Friday, January 25, 2019

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

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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!

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