Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Plot/Writer: David Michelinie | Plot/Finished Art: Bob Layton
Pencil Art: John Romita, Jr. | Letters: Joe Rosen | Colors: Bob Sharen
Editor: Jim Salicrup | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Iron Man battles the Living Laser inside the Heaven's Hand complex, while Rhodey ferries Bethany and her injured husband Alex back to the United States. The Laser uses so much power against Iron Man that he begins to overload. He attempts to reconstitute himself before it's too late, but Iron Man stops him and the Laser disperses into particles of light.

Later, back in the U.S., Bethany tells Tony that she will stay with Alex to help him through his rehabilitation. She and Tony part ways, and Tony sheds a tear for the end of their relationship.

Continuity Notes: A footnote tells us that Bethany's and Iron Man's rescue of Alex took place last issue. The Laser then spends a couple pages recapping his recent history: Count Nefaria doubled his power in AVENGERS #164 - 166, but the boost was only temporary. When it wore off, the Laser found that his body now constantly absorbed light, and that he would eventually overload and die. The East Germans offered to help him expel the excess energy by using it to power dormant weapon satellites in Earth's orbit.

The Laser is humanized a bit when Iron Man asks if the thought of betraying his country bothers him and he admits that yes, it somewhat does.

Bethany reveals to Rhodey that Alex is her husband, and Rhodey immediately accuses her of two-timing Tony -- but she still manages to convince him to fly Alex back to the U.S., since he will not be safe in a German hospital.
The Living Laser reveals a new use for his powers -- bending light around himself to turn invisible. Unfortunately for him, Iron Man's sensors see through the trick -- but it's still a pretty nifty idea.

When the Laser tries to reconstitute himself by beaming his excess energy into the satellites, Iron Man makes the difficult decision to stop him, sacrificing the villain's life to keep the satellites non-functional. I can't help thinking most heroes would've found a way to save the Laser -- or least to not play an active part in his demise -- but maybe I'm wrong.

My Thoughts: This issue holds up much better than the last. Maybe Michelinie and Layton weren't burnt out after all, or maybe they just found the strength not to phone in their final collaboration. This is Layton's last issue credited as co-plotter, as well as his final sole inking credit (he shares duties with two others next issue). So for most intents and purposes, this story is a series wrap on Bob Layton, and on the Michelinie/Layton partnership.

They came aboard with issue #116, the November 1978 installment. Now, the issue dated December 1981, just a month over three years later, their run on IRON MAN is over. It's fitting, I guess, that their very first issue introduced Bethany Cabe, and their final issue writes her out. She was a fun addition to the cast, but as I noted last issue, it seems as if, in the twilight of their run, they've run out of ideas for her. I believe Denny O'Neil brings her back during his term on the title, but, to my knowledge, Michelinie and Layton would never touch the character again, in any of their return engagements on the "real" IRON MAN. To them, her story is done.

(Michelinie and Layton would, however, bring Bethany back as Tony's wife in the alternate future of IRON MAN: THE END, creating an interesting question: if they believe she's served her purpose in the mainstream universe, why make her Tony's wife? It would seem to imply that as far as they're concerned, she and Tony are meant for one another, but as long as Iron Man's serialized adventures continue in the "real world", they will never find that happiness as a couple.)

Layton's other, and perhaps larger, contribution to the Iron Man mythos is the specialty armor suits. Some like 'em, some don't, but it's generally agreed that it was Layton's idea and Layton's alone to provide Iron Man with space armor and stealth armor (and, years later, undersea armor). I tend to believe these suits are pretty cool when used sparingly. Iron Man's standard armor should be able to handle most any atmosphere, with the specialty suits used only under extreme circumstances.

So, thanks for the memories, Bob. It was a great ride. Let's see how David fares without you for the next four issues.

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