Layton
Pencil Art: John Romita Jr. | Letters: John Costanza | Colors: Ben Sean
Editor: Roger Stern | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Tony Stark orders his fourth martini on the flight home from Paris, but the drink is interrupted when a flying tank strikes the plane, ripping a wing off. Stark changes to Iron Man and guides the aircraft safely to a water landing.

After the passengers are rescued by a U.S. special forces unit which was in the area for maneuvers, Iron Man speaks with the unit's commanding officer and learns that the tank was hurled by Namor, the Sub-Mariner. According to the special forces captain, the U.S. has been dumping radioactive waste on a nearby island for years, but recently an elderly hermit named Hiram Dobbs has taken up residence there. Namor hates Dobbs and will not allow the U.S. forces to remove him from the island, leading to the conflict which resulted in the chucked tank.

Iron Man goes to confront Namor and, still belligerent after his four drinks, starts a fight. The U.S. officers discuss some ulterior motive for their presence in the area, and hope that Iron Man and Namor will finish each other off. Meanwhile, the battle moves underwater, where Iron Man manages to blast Namor away from him. As he regroups, however, our hero's armor malfunctions, his eye and mouth slits opening, and he begins to drown.

Continuity Notes: Footnotes recap the events of the past three issues, including the fight with Spymaster, the incident aboard the Helicarrier, and SHIELD's hostile takeover attempt. These events have occurred over the "past few days". An additional footnote helpfully informs us that Namor was most recently seen in DOCTOR STRANGE #32.

Tony's heavy drinking in this issue marks the official start (as in, this is the first issue in the trade paperback collection) of the classic "Demon in a Bottle" storyline.


Jim Rhodes, Bethany Cabe, and Mrs. Arbogast all make another appearance, in a brief scene where Arbogast informs Rhodey that Stark's plane has crashed. Rhodey departs to find Tony, and Bethany, who has dropped in unannounced, tags along. Rhodey also lets drop the fact that (even though readers had never seen him prior to issue #118) He's "...been with [Tony] ever since 'Nam."

Lastly, this issue brings us the first appearance of Justin Hammer, who is responsible for Iron Man's armor malfunctions, both here and two issues ago. His reason for these "tests" will be revealed in upcoming issues. Hammer remains a recurring rival for Iron Man, and a pet character of Michelinie's, for years to come.
Here, as we will soon learn, he is a cultured British tycoon with sinister motives, pretty obviously modeled visually after Peter Cushing -- a far cry from his portrayal as a smarmy American arms manufacturer and contemporary of Stark's in IRON MAN 2.

My Thoughts: As the first chapter of "Demon in a Bottle", this issue, along with the next seven, is one of the few from the original Michelinie/Layton run that I've read. Of course, in 1979 Michelinie and Layton weren't treating this as the first chapter of a trade paperback collection. It was just another monthly issue, and as such, Tony's drinking is not a major component of the story.

I'm uncertain how many times prior to this issue Iron Man and the Sub-Mariner had clashed, but it's an intriguing match-up. Namor was pretty definitively considered a good guy by this point, but his well-known arrogance and hot temper make the fight easy to swallow, especially when mixed with Iron Man's martini-fueled impetuousness. Sometimes, classic "misunderstanding battles" come across as forced, but in this case it makes perfect sense.


Though the suspicious special forces are handled about as ham-handedly as can be, their motive for wanting the hermit off the island is a decent mystery. Hopefully it pays off (it's been so long that I honestly don't recall what happens next). In any event, however, the most intriguing aspect of this issue is the arrival, with no fanfare, of Justin Hammer. I do remember what he's up to, and it's nasty. His inauspicious debut here is but a small stepping stone to a much larger story.

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