Editor’s Note: With Iron Man 3 in theaters this week I could think of no better time for a guest blog from my old pal Chris Ulm, who is a fine writer, a giant nerd, and the biggest Iron Man geek I know. Take it away, Ulm!
Iron Fan: A Think Piece About Brotherly Warfare, Armored Noses and Atomic Roller Skates
As I write this, we are exactly seven days away from Iron Man 3 hitting the big screen. Despite my inappropriate level of disappointment with the various trailers that have been released so far, I will be first in line. Why?
Because I really have no choice. See, the …
… has haunted me since the fateful day that I saw issue #47 on the racks at the slightly disreputable Sweet Liquor store in Culver City, CA:
My father reluctantly bought the tattered and beat up issue (in those pre-comic book store days, all of the comics I bought were characterized by embedded dents and folds from being pressed into wire racks and fondled by filthy urchins such as yours truly). I was instantly enthralled.
Entitled “Why Must There Be An Iron Man,” this re-telling of Iron Man’s origin was written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Barry Windsor Smith. The story absolutely captivated me and turned me into a comic book nut. Thomas did a masterful job of recapping Tony Stark’s ill-fated journey into Vietnam, his subsequent ambush and race against the clock to build a weapon of vengeance with the help of kindly Dr. Yinsen. As I breathlessly read the issue, the first nine years of continuity exploded into my brain. I learned about Iron Man’s friends, lovers and enemies. About the Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D., the rogues gallery — all the sturm und drang typical of Silver age Marvel under Stan Lee and Roy Thomas.
The story was told with economy typical of Thomas’ work. It probably helped immensely that In 1972, Iron Man has only been around for nine years and the Marvel Universe was only a tad older. To put it in perspective, Hollywood brought Marvel’s Spider-Man to the screen ten years ago, and the comic book Marvel Universe is now over 50 years old. Back then, ol Shellhead’s back story felt both infinite and containable to my young mind.
Set as a series of flashbacks at a funeral, Barry’s art knocked me out. I loved the different incarnations of Iron Man and the sense of progress that was held within the strip. Much later, I would have the privilege of co-creating Rune with Barry during my long tenure as Malibu Comics Editor-In-Chief.
After consuming this issue, Iron Man instantly became my favorite character of all time. I knew it in my guts — but I couldn’t have told you why — at least not then.
Iron Man was born the same year I was — 1963. He debuted in Tales of Suspense #39 and was created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby.
Stan is reported to have wanted to create a businessman hero patterned after Howard Hughes (in Hughes’ glory days). Lee wanted to create a rich industrialist, a munitions maker, that would be exactly the kind of character that the readers would reject.
“… I thought it would be fun to take the kind of character that nobody would like, none of our readers would like, and shove him down their throats and make them like him,” Lee explained.
Which was actually very true. Tony Stark was pretty damn unlikeable but his creation was awesome. Iron Man was instantly more captivating to me than any of the other Marvel pantheon.
I admired Captain America. A lot. As a young pre-teen, I found that green trash can lids made excellent Adamantium shields and my brother Eric made an equally excellent Red Skull — it was actually amazing how far trash can lids can be flung with enough determination. So Cap was great. And he was right in Tales Of Suspense next to Iron Man.
And Spider-Man was likeable and funny. Couldn’t get enough of Spidey.
But I didn’t want to BE Cap or Spidey. I liked to read about them. When I read Iron Man, I imagined myself in the role of Tony Stark. It actually helped that Tony was a cipher. Really, Tony was either Reed Richards with a welding helmet, Don Draper with a pimpy mustache or a whiny drunk in need of therapy. Sometimes he was all three in the same issue.
(In fact, my secret shame is that I didn’t like Tony Stark at all until Robert Downey Jr. so brilliantly gave him a personality injection in the first Iron Man movie.)
But I didn’t need to.
In the Silver Age, Cap was a Goody Good, Spidey was a Loser, Thor was a Shakespearean Stiff and Ant Man was … well … ANT MAN.
Tony Stark may have been a giant douche but Iron Man was AWESOME.
Unlike the vast majority of the Marvel Universe, Iron Man was not a radioactive accident or a product of faulty cosmic ray shielding. Nor was he created by the activation of a happenstance X-gene or being born to the right All Father. No, what I loved about Iron Man is that he is the only Silver Age Marvel character that created himself.
(I refuse to count Ant Man).
Iron Man changed all the time. Iron Man had the same advantage over the other heroes that Homo Sapiens had over the rest of the hominids. Now there were some misfires, most notably the nose:
But by a large, Iron Man bootstrapped his abilities by using his brain to build better tools. Repulser Rays? Check! Uni Beams? Check! Jet powered roller skates? Check and check again!
See, if you want to be Batman, you have to take on a lot of emotional baggage. There is no Batman without the death of Bruce’s parents. There is no Batman without the ongoing evil of Gotham City to motivate him. Not true for Iron Man. Stark can be tinkering in the sunlight of Malibu in between assignations with strippers. Even Stark’s problems are all self-created. He’s a drunk. He treats women like dirt and can’t commit. He throws away his money and lets evil corporations buy him out. All his own fault.
I just knew I could have done so much better, given a big slice of genius and inexhaustible resources.
And in a sense, I have, with my very own Iron Man suit. My good friend, a gifted artist and partner in Appy Entertainment— Farzad Varahramyan — was all too aware of my Iron Man fetish and, after my twin daughters were born gifted me with his own interpretation of the Golden Avenger:
Iron Man 3 opens on my birthday. I’ll be there.
Thanks to Chris Ulm for this week’s blog!
NEXT WEDNESDAY: #99 A Secret Wars Apologist
- Iron Man 3 ~ Toys, Electronics and Legos (candoitmom.com)
- ‘Iron Man 3′ Displays Tough Tactics From Tony Stark? [VIDEO] (hothits957.cbslocal.com)
- Audi R8 Stars in Iron Man 3 London Screening, Online Comic Contest (wot.motortrend.com)
- Iron Man 3 (2013) Review (hmzfilm.wordpress.com)
- Where Do I Start With Iron Man? (comicbooked.com)
- Iron Man 3 Is A Disappointing Mess (goodmoviesbadmovies.com)
- Iron Man 3 Contest (cosmiccomicslv.com)
- Don Cheadle Talks Possible ‘War Machine’ Movie Plot (screenrant.com)
Posted on May 1, 2013, in Conspectus and tagged Barry Windsor-Smith, Chris Ulm, Iron Man, Larry Lieber, Roy Thomas, Tony Stark. Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.
Nice write-up Chris and good choice for a guest blogger Paul. This is clearly a very passionate fan of Shellhead!
Obviously in trying to capitalize on some of the juice from the movie opening, I’ve been contemplating my relationship with Iron Man/Tony Stark as of late as well (through the lens of Spider-Man though). Chris, it’s interesting that you mention how even you weren’t a fan of Tony the character until Downey’s transcendent performance. But as a Spidey guy, I’ve always been a lot of stock in the personality of the guy wearing the suit (despite Marvel wanting to kill him off all the time, Peter Parker drew me into the hero). What I’m getting at here is Downey’s performance actually made me go out and seek old Iron Man stories because it inspired me to give the character a chance. I’m glad a did, because I actually find I like a lot of the Iron Man stuff from the 80s/90s (which is when I first got into comics and was initially turned off by the character) than I do some of the other titles I was reading at the time like Cap, Wolverine, etc…
Thanks for the comment, Mark, and I will stand in for Ulm here until/unless he chimes in … I have a lot of Iron Man books in my collection, but they’ve never ranked among my favorites, and I think a lot of that has to do with Tony Stark. I always liked the Iron Man design a great deal but the character never got me very excited — he’s another character (like Captain America) who seemed better in other books, like Avengers, than his own. Plus I loved the way George Perez drew Iron Man, and Perez never had a gig on Iron Man’s own book (that I can recall).
There’s no doubt that Robert Downey Jr. and the movie franchise have sprinkled all sorts of fairy dust on this character. I did pull a couple early 1980’s Iron Man books off the stack last weekend but they didn’t quite thrill me. Maybe after I see the new movie tonight …
Thanks, Mark. Interesting that you’ve been going back to IM of the 80s/90s – that’s where I kinda fell off the bus until the Ultimate incarnations and then the first movie. I’ve since been reading a lot of the runs and there are definitely gems in the mix. I think Stark requires a deft hand and some of the issues were pretty tone deaf. Downey really put it all together in that he fleshed out a one dimensional character while making him both more likable and authentic at the same time.
Once upon a someone gave us the whole Michelinie/Romita/Layton run, and that was good fun as a teen. The Doc Doom team-up is a bronze age classic. We bought the Michelinie/Bright run off the newsrack around that time. In never occurred to us what a jerk Tony might be, maybe due to that one writer’s sympathetic treatment of him. But it’s a good point about his tendency to create his own problems. He needs a talk with Uncle Ben!
Paul, good to see a send-up of the Jormungand battle issue from Simonson’s Thor! If we ever do a round two of greatest single issues, that’s making the cut for sure.
Thanks, Mars, I was happy to link to your scans of Thor #380 in that body of that StashMyComics.com article!
Not sure I’m on the same page with you regarding that Doom/Iron Man team-up. I read those issues last weekend and was all pumped up until … they went back in time to the court of King Arthur? Ehh. I’m an Arthur fan but that was too much cognitive dissonance for me. I did like Doom’s haughty characterization in that arc, though.
I’ll have to poll the Ulm for his opinion of that particular story, because second only to Iron Man in the Ulm’s affections and esteem is … Doom!
You put your finger right on the one thing that bugs me about that team-up, which is: I hate any story that involves throwing merlin and king arthur and all that in with superheroes or time travel. A sequel came out recently and it has an awesome eyeball monster but also more sappy merlin stuff. Still, Doom + Iron Man = Awesome. Their personalities clash and complement in interesting ways, and, well, you can make a time machine if you wire their armor together.
Another problem with that arc (which appeared in Iron Man #149-150, by the way) is that it has a couple superior covers that don’t telegraph the time travel content at all. The covers promise Doom vs. Iron Man … and you get that (a bit), but you also get a lot of Arthurian stuff and Morgan LeFey and etc. and etc. and there’s just no need for that, really, when you have Doom and Shell-Head together to fill up the pages with awesome.
Now, to be fair, time travel is part of Dr. Doom’s DNA, and the text on the cover of issue #150 does reference Arthur, but really … I bet we could name fifty better premises and locations for bringing these characters together. Disappointing.
As a loyal acolyte of His Royal Doomness, I totally dig this arc, one of my favorite Doom stories. I happen to like Arthurian stuff, so this plays into many of my tastes.
I’m an Arthur geek too, but when it comes to comics, Arthur and superheroes have always been two great tastes that don’t taste great together.
Probably time to revisit Camelot 3000 …
Yeah, I have pleasant memories of Camelot 3000. And even of The Knights of Pendragon.
Thanks for reading the guest blog, Mars!
Well said Mr. Ulm. The new movie is getting a lot of good reviews. Wish I could see it today, but I’m not a business mogul of leisure like yourself. 🙂
Yeah, that’s why I’m at work on a Saturday! Glad you liked the blog, Dave!
You bought your first Irom Man in a liquor store? Hilarious.
Yes, Robert Downey jr’s Tony Star was brilliant. He deserved an Oscar for that!
I always found the Iron roller skates hilariously silly.
Nice Farzad Varahramyan Iron Man! He looks ready for the 23rd century!
By the way, I love the Wonder Woman-turner-into-a-mummy image on the side. 🙂
Robert Downey Jr. is very good in that role. Unfortunately the Academy is historically reluctant to offer Oscars for comedic performances, or performances in action/popcorn pictures. Heath Ledger’s Dark Knight Oscar is the outlier, but that was also a dark role in a pretty serious film.
(And that Wonder Woman “Mummy” image is part of my ever-changing Instagram feed … check it out!)
Pingback: Top Ten Captain America Villains | Longbox Graveyard
Pingback: Iron Man Gallery | Longbox Graveyard
Pingback: Longbox Graveyard Podcast: Iron Man 3 | Longbox Graveyard
Pingback: Invincible Iron Man #1 | Longbox Graveyard
Pingback: Beneath The Longbox Bookshelf | Longbox Graveyard
Pingback: The Treehouse | Longbox Graveyard
Pingback: Film Friday: September 2017 | Longbox Graveyard
Pingback: “I” Is For … | Longbox Graveyard