Iron Man 3 Feature – The best Iron Man story arcs
Part 3 – First David Michelinie run 1978-82
When I look back to “eras” of comics I enjoyed as a younger reader one always jumps out at me in shinning gold and red armour, David Michelinie, Bob Layton and John Romita Jr’s run on The Invincible Iron Man.
Marvel was on a roll back then they’d folk such as Roger Stern writing Spider-Man, John Byrne on the FF, Frank Miller on Daredevil and Walt Simonson on Thor. Iron Man wasn’t the superstar he is now with a (currently) three film franchise garlanded around his neck. Nor was he the character that was front and centre and an integral cog in the Marvel universe as he is at the moment. Sure he was one of the founding Avengers but he wasn’t up there in terms of profile with the likes of Spider-Man or the X-Men. These days Iron Man is one of the central characters in the MU something that began to click into place before the movies in the pages of Civil War. But back then he was a fairly basic comic book hero with a gimmick – billionaire playboy, scientific genius in an Iron suit. I wasn’t a huge fan, beside his origin story which I quite liked, Iron Man bored me – he wasn’t that interesting and Tony Stark wasn’t particularly engaging in the way, for instance, Peter Parker was.
But in the late 70s (preceding some of the great runs on other titles mentioned above) writer David Michelinie, co-plotter and inker Bob Layton and a very young John Romita Jr came on board The Invincible Iron Man and put a stamp that’s proved indelible on the title. Indeed even to this day it can be argued that Michelinie and Layton are the two creators most associated with Iron Man. Yes more recent runs by Warren Ellis, Matt Fraction and the Knuaffs have proved immensely popular both critically and commercially, nevertheless it’s my assertion that David and Bob are still the high water mark for this title in terms of getting a fairly colour by numbers superhero book and turning into one of the best titles that marvel was putting out at that time.
If you look at any best of Iron Man stories list you’ll usually find the Michelinie era in there. In fact there were two Michelinie eras: from late 70s to early 80s and then a late 80s period. But it’s perhaps his first run that’s most fondly remembered.
Perhaps the most common story you’ll hear about from that era is Demon In A Bottle that charted Tony Stark’s decent into alcoholism as his company was under pressure from villainous businessman Justin Hammer on one side and law enforcers SHIELD on the other. This story is as much a landmark as Harry Osborne’s drug addiction stories years earlier on Amazing Spider-Man. It also made Stark more relatable. Here was a hero with feet of clay and who made mistakes. It could be argued that Dennis O’Neil’s post Michelinie/Layton Iron Man Vs Iron Monger stories fleshed out Tony’s drink problem a lot more, Demon In a Bottle was, nonetheless, the blueprint for many Iron Man stories to come.
Michelinie, Layton and Romita Jr also gave us the fabulous Doomquest as Stark goes up against Marvel’s premier armoured villain – Dr Doom. Both are transported back to King Arthur’s court and take opposing sides in a fight. Looking back for research purposes I was surprised to see this was only a two-parter as memory suggested it was more “epic” than that. Still, it was a fun story that mixed time travel with superhero battles and did it very entertainingly. It’s been so popular that it has been reprinted numerous times, collected in trades and spawned sequels to the original two part story.
This run also saw great issues with villains such as Whiplash/Backlash Madame Masque, Melter, Blizzard, Dreadnoughts, Titanium Man and of course the introduction of Justin Hammer. The surprising thing looking back on these stories is how well they hold up and I found myself enjoying them all over again.
Finally, and this is a bit of a cheat, my last story for your consideration of this arguably the definitive era of Iron Man stories is The Armour Wars. I say it’s a cheat because this story took place in Michelinie’s second run on Iron Man from 1987-1989. It is, however, the stand out arc from that period and fits well with his earlier work on the title. As Stark’s armour secrets are stolen and put onto the black market our hero decides to fight back and break any rules he has to in order to regain control of his property. If you thought Iron Man acted out of character in Civil War take a look at this story and you’ll see the seeds for his uncompromising nature sown here as he alienates a lot of friends in pursuit of his goals. This is truly one of the great Iron Man stories and lays some of the groundwork for Stark/Iron Man’s current status in the Marvel Universe.
So as Iron Man 3 approaches you could do a lot worse than go out and hunt down these stories. They’re available in collected trades and the first Michelinie era is now reprinted in full in a Marvel Omnibus edition.