Monday, January 28, 2019

Iron Man: Alcoholic -- Part III: The Destruction of Tony Stark!

Super Blog Team-Up
Iron Man: Alcoholic
Part III: The Destruction of Tony Stark!

"The Empty Shell”
Writer – Denny O’Neil
Pencils – Luke McConnell
Inker – Steve Mitchell
Letterer – Rick Parker
Colorist – Bob Sharen
Editor – Mark Gruenwald
Editor-in-Chief – Jim Shooter
February 1982

We left off with Tony Stark barely hanging on to his sobriety.

Obadiah Stane has managed to shake our hero’s control over himself. Through a carefully arranged gauntlet that denied Tony rest for the past week, Stane orchestrated a series of trials that battered Tony’s body, destroyed his current suit of high-tech armor, and nearly killed him numerous times. Now Stark faces the loss of his company to Stane through dirty business dealings. And to make matter’s worse, Stark’s truest friend, James Rhodes, is missing and assumed dead.

In an effort to extinguish whatever spark of resistance might still remain in Tony, Stane has left a bottle of alcohol in his private residence. If Stark drinks it, he is surely lost, for he is so close to allowing the depression to swallow him that even a single sip will push him over the edge.

Stark proved true the Alcoholics Anonymous’s “The Big Book” adage of “once you are an alcoholic, you are always an alcoholic.” Even a casual drink would lead to excessive drinking in an addictive manner.

Tony reaches for the bottle…

….and feels the temptation stronger than it has ever been before…

…yet still he finds the resolve to resist it.

However, this last bit of resistance is coming from an exhausted Stark, who is in many ways as empty as the Iron Man armor when he isn’t in it. He’s been hollowed out by Stane’s unrelenting attacks and mental torment. Even a night’s sleep doesn’t fully restore him, as Mrs. Arbogast points out.

A second sign of how Tony isn’t himself comes as Vic Martinelli, the head of Stark’s security, rightly suggests that Tony’s physical and mental condition have deteriorated to such a level that he should seek out some help. 

And unlike issue 128, Tony’s ego sidesteps his logic this time. He says no. Stark denies that he needs help even as things unravel further around him. Destroying this social support system is what dooms Tony. Had he reached out to Bethany or Jarvis, or had he been able to lean on Rhodey for support, Stane’s temptation might have failed.

Instead he travels to the conference alone and ends up trying to rely on his armor and his persona of being Iron Man for strength. He is putting his faith in all the wrong things, even though that picture of Indries gives me hope that he might reach out to her at least.

And he does, but he hesitates in asking her for help. Instead of opening up to Indries, Tony locks himself in his armor and trusts that he’ll be able to handle the situation. He sheepishly admits to loving her, which seems premature for someone he has known for less that two weeks, comic book time. If there is one weak story element in the arc it is that Tony becomes emotionally dependent on Idries in such a short time. Perhaps we should look upon this as another sign of Stane’s weakening of Tony’s resolve. That he is at a low point and anyone around him grows in importance relative to his situation.

It is Stane that is pulling the strings at this point in other ways, so perhaps. The villain brings out a second pair of his Knight and Bishop henchmen, causing mayhem for Stark and a group riding a sky gondola.

Iron Man saves the passengers while defeating the pair of attackers, who seem versed in how their predecessors were defeated. Meanwhile Stane is playing around with the minds of the big business partners who will soon be locking Stark Industries out of all dealings in European technical markets. Scenes such as this only show the depths of Stane’s depravity and insanity.

After finishing off the last henchman, Stark arrives to the meeting and watches as Stane proves his power of the consortium. No amount of reasoning by Stark will work on those who are being mind controlled.

But even then, Stane doesn’t try to kill Tony. What Stane wants is to win against him…

…and that means driving him into utter and complete ruin. Sadly as Stark wanders back to his hotel to gather his things, Stane’s influence is breaking though Tony’s willpower. The temptation of curling up in a bottle gains strength. 

In happier news, Rhodey has regained consciousness and freedom, although he’s still in Scotland and being pursued by Stane’s gun-toting henchmen.

Stark jets back to his headquarters seeking Indries. He finds her in his private office suite, although Mrs. Arbogast seems quite unwelcoming of the young gold digger. I find this the most appropriate thing in the book, how Mrs. A. treats the two-week old relationship between the pair in a very realistic manner, not seeing why Stark is investing so much in the woman.

If only Tony hadn’t been setup by Stane to fall for her in his moment of weakness. But that is exactly what Stane has done, and Indries plays her part up to the hilt.

Her rejection of his affections is what pushes him over the line…

…and back into the bottom of a bottle. This is the turning point for Tony Stark.

With the next issue we throw in Machine Man, a Jack Kirby invention, who shows up at Stark Industries thinking Iron Man is a robot kinsman. He is looking for knowledge and companionship, but all he finds is combat and destruction. This ends up fortuitous for Stane however, as today marks the culmination of four years and several million dollars research that has to go out tomorrow. Research that will depend on a drunken Tony Stark.

First he doesn’t arrive at the lab on time, and then he mistakes Machine Man for one of Stane’s chess-based hench-people.

Which means he suits up before going out to meet the living computer, however he’s so drunk that he has a hard time doing even that.

The pair confront each other, although for Machine Man it is less of a confrontation than it is a friendly greeting. Thinking this is another Stane trick to throw him off guard, Iron Man lurches to the attack, missing by a mile but horrifying Mrs. A.

Machine Man thinks Tony is some kind of robot that is broken and a danger, which means the battle is joined. 

Meanwhile a continent away, Rhodey knocks out the guards who are minding the Stark jet left in Scotland and makes off with it. He starts his fateful journey back to Stark Industries, while we turn back to Tony’s battle with Machine Man.

A battle that takes them right through the lab where the pair of scientists have been waiting for Tony to show. And their path destroys four years and $80 million in research as if it were tissue paper. This will write the end to Stark Industries: a drunken brawl that could have been avoided had Tony been sober.

In the end, Machine Man shuts down Tony’s armor and then realizes he’s made a mistake. He flies off leaving Stark as Iron Man to rush back to his lab, the details of the conflict already hazy in his alcohol addled brain.

He abdicates his responsibilities and rushes out of Stark Industries as quick as he can. Lives and careers are being ruined, but Stark is only looking for that next drink. Martinelli even has some cross words about Tony to the young technician (we’ll be seeing more of him later).

But Tony couldn’t care less. 

His drive at this point is the next drink and nothing else matters to him.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Iron Man: Alcoholic -- Part II: The Gauntlet!

Super Blog Team-Up
Iron Man: Alcoholic
Part II: The Gauntlet!

Tony Stark’s alcoholism became a background element in all of the Iron Man stories that followed. Michelinie and co-plotter Layton placed Tony in situations where he normally would have a drink and then went out of their way to show that Tony was still on the wagon. Including moments like this one with Nick Fury.

IM129 – Michelinie, Layton

The able pair of creators took pains to reference the toll both Tony’s lapse in judgement caused and how the subsequent public sentiment at the loss of life impacted Tony.

IM134 – Michelinie, Bingham, Layton

And since Layton had input on both sides of the storytelling of the book, you started to see things like this cleverly drawn Jerry Bingham visual fake-out bit where Tony looks to be aiming for a drink…

IM134 – Michelinie, Bingham, Layton

…when instead he is phoning a friend for support. Alcoholics do NOT have to go it alone. In fact, the support of family and friends is vital to their continued recovery. It is a struggle that never ends, and Stark finds the world he inhabits filled with daily choices that test his resolve.

IM134 – Michelinie, Bingham, Layton

But he continues to see the bigger picture and understand that a sober Iron Man can better handle what life throws at him than a drunk Tony Stark.

After an attack by the Titanium Man in New York City, things even start to look up for Iron Man, public relations-wise. All of this courtesy of Tony avoiding alcohol and being aware that Iron Man is always “on duty.”

IM135 – Michelinie, Bingham, Layton

One of those choices is picking my favorite Waco, Texas soda as Iron Man’s preferred brand of soft drink. I concur with this important decision.

 IM135 – Michelinie, Bingham, Layton

So, Iron Man gets back to serious super-heroing. There are nods to his having to watch himself, but the temptation of alcohol seems to finally be under control and not the center of all Tony does. He is winning the battle, one day at a time, just like heroes do.

IM147 – Michelinie, Romita, Jr, Layton

Heroes even deal with battles when they have to face them alone. You see, Bethany’s husband Alex’s accident ended up not being fatal. Alex turned up during this arc, leading Bethany to have to choose between the man she married and the man she loves.

Unfortunately for Tony, Bethany feels an obligation to stand by her husband as he goes through recovery, something she failed to do before.

IM153 – Michelinie, Romita, Jr, Layton

More than any other single event, the return of Bethany’s husband is the one thing that will tip the scales of Tony’s sobriety and cause the destruction of Iron Man.

The issues leading to Tony’s downfall have been bound in a trade in Marvel’s Epic Collection line called The Enemy Within and while I feel it only tells the beginning of a much larger and wider narrative, I still think it is worth picking up for the full color art and the wonderful stories by Denny O’Neil and Luke McDonnel (with help from Mike Vosburg On issue 162)

The next phase of Iron Man’s life begins with an all-out assault on Tony Stark in both his public and private life. A new mysterious adversary challenges him to a deadly game of chess. The prize at stake is nothing less than Stark Industries itself and the complete and utter destruction of Tony Stark. And the name of this adversary should be familiar to most of you.

It’s Obadiah Stane.

Not, of course, THIS Obadiah Stane.

No, no! it’s THIS Obadiah Stane.

In the comics, Stane isn’t Stark’s confidant and CEO / business partner. Stane is a lethal and dangerous business adversary. He’s a chess master who strives to win at all costs. Ruthless, driven, and quite, quite mad, Stane sets up a gauntlet that will push Tony in ways that will force him to bend beyond the point of breaking. And Stane appears to know all of Tony’s and Iron Man’s weaknesses.

For an Iron Man fan, this is a brutal, punishing arc.

The real action starts off in IM162, an issue close to three years since Tony was revealed to have a drinking problem.

Tony’s industrial complex is attacked by two remote controlled vintage aircraft, a bomber and a fighter. They destroy the campus’s signature arch and put the scare into his workforce. Luckily, Iron Man is on hand to stop their rampage.

Workers quickly repair the damage to Stark's signature arch structure as Stark meets with an old buddy who has a very ugly design for some newfangled AM/FM radio headphones. No one who owns an iPod will understand what 80’s kids had to do to listen to songs in stereo.

Then odd occurrences start to crop up. People not acting themselves, a valued technician drives his car into a tree, Tony’s beloved secretary tries to murder him. Even in the midst of these upsets, Tony continues to keep his cool and his sobriety intact.

Only after a near fatal attack by passengers wearing that funky radio headset does it dawn on Stark who is behind this run of bad luck and damage.

Stark’s buddy isn’t acting alone. He is the pawn of a criminal mastermind who has wired all of Tony’s workers to go “boom” at some unseen signal occurring in just a few minutes. Using his quick wits, Tony realizes the arch repair was designed to hide the mind control transmitter and blasts it before his workers can do each other or his campus too much damage.

Unfortunately, the cad behind the plot issues a mental command that causes Ainslee to kill himself before Stark can uncover the big bad’s identity. An identity I’ve already disclosed as Stane. 

Readers didn’t have long to wait for the next attack to come as the very next issue featured Stark under fire by another of Stane’s bad guys. This started a theme as the next three villains were decked out like board pieces from a chess game. Issue 163 had Iron Man’s armor taking a pounding by the Knight and his highly maneuverable steed.

But before taking off to pursue the leads left by Stane’s sloppy plotting and leftover explosives, Iron Man saves this young lady named Indries Moomji. She was nearly crushed by his damaged monorail track. Indries becomes Stark’s next love interest, and that’s not as coincidental a thing as it might seem.

In the middle of Stark in Iron Man armor trying to rattle some answers out of Stane’s bomber buddy in New Mexico, the Knight shows up. He batters Iron Man around quite a bit, beginning the first in a series of adversaries that don’t allow Tony to repair suit damage before the next attack is upon him.

Eventually Stark uses the explosives stored by his quarry to throw the Knight off both his guard and his rocket powered steed.

We end with Stane, still hidden in shadow, giving orders to his next playing piece to remove the captured knight from the board and then go after Stark himself.

It took no longer than one month newsstand time for the next attacker to strike. The very next issue, IM164, had Tony, Rhody, and Indries jet from New Mexico to back to New York and then on to Scotland, chasing down the last of the clues as to who would attack Stark International. They are met by the Laird of Travail and proceed to stay at his haunted-looking ruined castle. 

While investigating the environs as Iron Man looking for clues, Tony encounters the Bishop. And while the old man shouldn’t give Stark too many problems, Tony finds himself unable to bring his full power to bear on the flying cleric. The Bishop has no trouble unloading on the armored avenger, however.

Note Tony now sports non-working repulsors and scrambled gyros. Stark finally realizes the Bishop’s hat is his Achilles heel. Electronics in his chapeau scramble’s a person’s ability to think straight. Once Iron Man uses a thrown rock to knock the Bishop's cap off, it’s a simple matter to take the his fancy energy stick away from him. Or take him away from the stick, however you’d like to phrase that.

But Tony isn’t out of the woods yet. Because the Laird of Travail is actually Stane’s third piece to play against him. He is Stane’s Castle. What that means is, he’s abducted Rhodey, sicced poisoned spiders on him, and next issue the clock will be ticking on whether or not Tony gets to his friend in time to save his life.

And that’s where we begin issue 165, Meltdown! 

After Stane’s Rook uses a distraction to disappear from the room, Stark hastens to find his friend. Following the cable attached to the TV in search of a camera feed, he’s first accosted by a huge stone block dropped from above,…

…then finds himself strapped to a door that acts like a medieval torture rack, trying stretch him out like taffy,…

…and lastly stuck in a room that quickly fills with corrosive gasses strong enough to slag his high-tech armor. He escapes each one of these traps, but they cost him time and his precious armor. By the time he does locate Rhodey, he has little choice but to rush him to the local doctor’s.

Luckily for Tony, the Laird is still there when he returns to Glen Travail. Also lucky is that the Rook doesn’t seem interested in playing this same game with Idries’ life on the line. Due to Stane’s planning, Tony even believes that the Laird is the mastermind of the whole plot. Little does he realizes he still has the roughest part of this gauntlet to run.

IM166 is the issue before the end, the issue where the cracks in Tony’s armor really begin to show. 

While at home, Iron Man’s old foe The Melter has come to call (and is waiting in the lobby in an agitated, but almost reserved state for someone looking to battle their long-time adversary…shouldn’t he be tearing everything up?), but shellhead is half a world away, still waiting for Rhodey to come out from the coma that the poisoned spiders have placed him in. Agitated, Tony and Indries go for a walk to clear their heads.

Tony’s frustration is evident, so Indries suggests they duck into a local pub to calm Tony down. The weight of what Tony has been through has become almost insurmountable. He’s lost three days of sleep, his best suit of armor, and possibly his closest friend. Now he’s in a place of great temptation and susceptible to just throwing in the towel on his sobriety. 

The mounting pressure to give in to his alcoholism has never been greater. The taunts of the barman do more to anger than amuse.

Tony storms out, determined to get out of Scotland and back to the comfortable and familiar. He can fly back to see Rhodey after a rest in his own bed. However, upon arriving at the airport it appears he’s leaned on either Rhodey and his suit’s flight capabilities a bit too much in recent years. His pilot’s license has expired!

For one of Stark’s means, it is easy to book a flight First Class. He and Indiries find themselves winging home, but the journey will be less that pleasant. Due to a mix up, the plane has no inflight meal for its duration and all of their baggage has ended up headed to Saudi Arabia on a different plane. And then there is this klutzy stewardess who dumps an entire tray of martinis all over Tony at the beginning of the six-hour flight. Stane proves he is a master at manipulating even the everyday details of Tony’s life. 

Arriving at Stark International provides no rest. Immediately Tony must don his backup suit of Iron Man armor and face off against the Melter. The villain proves a very minor menace, but the battle greatly damages one of the key buildings in the industrial complex.

Not only that, but he ruins one of the few activities Stark can do to unwind at this point: inventing. As Stark tries to get out of his headspace and his problems, a call comes in from his chief of security who explains that he’s uncovered the identity of Laird’s boss – a fellow industrialist by the name of Obadiah Stane. He reveals Stane’s been behind this the entire time.

Which leads Stark to read through the dossier of information about Stane, a teenage Chess prodigy who made his first million at age twenty-five.
Once he’s gotten to the end of the folder, Tony feels a confrontation is in order. He dons his backup suit again and takes off for Stane’s complex. He reaches there just as Stane is performing tests on a pair of remote controlled tank weapons. These end up targeting Iron Man, of course…at one point downing the golden Avenger in such a way that he lies stunned in their path. 

It runs over Tony, and while it does no damage to him, the humiliation has to feel pretty intense by this point. He bursts in on Stane and unloads on him. His arrival isn’t the shock he expected it to be, however and Stane fires back. The villain is prepared for Iron Man’s arrival and taunts him with the knowledge that Stark has no evidence to use against Stane.

With no course but to retreat, Stark bursts back out of Stane’s facility and into the rain. He heads back to Stark International, where he learns from security head Martinelli that Stane has stepped up his activities. The competing vendor has organized a consortium of businesses aimed at cutting Stark off from markets and suppliers. And that’s not all. Rhodey’s vanished, possibly a victim of more of Stane’s dirty tricks. 

Exhausted, Stark finally retires to his living quarters. Stane promised Tony would find three surprises upon returning to Stark International. Rhodey’s disappearance and the moves against his company are two. Any guess what the third will end up being?

A stab at Tony’s personal Achilles heel, the demon he wrestles with daily, presented as if it is the answer to all his problems.

And one final trick remains to be played.

More on this come Monday in part three as we watch the Destruction of Tony Stark!