Wednesday, December 18, 2013

IRON MAN #125

"THE MONACO PRELUDE!"
Writer/Plot: David Michelinie | Finished Art/Plot: Bob Layton
Pencil Art: John Romita, Jr. | Letters: Joe Rosen | Colors: Ben Sean
Editor: Roger Stern | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: The police make a token attempt to arrest Iron Man before letting him go on the merit of his past service as a superhero. Later, Tony Stark delivers Iron Man's armor to the authorities. Then, after an all-night bender, he sobers up and sets about clearing his alter ego's name.

First, Tony pays a visit to the Avengers and takes a hand-to-hand combat lesson from Captain America. Then, remembering the name "Hammer" from his battle with Whiplash, Melter, and Blizzard, Tony sends Scott "Ant Man" Lang to infiltrate Ryker's Island prison and interrogate Whiplash.

Ant Man reports back with word that Hammer has a headquarters near Monaco, so Tony flies there with Rhodey. Their investigation draws attention from Hammer's agents, and the duo soon find themselves on the run. After escaping from one group of thugs, they are confronted by a second, much larger enemy force.

Continuity Notes: The first footnote in the issue references Iron Man's recent armor malfunctions in issues 118, 120, and 123. The second reminds us that Whiplash name-dropped "Hammer" in #124.

Scott Lang exposits that he is an ex-con to whom Tony gave a job and a second chance. This detail is given no footnote, but I believe it occurred in some Michelinie-written issues of AVENGERS.

Bethany has a small part in this issue, incredulous that the authorities will not arrest Iron Man for the ambassador's murder. Michelinie seems to have pulled back on the idea that she suspects Iron Man and Tony are one and the same (actually he started this an issue or two ago). She now pretty clearly speaks of Iron Man as Stark's employee.

Tony turns his armor over to then-mayor of New York, Ed Koch, in an unusual cameo appearance.

During this issue's check-in with the Avengers, we learn that Iron Man is the current chairman/leader of the team, but in light of his legal troubles, Captain America steps up to assume the chair until his name is cleared. I'm uncertain if this was reflected in AVENGERS issues at the time.


Also, it's explicit during their training sequence that Captain America is unaware of Iron Man's dual identity. I know the Avengers kept their identities secret from one another during their early years together, but I had no idea Stark was still doing so this late in their history! I now wonder when he finally unmasked himself to his teammates.

Tony's drinking problem takes its worst turn yet, as he stays out all night drinking after the assassination, and arrives at Stark International a disheveled mess. He promptly continues his binge that morning. Later, on the way to Monaco, he produces a flask from his pocket and drinks some more.


Upon their arrival in Monaco, Rhodey jokes that Tony should call up Princess Grace to ask where they might find Hammer. Tony promptly does just that, though Grace is not depicted in the issue. Tony and Rhodey then search for Hammer at a beachfront business called Hammer Imports, suggesting the legitimate front for Justin Hammer's criminal empire. It's unclear why a call to the princess of Monaco was required to find a business with Hammer's name clearly attached to it.

My Thoughts: Twenty-four years before Shane Black and Marvel Films brought us a movie in which Tony Stark doffed his armor and relied on his wits to fight the bad guys, David Michelinie and Bob Layton beat them to the punch. I'm pretty sure this sort of story was still a rarity in 1979 -- Iron Man appears in all of five panels across the first three pages of the issue, then it's all Tony, all the time. This sort of thing is par for the course now, but back when it was the exception to the rule, I would call it a daring choice. If I was a kid and this was my first issue of IRON MAN, I'm not sure I would've come back.

But at any rate, the story does an acceptable job of moving the Justin Hammer plot forward. I'm not entirely sure I buy Tony's straw-grasping with regards to Hammer's name, though. His armor malfunctions a few times, culminating in the murder of an innocent man. Tony recalls Whiplash saying that Hammer wants Iron Man left alive, during a battle which, as far as Tony knows, was completely unrelated to the malfunctions. Nonetheless, he decides to search for Hammer.

I suppose it could be taken as a desperate act. He has nothing more to go on. He knows someone named Hammer wanted him alive, and hopes the reason is so he could kill the ambassador. Still though, it's a huge leap to take and it's a little hard to swallow.

The cops simply letting Iron Man go is another item which could draw criticism, but I'm less bothered by that. As the officers note, Iron Man has proved himself time and again as a member of the Avengers and a solo hero. I can see them looking the other way for him. The fact that the higher-ups aren't asking Tony to turn in the man beneath the mask is a bit more problematic, though.

And why is Tony turning his armor over to the mayor of New York, anyway? A foreign diplomat was murdered on U.S. soil! Shouldn't the FBI, CIA, NSA, and SHIELD all be involved at this point? I see what Michelinie and Layton are going for, but the story feels too small in scope to accomplish it.

Even the trip to Monaco, while furthering the "Bondian" approach of recent issues, feels very pedestrian, somehow. Years later, when John Romita Jr. Draws the X-Men in Tokyo and Paris, it feels like they're actually there. The reader is transported with them (this certainly has a lot to do with Chris Claremont's scripting, as well). In this issue, I don't get that sense. I'm being told that Iron Man is in Monaco, but nothing in either the artwork or the script makes me really feel it.

One last thing to say before I finish this already over-long post: Rhodey owns the best piece of dialogue in the issue when, on the last page, he refers to Hammer's men as a "mother-lovin' army". If only he'd been able to work the term "jive turkey" in, as well.

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