Iron Man Confronts Death and Loss

(and also lots of Commies)

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The Crimson Dynamo tells it like it is
Crimson Dynamo just tells it like it is.

I don’t know exactly how, but I developed the impression that Tony Stark’s story was mainly happy-go-lucky heroics up until the “Demon in a Bottle” arc. Though I shouldn’t have been, I was surprised to find that everybody’s favorite billionaire playboy weapons designer was actually grappling with Peter Parker levels of angst well before the Bullpen decided to make him an alcoholic. Iron Man #22 is a perfect example. It forces Tony Stark to watch his primary love interest die as a direct result of her relationship with Tony and Iron Man. He’ll feel considerable guilt over this death, and in point of fact he deserves to.

Iron Man #22

Date: February 10, 1970
Read on MU

Creative Team:
Writer: Archie Goodwin
Artist: George Tuska

Story:

“From This Conflict … Death!”

Right off the bat, I have to say that Mr. Goodwin and Mr. Tuska can be tremendously efficient when they need to be. This is middle of a three-part story, but if you missed #21, no worries – the title page will catch you up in five quick thought balloons:

Tony's transistor-powered expositors catch the audience up with tremendous speed
Iron Man’s transistorized expositors catch the audience up in 1/10th the time!

Eddie March’s short-lived tenure in the Iron Man armor leads him into a deadly fight with the Crimson Dynamo. Tony tries to help, but he arrives after the Dynamo is gone. All he can do is scoop Eddie up (double Iron Man goodness!) and race him to the hospital.

Before he got whomped by the Dynamo, Eddie was supposed to be checking on a smuggler’s ominous cargo. We leave Tony to his sorrow and go check in with that cargo now – it’s a very active and angry Titanium Man!

Over at Cord Industries, Tony’s current love, Janice Cord, stumbles into her lead scientist Alex Niven making repairs to the Crimson Dynamo suit. He’s been featured in a few panels before being vaguely ominous, but now he pinions Janice and lays out a full-on origin flashback. His real name is Alex Nevsky, and he was once the protege of the original Dynamo, Anton Vanko. Vanko’s defection ruined Nevsky career in the Motherland, so he’s come to the US for revenge.

His position at Cord allowed him to challenge Stark economically at the same time as he rebuilt the Dynamo armor to take down Iron Man. Adding Janice into the mix unhinged him, because of course he got jealous of her romantic entanglement with Stark.

Just before things go full-on soap opera, the Titanium Man comes crashing through the wall. He’s bent on snapping Nevsky up and returning him to the Motherland. Nevsky jumps into his armor, but it’s still messed up from his fight with Eddie. All he can do is spirit Janice away to safety.

Iron Man has been tracking the Titanium Man (and discovering that Eddie March is going to pull through), but he arrives at precisely the wrong time. His appearance flummoxes Nevsky into dropping Janice, nearly killing her. Tony comes to all the wrong conclusions and thinks the Titanium Man and the Dynamo are in cahoots.

Janice, in contrast to Tony, is doing great at figuring things out. She rushes right between Tony and Alex and tries to convince them not to fight. Unfortunately, this is exactly when the Titanium Man zaps all three of them with an electric beam. It knocks Alex out, does nothing to Iron Man, but Janice …

She just has time to realize that Iron Man and Tony Stark are one and the same before falling. Then – and I really can’t stress enough how badly Tony screws up here – Tony decides that beating up the Titanium Man is more important than getting help for Janice. He’s flying around trading punches with the big green commie and it falls to Alex to check up on Janiceand discover she’s dead. He blames Iron Man – rightly so! – and swears revenge before taking off.

The Titanium Man is disposed of in the river, but the Dynamo is at large. Most importantly, a woman lies dead and all Iron Man can do is regretfully shovel her into an ambulance.

Discuss!

For starters, I have to be honest: I am so used to Silver Age “status quo is God” sensibilities that I flat-out missed Janice’s death the first time I read this. I thought she was injured, but no – subsequent issues make it clear she is thoroughly dead.

Though I’ve painted Tony’s initial reaction as rash and unthinking (and really, it is), in the longer term this is a devastating loss. It comes right on the heels of Tony’s attempt to give up the armor, which put Eddie March in deadly danger, and it really paints the man into a corner. He can’t hand off his self-appointed duty to be Iron Man, yet doing the job himself has lethal consequences for the ones he loves.

By now Tony’s received a semi-permanent surgical fix for his injured heart, so he no longer has the “being Iron Man might kill me” problem. Instead, he’s going to be struggling with “being Iron Man might kill everyone around me.” Being Iron Man is a choice now, and it’s one that comes at a tremendously high price.

Tony's terrible awful no good decision
Pictured: Tony Making a Very Bad Choice

Tolerating this intolerable situation may well be what drives Tony to drink. I haven’t read “Demon in a Bottle” yet, so this is just speculation. I’ll be excited to find out just how long a shadow Janice’s death casts over Tony in the future. I doubt it’ll be an iconic Uncle Ben-level incident in Iron Man’s story, but it’d be nice to revisit this undeniable failure further on.

When I take a wider view, I contend that Iron Man is really one of the Bullpen’s unsung gems in this time period. Mr. Goodwin has a distinctive narrative voice and he’s exploring different concepts than Mr. Lee and Mr. Thomas (who together account for 80 to 90 percent of Marvel’s narrative output in 1970). Unfortunately, Mr. Goodwin’s days are numbered. Though he’s written Iron Man all the way from #1, Mr. Goodwin takes a sixty-issue break starting with #28.

This period in Marvel history features some charmingly ham-handed attempts at diversity. The introduction of Eddie March, an African American replacement for a title’s lead hero – in 1970 – is one of the best examples. While making Eddie the permanent pilot of the armor isn’t in the cards, I think his short sojourn is handled with skill. Eddie scores the gig as Iron Man by displaying a laudable combination of strength, guts, intelligence, and – perhaps most significantly – admiration for Iron Man and what he represents. Eddie’s determination to hold the job despite the risk to his health is also a nice mirror of Tony’s own situation. After his brush with death here, he’ll turn up in the not-too-distant future in IM #27.

Who Will Love Iron Man #22?

I am putting two strong thumbs up for this entire story arc – Iron Man #21 – #23. I think you’ll love it if you’re already an Iron Man fan. If you’re not, the dramatic twists Tony is subjected to just might you one. Even if your main interests in the Marvel line-up circa 1970 lie elsewhere, I think you’ll appreciate the novelty, the high stakes, and even the grim details of this story.


Images snipped out of Marvel Unlimited by yours truly.

Author: CMMIV

Reader of comic books. Semi-professional writer.