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  • Writer's pictureShadowNinja77

Iron Man Best Comics (1971-1981)


Iron Man was the character that introduced me to the Marvel Universe when I saw the 2008 film with my brother. Before then, I'd had no experience with Marvel whatsoever other than the odd mention of Spider-Man or the Hulk and possible the X-Men. Which is why for most of the 70s, I was disappointed.


Iron Man was one of the comics that suffered the most in this era or for the first half at least. Coming off the awful and forgettable Conway run (sorry Conway, but your work there was not good), Mike Friedrich took over. Sadly, he wasn't much of an improvement. For the next few years, Friedrich guided the character through multiple stories ranging from mediocre to bad with plots that were either too bloated, too thin, or too strung out with no real quality to them, making his tenure on the title best forgotten. Which is disappointing considering how much time he spent on it.


After Friedrich left, it was clear the Marvel office didn't know what to do with Len Wein and even previous writers Gerry Conway and Archie Goodwin coming back and forth for about a year, the comic faltering from the lack of stability. Then came someone who stepped up to plate to remind everyone how good Iron Man could be. And that someone was Bill Mantlo. His run wasn't groundbreaking or epic in any sense, it just made Iron Man relevant again and lifted him up from the pool of mediocrity he'd been stuck in for so long. Just in time for the special 100th issue, Manto went on to tell 3 and a half stories in his short run that while could have been better, were just good enough.


And then he passed the comic off to David Michelinie and Bob Layton who set the task of not just making Iron Man good, they wanted to show everyone how epic he could be. And boy did they succeed. Their run was the one that inspired future stories by making him a true force to be reckoned with but also reminding everyone how human he could be by making him an alcoholic. Iron Man soared for the rest of the decade under their combined direction and it was a sad day when they left. Fortunately, they'd be back for a second run but that's for next time. Until then, enjoy the best stories to come from Iron Man between 1971 and 1981.


9. Iron Man Vol 1 55: Blood Brothers


This story would have been just as simple and basic as all the other Iron Man stories previously written if not for one thing. Thanos. His first appearance in the Marvel world brought to life by artist Jim Starlin himself. Also introducing Drax the Destroyer, although very different from his film appearances. While Mike Friedrich remains as writer, this is clearly Starlin’s story as he crafts what would be the prologue to his epic Thanos tale, throwing Iron Man into the cosmos as he becomes involved with Drax and villains the Blood Brothers. As Kevin Feige once said, Thanos shows us why he is the biggest, the baddest as he makes his entrance, proving his worth as one of the greatest Marvel villains in his very first appearance and only in a few panels. He is the only reason this story stands out and the only tale of Friedrich’s Iron Man run worth reading.

8. Iron Man Vol 1 78: Long Time Gone

Standing as a fill-in issue for Friedrich’s stories and standing as a far better one, Bill Mantlo steps in to deliver a flashback, character driven tale on Stark’s past work in the weapons business, showing his impact on the Vietnam war. Tony Stark got out of the weapons business after he saw what his weapons did in the wrong hands. Well, while that wasn’t shown too much in his origin, Mantlo provides it here as both the American camp and the Vietnam village fighting are destroyed with only Iron Man and one small child surviving. This helped push him out of the weapons making business, carving the word ‘why’ into the ground of the village. This story was dedicated to peace, being written when the Vietnam War came to an end at last.

7. Iron Man Vol 1 137-139: Facades, Ruses & Masques


Iron Man goes James Bond here as sabotage is inflicted across his facility and Bethany’s friend Ling is beaten half to death. Trying to uncover the truth, Tony, Rhodey, and Bethany wind up in the clutches of Madame Masque, who is trying to remodel herself as the new Maggia leader, and the returning Spymaster. This story has another arc of Tony proving to be hero enough even without his armor, infiltrating the Maggia compound with Rhodey to find and save Bethany with just disguises. Of course, he does suit up in a quick but epic battle with some dreadnaught suits. And Rhodey gets his own chase sequence against Spymaster. This story didn’t have any truly epic or poignant moments, it was just a fun little spy romp that gave these three characters a chance to shine as well as to show what’s happened to Madame Masque. While it could have been better, it works just fine the way it is.

6. Iron Man Vol 1 109-112: Moon Wars


This story is pure science fiction as Mantlo pulls in some of the more obscure characters and creations in Marvel lore. Iron Man takes on Jack of Hearts as an apprentice and they investigate a signal coming from the moon. After a quick skirmish with the proto-Winter Guard team of Darkstar, Crimson Dynamo, and Vanguard from Mantlo’s work on Champions, the heroes get sucked into a war between the Rigellian Colonizers and the Knights of Wundagore as the Colonizers seek to take over their world. With fantastic artwork and heavy themes on colonization and the native species as well as a true action-packed finale in the Blue Area of the Moon while Iron Man fights the Punisher robot (previously owned by Galactus) right to Earth, this story is non-stop fun. While some elements are a little out there and the backstories drag a little, it still pulls through to the end as one of the best with great character work and action.

5. Iron Man Vol 1 95-100: Ten Rings to Rule the World


Bill Mantlo takes the reins officially for his run here and he begins with an epic battle between Iron Man and the resurrected Ultimo that keeps Iron Man on his toes throughout. And then, continuing the tale of Michael O’Brien seeking vengeance for his brother’s death, Iron Man must duel him in his recently donned Guardsman armor. All the while, Tony Stark and his work are discredited, accused of selling out, leading to Sunfire attacking as well. It is revealed that all of this is the machinations of the Mandarin, leading to one of their fiercest battles yet for Iron Man’s 100th issue. Mantlo literally comes out swinging here with the hero battling four threats in a row while his heart and armor start to give out, making him weaker than he ever has been. While not the best it could have been, this story still packs a punch and stands out far better than the most recent stories and manages to keep up the ante throughout, reminding readers what makes Iron Man so great and bring his character back to form.

4. Iron Man Vol 1 117-119: No S.H.I.E.L.D. To Protect Me


David Michelinie and Bob Layton officially take over in this story arc, beginning their phenomenal run on the character and they don’t waste any time in showing off what they can do. Iron Man finds himself a target and begins to suspect S.H.I.E.L.D. is behind it. Thus begins a spy-thriller tale as Iron Man is forced to take on a group of agents single-handedly after they have taken over the helicarrier. Layton’s artwork is a visual delight, specifically in two areas, one where Tony falls through the air while donning his suit and the other where he is forced to stop the helicarrier’s descent into a mountain range. After years of mediocre stories that made the character fall into B-list status, Michelinie and Layton arrive to show why Iron Man is an A-list star. As well as officially introducing James Rhodes and beginning Tony’s battle against S.H.I.E.L.D. itself, this story, while great on its own, also works to set up the future stories and reminds readers what makes this hero so great.


3. Iron Man Vol 1 131-133: Hulk is Where the Heart is

 

Who doesn’t love a good Hulk smack down? And with any good Hulk story, it doesn’t go the way you’d expect. With the Hulk causing a ruckus again, Iron Man swoops in but fortunately before anything major happens, Bruce Banner takes over. Together, the science bros get to work on trying to find a cure and do come up with something. Unfortunately, that something has some unforeseen side effects that eventually make everything worse, leading to the fight fest readers were waiting for. It might not be long but it has some cool moments and one truly epic finisher that again shows just how powerful Iron Man is. That leads to a cool final issue where Scott Lang has to travel through Iron Man’s armor in order to save him. Layton’s artwork is fantastic as always, especially for the fight scenes and for the insides of Iron Man’s armor. There are so many Hulk fights out there at this point that it’s a true testament to Michelinie and Layton that they were able to come up with a new twist here.

2. Iron Man Vol 1 149-150: Doomquest

 

When hitting the big 150, David Michelinie and Bob Layton swung for the fences and boy did it land. After stopping a shipment of tech bound for Latveria, Iron Man knows what’s coming next. Doctor Doom is pissed, stealing the tech back and forcing Iron Man to invade his castle, leading to an epic showdown between the two. But that’s just the prologue as they’re suddenly sent centuries back in time towards the King Arthur era with Iron Man siding with the king and Doom joining forces with the evil sorceress Morgana le Fay. This naturally leads to all-out battle of knights, sorcery, and tech-armor between the two forces leading to some great action sequences. We also see more of Doom’s softer side as he does everything he can here to bring back his mother but fails. At the end, both Iron Man and Doom must join forces to find a way back home, forging an unholy alliance that also shows Doom’s honorable side. This story easily could have fallen flat but thanks to Michelinie and Layton’s script and artwork, it soars. It also helps that Doom elevates any story that he’s in.

1. Iron Man Vol 1 120-128: Demon in a Bottle

 

Going into this story, I knew it was considered the, if not one of the, greatest Iron Man stories of all time. And now I know why. Michelinie and Layton realized pretty early on when writing this character that he needed something, something to humanize him for fans and make him more relatable. Thus, this story was born. Starting off with a two-part tale featuring Namor that, while almost entirely separate from the main story, does start setting up Iron Man’s fall from grace. From there, Tony becomes embroiled in a plot to discredit him with his armor failing him before he is framed for murder and is forced to retire the armor. Michelinie and Layton weave an espionage tale worthy of Bond as they show that Tony Stark is just as good a hero outside the suit as he is with it on, getting a training montage from Captain America and everything. All this leads to the climatic showdown with Justin Hammer and his legion of D-List supervillains who Iron Man absolutely mops the floor with in one of the best action sequences done in his comic so far. But even at the end, he realizes that nothing is truly fixed and turns to the bottle, leading him down a spiral that made issue 128 such an important turning point as he causes disaster after disaster while drunk until his friend Bethany Cabe as well as Jarvis help him realize the problem and confront it head on, marking it as one of the best single comic issues of all time and one of the best Iron Man stories ever told.


This era may not have started out as the best for Iron Man, but it ended as one of the best and most groundbreaking and I can't wait for what the 80s have in store.

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