Friday, February 8, 2019

Iron Man: Alcoholic -- Part V: Rock Bottom!


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Redemption
Iron Man: Alcoholic
Part V: Rock Bottom!






Prepare yourself, Iron Man fans. If you thought what came before was hard to bear, you may find this one more than you can take. Tony Stark heads down a lonely path as he surrenders to his alcoholism. It does not get more harrowing than this.



At first, Tony drops out of sight for a bit. In issue 174, while Rhodey is doing everything in his power to liberate Stark’s prototype armor from Obadiah at the newly acquired Stane Industries, Tony makes one brief two-page appearance.


IM174 – O’Neil, McDonnell, De La Rosa


Tony awakens in some flophouse or shelter, which is not very clear. And that’s it. His legacy is being fought over by his best friend, his business rival, and Nick Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D. forces and Tony is so hopelessly lost he doesn’t even know where he is.


IM174 – O’Neil, McDonnell, De La Rosa

Worse than that, he doesn’t seem to care.

He doesn’t show up in issue 175 at all, an issue where Rhodey finds the means of destroying the older Iron Man armors before anyone can use them for their own purposes. Tony does make an appearance in issue 176, however. And it appears he is there to learn a lesson.



It begins with this bum defending his cardboard box / home from a gang of young ruffians…


IM176 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

Tony steps in, convincing the gang to take his diamond cufflinks instead of doing the poor fellow any harm.

IM176 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

As a result, Bernie Tolliver offers Tony a pull from his wine bottle…


IM176 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

…and they settle in to share in their misery.


IM176 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

As Iron Man attempts a rather strange method of finding new technology to exploit (which ultimately results in an odd encounter with a inter-dimensional life form), Tony and Bernie bond over shared experiences and the bottle that holds them both prisoners.


IM176 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

Bernie builds them a trashcan fire and warns that rains will soon come. He’s part weatherman due to a war wound acting up whenever there’s too much humidity.


IM176 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

And in the end, that rain does indeed come. Bernie retreats into his box, but is too compassionate to leave Stark passed out on the pavement to get soaked.

IM176 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

Come the next morning, the cardboard box is toast and Bernie moves on, but not before he imparts some words of wisdom to Tony. Seems Bernie understands that Tony has given up on pretty much everything and that’s no way to live.


 IM176 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

Indeed, it appears Tony’s drinking has him headed to a much darker place. Although we don’t learn that until issue number 177.



Rhodey continues making progress on figuring out what a life after Stark Industries means for him. This would be the issue that would cement Rhodey and the Erwin’s desire to start up their own tech company, with a little help from an “Iron Man for Hire” job Rhodey picks up.

But Tony’s situation isn’t bright at all. He’s picked up for being drunk in the park and brought in to a downtown hospital…


 IM177 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

…where this doctor works to detox him before he is released.


 IM177 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

By the end of the issue he has succeeded it sobering Tony up. He also offers some very sobering news. Again, remember that bit about addicts suffering from selective hearing…


IM177 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

All of these cameos and short bits lead us to Tony having a larger role in issue 178, which dropped during the infamous Assistant Editor’s Month.





Mike Carlin allows the first half of the book to run a Bob Harras story about kids pretending to be Avengers, but the latter half is our regularly scheduled team of O’Neil, McDonnell, and Mitchell exploring a tale of “the Tragic Tony Stark” and his adventures on the streets as a drunken bum.


 IM178 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

And this adventure is a very important one. First off, Tony is given a hand out by a passing couple and told to use it to “buy you a pint of somethin’ good, right?” Tony balks at taking the handout, challenging the passer-byes with his former identity. However, he quickly crumples in despair over what has happened to him, the depredations of alcohol, and all he’s lost.


 IM178 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


Enter the two beat cops who dragged Stark to the hospital the night before. They remember him, which leads one of them to encourage Stark to get off the streets while he’s still sober from the detoxing. Tony is in complete denial of where his life has ended up. He comes up with a lame excuse for why he’s in the gutter.


 IM178 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


The dark-haired cop has some great advice for Tony. Let’s see if it registers…


 IM178 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

 
What he’s trying to get Tony to do is pretty much the first step in any addiction recovery program. By admitting you are an alcoholic, you build a foundation for change and also signal you are ready to get help with your addiction. In Alcoholics Anonymous’s famous 12-step program, the entirety of step one is to state “We admit we are powerless over alcohol and that our lives have become unmanageable.”

For an addict this is a difficult and scary step, because registering this admission means they will have to change how they act. Unless they have sunk down to level of having one of those Severe Emotional Events, most addicts won’t take this step. It is amazingly hard for them to even stand up at the beginning of an AA meeting and do the whole “My name is _______ and I’m an alcoholic.”

But this is an important step. Before you can fix a problem, you have to first acknowledge it exists. Let’s see if Tony gets there this issue. He certainly isn’t there now, with his “nervous condition” excuse. He isn’t taking responsibility for his own actions, living in a fantasy of his own creation.

His denial makes the blonde-haired cop upset. So upset that he makes a bet with Tony: stay off the sauce for twelve hours and he’ll give him $50. Tony takes the wager, but he soon discovers that his own mind will betray him with the least little provocation.



 IM178 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

 
Tony tries to call Rhodey for an assist using the quarter the passing couple gave him. He finds Rhodey out of the country, as these events occur alongside Iron Man Annual #6, and this leaves Tony without a cent to his name again. 

It is interesting to note that Stark is in complete denial about losing his fortune. He still sees himself as owning millions, which were possibly all wiped out when Stane took over his company. The effects of drinking his way though the last few weeks has certainly done a number on his ability to remember events.


Tony hasn’t forgotten the address of Vic Martinelli, his old head of security. He drops in on him to ask for a small loan. Vic hands him a twenty and talk turns to Vic’s employment.

IM178 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


Stark’s indignant tone hacks Vic off and he lays into Tony. He is certainly within his rights to do so, as Tony did let him and everyone at Stark Industries down when he climbed into a bottle instead of owning up to responsibly running the company. 


IM178 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


However, kicking Tony at this low point can only feed one impulse…the impulse to retreat from reality back into a bottle.


IM178 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


Stark makes the decision to not give in to that destructive urging. At this point, that is a huge accomplishment. Perhaps Martinelli’s hard words worked better on Tony than kindness. I play up this decision on Tony’s part because at this moment he has money in hand. His entire reason for staying sober is to win the fifty from the cop, but at the moment, he doesn’t need the cash. Because as we’ve seen over the past few issues, for Tony the only thing the cash buys him is booze.

This speaks volumes. Tony is attempting to prove something to the cop and maybe to himself. That he isn’t an alcoholic. That his problem isn’t drinking. However, the longer he goes without a drink, the harder this is becoming. So, he goes into the bar to make a call and reach out to a friend.

 IM178 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


And Mrs. Arbogast lays it straight on him. She even suggests going to Alcoholics Anonymous to help Tony beat his addiction. Tony, of course, denies that’s his problem again, but her final question is something that will work at him through the remaining hours leading up to midnight.

While that nugget of thought is working its way around his noggin, he gets tossed out of the bar because he isn’t buying anything and bumps into someone who will become very important in the rest of this arc. And I don’t mean Ozzie Sanborn and his horrible medical advice.


IM178 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


I mean Gretl. She’s supposed to be shown as pregnant here and near term. If there is one thing the arc kind of messes up on it is that visual is left out. Possibly because the very IDEA of a pregnant woman being shown drinking would cause all kinds of problems for editorial. 


While back before modern medicine, women were encouraged to have  a nip or two during pregnancy to “take the edge off,” Doctors have currently come to the conclusion that drinking while pregnant can cause lasting effects on the developing fetus. The child can come out with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, a developmental issue that causes widespread physical, behavioral, and social problems. Babies with FAS have abnormal sized heads and exhibit a range of mental issues from poor coordination, difficulty with attention, and intellectual disabilities. Life expectancy is also drastically cut short, with most not living beyond their mid-30’s.

Even if the baby doesn’t show physical signs of FAS, there are still a spectrum of disorders that drinking while pregnant can cause. The entire list of Fetal Alcohol Effects is quite large, and most often the results are the child has a much harder time developing and learning.

In short: IF YOU ARE PREGANT, DO NOT DRINK!

It’s not worth the risk to you or your child. As for our story, “unclearly pregnant” Gretl will be shown drinking…a bunch…over the next few issues. Don’t do this at home, kids.

And speaking of drinking, Ozzie invites Tony to join Gretl and himself for a few. Gretl, who seems a bit taken with Stark, even offers to pay. Tony turns them down, which earns him a rebuke.

After which, Tony is left alone with his thoughts. He comes to the very clear conclusion that he has an addiction to alcohol. Trying to delay gratification for even 12 hours is difficult and he realizes the hold the bottle has over him. This is one of two turning points for Tony. This is part of him bottoming out, but it isn’t quite over for him. Even though he realizes he is an alcoholic at this point, he isn’t ready to give up drinking.


 IM178 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


Midnight comes and he rushes back to collect his winnings from the cop. Tony honestly tells the off duty police officer that he gets it now, that alcohol is his problem. He’s met by a frank admission from the officer as well and we fade out of the scene…

IM178 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


Only to pick back up on Tony spending time with his new love interest and drinking partner in issue number 179. 



Of course, I’m speaking of the soon to be ready to pop a kid out Gretl, who is a horrible influence on Tony.

IM179 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


Seems even though he realizes that he has slid into alcoholism, “Tones” doesn’t have the will to fight his way out. He’s a bit further down the slope but not quite to the bottom yet. And when it comes, it will involve Gretl, to be sure.

Oh, and here is where Gretl finds out she’s pregnant…

IM179 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


…and keeps drinking anyway. 

You have NO idea how repulsive I find this.

At no time is it implied that the baby is Tony’s and with the accelerated timeline we are working with, I don’t care to speculate. Months are compressed between issues in this arc and Rhodey’s adventures are no help in determining when this could have happened. We later learn that Stark has been kicked out of his apartment for six months back rent so there is that bit of info, and this happens days before Gretl gives birth, which leads me to hope the kid is someone else’s.

Not that things are going so well for Rhodey, either. Those headaches he’s enduring are getting more frequent and stronger. 

IM179 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

While Rhodey is off fighting both migraines and the Radioactive Man, Tony is finding out that he doesn’t have any money from his personal banker. A personal banker who can’t wait to rub Tony’s broke-ass nose in it once he realizes Tony has no funds.


IM179 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell



All of Tony’s missing millions are orchestrated by Stane, because of course they are. The bald chessmaster is still pulling the strings even when he could really cut Stark a break at this point. All of which has Tony pulling out the cheapest of all crappy wines – ThunderBird, the wine I owe my high school Friday nights to.


 IM179 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


The issue ends with something I’m going to attribute to Tony’s drinking: an admission to Gretl that he loves her. That’s alcohol taking, Tony. I don’t believe for a moment you’ve fallen in true love with someone based upon a mutual addiction. 



 IM179 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell



That next issue blub sounds a bit drastic too. What tragedy could issue 180 hold that would eclipse the tragedy Tony had already undergone? In truth, the big bomb was still a couple of issues away.





Yes, those are the hands of the Mandarin, Iron Man’s most famous villain. A man named after an evil orange. A guy with ten overpowered rings any one of which would make him unstoppable, but when used all together have lead to one defeat after another. I’m not a fan of the Mandarin.

Maybe it’s because I mispronounced his name when I first encounter him. Mandarin, the ethnicity and fruit, sounded so much less grandiose that the handle I hung on him: MAN-dare-EE-N. See how much cooler that is? Marvel lawyers get back with me on switching this out and changing up nearly sixty years of Iron Man history.

Anyway, so Rhodey is busy-busy-busy this issue, literally having his hands full with fighting “ancient Chinese secret” and his head full of acupuncture needles. While Tony…


 IM180 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell



Tony is traveling from penthouse to penthouse, learning he was kicked out of each one for not paying rent for the past six months. Another thing he can lay on Stane’s doorstep, due to Stane tying up all of Stark’s bank accounts.

After he’s kicked to the curb by the doorman, Gretl gets extremely angry. Seems Tony has been promising that they could hold up in one of his apartments and she could have her baby there, which is due in a few days at this point. No…I don’t know how long gestation is in the Marvel Universe and YES, I think this plotline feels a bit rushed. We JUST learned she was pregnant. Now she’s days away from her water breaking.


IM180 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

Gretl runs off and we get a shot of Santa Claus to tell us that it is winter in New York.



 IM180 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

Gretl is so upset that she loses herself in New York’s community of shelters, bars, and soup kitchens. Despite Tony’s best efforts, he appears unable to find her.



 IM180 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

And now enters that other pesky element: New York is under a blizzard warning. Tony, without a cent to his name and no place to stay is stuck looking for the pregnant woman he “loves” and vowed to protect before the storm hits

With Tony searching for Gretl still and Rhodey about to literally hand the Mandarin his own head on a platter, we begin issue 181 with a lot of pathos.


Rhodey narrowly escapes death at the hands of the Mandarin due to the timely arrival of one of his headaches. The Mandarin takes his frustrations out on Radioactive Man. 



 IM181 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

And Tony? Tony is moving from soup kitchen to shelter, seeking out Gretl, while ignoring the warnings that the coming storm will BURY New York in snow up to your waistline. His only thought is to find Gretl. Perhaps she’s become for Tony the thing he as to defend? If we look back at issue 176 and bum Bernie’s advice, there appears to be a thrust to this run of bad luck Tony is having. Well get to that in a bit. Tony, meanwhile is wandering through the rapidly accumulating snow drifts …

IM181 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


…but, she’s closer than he realizes. We find her in the neighborhood bar he is walking past, drinking it up. Gretl clearly has had too much if she’s doubting Tony’s resolve. Also, shouldn’t the bartender refuse to serve a woman so obviously pregnant? 


As Tony continues to search, Jim defeats the Mandarin and the jets back to New York to take a gander at a new problem that just popped up in Central Park. A large hoop shaped object that looks a bit like an arena…
I wonder what that’s all about?

 IM181 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell
Oh, YEAH! Secret Wars, the first series. Forgot about that. 
 
But if Rhodey is off Earth, what will we do for issue number 182?




We will finish Tony’s rock-bottom decent with a tale that crushes your expectations for this arc. That title doesn’t lie either. Tony’s reckoning is at hand. He will finally face the ending his actions have led to and endure a life-altering trauma that will bring him back from the dead.

It begins with him searching the streets for Gretl, still missing. We open on these two beat cops trying to get him to head for a shelter or a flop house or a hotel room or anywhere out of the polar vortex that is currently coating Manhattan in a sea of white.


IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell



But Tony is undeterred, he’s single-minded in his pursuit of Gretl.

 IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell



Well, he is until he realized he’s run out of drink. Then he has a new thought on his boozy single mind.


 IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell



And just because he’s flat broke doesn’t mean he can’t find something to pawn. You know, something he doesn’t really need, like his coat. 


 IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


At least the pawn shop guy tries to give Tony some good advice. We all know he isn’t going to take it though.


Just to prove it in a visual fashion, McDonnell has Tony walk past a hotel offering cheap rooms for the night and into a liquor store. Not only that, you add up the $5 room charge and the $3.50 for the Chablis and Tony should still have enough for both.

 IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


Instead…

 IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

 
He spends it all on one bottle. To answer the store clerk’s question, no. The only party Tony is planning on attending tonight is a “going away party.” For himself. 

 IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


This is the bottom rung folks! Tony is committing suicide by alcohol. He’s going to drink that bottle of 100 proof plus and then take a nice lay-down on some park bench or bus stop then just not wake up. 



 IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


The addiction is so strong that even an Iron Man can’t fight it. Tony needs help, he needs a true friend, someone who can pull him back from this edge he’s swaying around.

Starks’ self-pity and self-loathing are eating him alive. He’s pushing himself over the edge. I wasn’t lying about him needing a hero to save him. But with Rhodey off in some unknown galaxy, Bethany Cabe back with her addict husband, and Jarvis, Mrs. A., Pepper, Happy, and Vic all AWOL…there’s just no one to talk Tony back onto solid ground.

Or is there?


IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


Oh heck no! Gretl certainly isn’t going to give Tony a reason to stop drinking and act responsibly. She’s part of the trap that is keeping Tony from trying to fight his addiction. 

Even if she is going to have her baby. Yeah, and see how quick that was? She announced it four monthly issues ago. Even in REAL time you can’t have a kid that quickly.



 IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


However, her appearance does ignite some of Starks heroism and he begins trying to find a way to get them out of the cold. Sadly, the best he can do is to put them in a doorway, out of the wind.

IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


And as the pair wait for whatever eventual fate will befall them in the middle of the elements, Gretl asks Tony what he is thinking about. The answer is quite surprising…



 IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

 
…as are his feelings about what the armor did. About how it kept him from connecting to others and how it shielded him from physical harm but not emotional or mental anguish. This side of Iron Man is not one I expected. I never saw Tony as weak until this arc, and this is the capper that brought a rationale to all his actions around addiction. Tony’s everyday fight was a lot more complex than just rejecting alcohol. 

And he sees dying as a way to end all of that suffering. It’s not the brave choice, but Tony has no strength left for this battle. He is spent.

 IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

 
And then Gretl’s water breaks…



 IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


…Tony drops the bottle while holding her as she gives birth…
 IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


…but the strain and the toll on Gretl is too much, and she dies in Tony’s arms as they both shelter the baby…



 IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell


…and right here, Tony makes an unbreakable vow to Gretl’s spirit.


 IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

Come the next morning, the police find the pair and begin digging them out of the snow-covered doorway.

 IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

 
And while the baby is doing good, Tony has a less rosy chance of survival.

IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

…and Gretl goes to an unmarked pauper’s grave on the outskirts of the city.

While Tony struggles back to health, Rhodey returns from his Secret Wars experience…

 IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

…complete with some upgraded firepower in the suit courtesy of the Beyonder’s Planet technology. Firepower that is a bit more boom than Rhodey expects.

 IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

That means taking it over to Morley Erwin for an inspection. His explanation isn’t satisfactory, but he does name drop that Tony’s in the hospital, which causes an instant reaction in Rhodey.

 IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

Even if he isn’t on the family list, Rhodey isn’t taking no for an answer. He rushes to his best friend’s bedside, and does some soul searching after seeing the nurse’s noncommittal assessment of Tony’s condition.


 IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

But just like that, Tony Stark is back. I don’t just mean awake, either. I mean Tony has come back to his senses. He’s weathered more storms than just the blizzard. Cradling that infant life against his chest through the cold has led Stark back to the realization that life is precious and not to be wasted in the bottom of some bottle. 

 IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

He’s found his bottom, and although it will take weeks of rehab to get him well enough to leave the hospital, Tony Stark has found his bounce. He’s on his way up. And that means he’s going to stop drinking…


IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

…and that he knows enough to both ask for help and to not take on too many responsibilities. Tony’s road to recovery will be a slow and premeditated one. 

 IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

And as Tony takes his first step back out into the world, we will save that recovery story for our next Crapbox – Tony Stark Ascending!

 IM182 – O’Neil, McDonnell, Mitchell

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