Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Iron Man #218 (May 1987)

Iron Man. The Armored Avenger. First appearing in Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963), he was created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, and Don Heck. The character was inspired by a dare Stan Lee gave himself: Can he create a character that was the antithesis of Marvel's readers at the time, and make the readers like them?

Well, evidently he pulled it off. Over the next 55 years, Iron Man (the alter ego of genius billionaire playboy philanthropist Anthony "Tony" Stark) would become one of Marvel's most stalwart heroes, becoming one of the original Avengers. He would then go on to be part of various teams, including Force Works and the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Iron Man was a stalwart and popular character among comic readers, but never really managed to become one of Marvel's most popular heroes in the mainstream, despite getting animated series in the 1960s and 1990s, until 2008. The live-action adaptation of the comic, Iron Man, was released in theaters in that year. Starring Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, the film would get massive critical and box office acclaim, kicking off the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and making Iron Man one of Marvel's most profitable and popular characters. Downey Jr would be seen as doing for Tony Stark what Christopher Reeve did for Superman, be the perfect embodiment of the character. On his end, Iron Man also helped his career roar back to life.

One of the things Iron Man is obviously known for is his armor. Over the last half-century, Iron Man's armor has undergone a lot of evolution, from the original bulky gray suit to the modern sleek red-and-gold suit he wears today. In the 1970s and 1980s, Iron Man's creative teams started introducing the idea of specialized suits. Basically, Stark would develop special suits for various situations, like if he needed to go to space, or in the case of the comic we're going to look at here, the depths of the sea. And with that out of the way, let's take a look at Iron Man #218!

I love the cover. You got Iron Man facing off against what looks like a giant robot, which is teased by a big claw. I only have two complaints about the cover. One is that robot's claw is not the same color as in the issue itself, and it does spoil the Hydro Armor. Otherwise, it's a great cover.

"Deep Trouble"
Writer: David Michelinie (Credited as "Plot/Script")
Artist: Bob Layton (Credited as "Plot/Art")
Inker: Bob Layton
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Colors: Bob Sharen
Editor: Mark Gruenwald
Editor-In-Chief: Jim Shooter

The story begins with Tony Stark being held up at gunpoint in the back of his car in Jolly Ol' England.

Who is holding him up? Is it a thief? An angry boyfriend? Nope! Just a pair of KGB agents who wish to..."speak" with our hero. They lead him out of the car into a clearing. And here Tony makes a new "friend".

Meet Irina Tarasova, Russian spy and professional 80s femme fatale. She basically tells Tony that her superiors cannot allow him to succeed in his mission here in England. As such, being a fair person, she decides to let Stark off with a warning: Go home, and perhaps they can meet again on friendlier terms. Lady, I think you killed any interest he has in dating you. Tarasova and her men leave Stark on the roadside, saying that he'll find a ride as this road is rather well-traveled. You are probably thinking, "Why doesn't she and her goons just kill Stark there?" Patience. There's a reason.

Stark smirks as he has some transportation right in his briefcase. He opens it up, and puts on his Iron Man suit. The Armored Avenger, or should I say, the Silver Centurion, takes off.

I love this suit. I don't know why, but I just do. Maybe it's the shoulder pads? The Silver Centurion would become one of the more iconic of the various Iron Man armors over the years. It has made appearances in the 1990s Iron Man cartoon (Mainly the second season's iconic opening sequence), and in Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Even the live-action Iron Man trilogy paid homage to it. In the second film, Stark dons a "suitcase armor" in red-and-silver, and in the third movie, look who is among the armors in the original Iron Legion.

I was so happy when I saw that armor on screen. However, Bob Layton, the artist who designed the suit, has said that the Silver Centurion is one of the least favorite armors he has designed. He felt that as Iron Man's armors continued to evolve with the advancing of technology, his armor should be sleeker. I'm guessing he felt that the Silver Centurion made Iron Man look "bulkier". Probably the shoulder-pads. I can see where he's coming from. At the time, Marvel wanted Iron Man to have an armor that was more "warrior", hence this. I still love this suit, though.

Tarasova and her men are driving down a road, one of the men showing gratitude that Iron Man isn't being just Stark's personal bodyguard anymore. He then notices that the car appears to be flying. It's become Iron Man Airlines as the Armored Avenger takes the car to a clearing. Tony Stark, being a nice guy, notes that their car appears to have some troubles. He tears out the car's engine, noticing it's loose. One of Tarasova's men fires a gun at him, but yeah, it doesn't. Stark warns Tarasova that the Iron Man is here to protect Stark's interest, including the project here in the UK. There are tons of lives at stake, and if he has to choose between her life and theirs, he will choose theirs. Tarasova responds with "We shall see". Stark flies off, saying that they shall.

While flying over the English countryside, Stark takes the opportunity to recall how he got into this mess. Three days earlier, a man named Kuttner from the State Department had come to visit Stark Enterprises on business. Stark had developed a new low-light photography process for exploration of the wreckage of the Titanic. The equipment preformed splendidly, but it found something that has caused some great concern. Kuttner shows Stark a photograph of a canister. It was traced to pre-World War I.

The canister contains a powerful chemical weapon developed by an team of English and American scientists. Stark notes that the canister is appearing to decompose. Kuttner confirms that yes, the paraffin coating of the canister is eroding away. Nobody knows the contents of the canister, except one man: Carter Hastings, the only surviving member of the team behind it. In his old age, he's become a paranoid recluse, terrified of government. Stark assures Kuttner he can get Hastings to talk. Stark arrives at a small town, and changes out of his suit. He comes to Hastings's home, and the scared old man greets him with both barrels.

Stark is able to smooth things over with Hastings when he shows the old man a document: A personal request from the Queen herself. Hastings invites Stark in for the great English tradition of afternoon tea. The man behind the Iron Man suit notes that Hastings coughed and wheezed quite a bit, so he must not be in the best of health. Hastings explained that the canister contained the strongest death gas ever created, something that promised to make mustard gas look like air freshener. Hastings felt relief when the canister sunk with the Titanic.

Wait, the Titanic was a passenger liner! Wouldn't it have made more sense to transport Hastings and this canister in a military vessel? We had a navy back then! Anyway, Hastings always feared that the canister would come back to bite him in some form. When the Titanic sank, he was taking the canister to America for further testing. He told them the gas was not effective, so it got scrapped. However, Hastings lied. He actually discovered the gas would linger for days, cutting swaths of death wherever the wind took it. Hastings was horrified by this, as the gas could end up literally wiping out lots of civilians in one fell swoop. He begs Stark to stop the gas and get the canister, and Stark assures him he'll do his best.

A van nearby is listening in on this conversation. You wonder why Tarasova and her boys didn't kill Stark earlier? This was why. She planted a bug on him, and now she knows about the canister. As such, she's got herself a little scheme a-going, and tells her men to contact the head of Soviet undersea operations.

A couple days later, Stark is on board a custom-designed boat in the North Atlantic. The millionaire inventor has just sent a submarine drone, and tells the captain of a nearby US frigate that his diver will be sending information via computer to them. The captain assures Stark that the minute the diver detects any toxicity in the water, they are gone. Good luck, Tony. The inventor then heads down below and puts on a new specialized suit of armor he has developed, designed to withstand the depths of the deep blue sea. Meet the Hydro Armor.

I do like the Hydro Armor. Yeah, the gold is not exactly stealthy, but I think it's a nice nod to the second suit of armor Tony wore, which was gold. And I can imagine it's meant for deliberate visibility. And the bulk makes sense here as it's meant to give the impression that it's a high-tech diving suit. So far, the armor's systems are working perfectly. Despite Tony's efforts to keep everything in mind, he still has some nerves about being this deep in the water.

Using the halogen lamp in his suit, Stark finds the wreckage of the Titanic. Up on the surface, the frigate captain notices that there's a Russian trawler nearby. However, there usually no problem with them as long as they keep their distance. The captain still decides to be cautious and alerts Stark to it. After all, this is the Cold War. You never know. Back under the water, Tony is still searching for the canister when he gets attacked by some drone subs.

Luckily, Tony's trademark repulsors still work well in the ocean. He realizes while fighting them they are looking for the canister. As such, he decides to use one of this armor's new tricks, inspired by the octopus.

The suit fires a massive cloud of ink, blinding the drones. You'd think they'd be equipped with sonar or something. And I can imagine the ink used by the armor has a similar chemical composition to actual octopus ink, but considering it's Stark, it'd somehow be "better". Using his own sonar, Stark is able to destroy a couple of the drones. More are coming, however, and the ink cloud is dispersing. So, Stark decides to use another of the armor's weapons, this one inspired by the electric eel.

You know, I think it would have been funny if one of the sea creature-inspired defenses was the ability for the armor to inflate and sprout spikes like a puffer fish. The electric charge fries the remaining drones, but Tony is suspicious. He feels this battle was a bit too easy. The inventor/superhero gets the idea that he's being set up. His suspicions are confirmed as he gets a whack from behind, and sees the perpetrator.

Irina Tarasova's voice erupts from the robotic Leviathan. She's on board the Russian trawler, operating the device by remote. The Leviathan grabs Iron Man. Stark fires a pair of mini-torpedoes at the monsterous machine. It doesn't do a lot of damage, but it does release Tony. He goes for the canister, the Leviathan in hot pursuit. Tarasova announces to Tony that she intends to use the Leviathan to obtain and crush the canister, releasing the gas.

Why? Well, a propaganda victory. With a bit of fudging of the facts, she can make it look like the United States had intended to use the gas on their own allies or people, helping make them look suspect. Stark is understandably horrified. Tarasova wants to create a massive body count just to make the US look bad. Tony knows he can't straight-up fight the Leviathan, but he does have a plan. He grabs the canister, then lets the Leviathan grab him. You see, Tony's Hydro Armor is actually composed of two suits: An outer suit and an inner suit.

He uses another trick he has in case he is trapped under debris during any underwater salvaging operations. The outer suit ejects its dome, and fires away Tony in his inner suit. This action then activates the outer suit's self-destruct sequence.

The outer suit blows up, taking the Leviathan with it. This would also have the additional effect of keeping the armor's tech out of enemy hands (This story was not long before the Armor Wars hit). Tony finds himself near the Russian trawler. He considers just ignoring it and going on his way. But, nah. He decides to be a troll and fires...something at the trawler. The art doesn't make it clear, but I think it's a small torpedo. Whatever Tony fires, it hits the trawler's hull, causing it to sink. As the crew get ready to abandon ship, Tarasova smirks. She vows to one day even the score with the Iron Man. As far as I know, Tarasova and Tony Stark never cross paths again, but considering the dating of this story, maybe that's for the best.

Some days later, Tony goes to a hospital near London. He learns that Hastings has turned for the worse health-wise, and he's not expected to live much longer. The old man asks if Tony managed to get the canister. Tony said that he managed to get it, and the gas will be destroyed safely. Hastings is relieved by this. He then closes his eyes, and passes away. The story ends with Tony wishing him a peaceful rest, and hoping the next world will be a bit less crazy than this one.

This issue was a fun little one-shot adventure. My favorite thing about the issue was the Hydro Armor's capabilities being shown. I really liked that some of the Hydro Armor's weaponry was inspired by actual sea creatures. I think it having abilities and tricks inspired by various sea creatures is a really clever idea, and I do hope that if future Iron Man authors use this armor in comics, they keep this in mind and expand on it. I can imagine that the biosphere of the oceans would be a goldmine of ideas.

My only real complaint about the issue is something that is really not the comic's fault. It is rather dated. It's heavily dipped in the politics of the time, mainly the Cold War. Despite that, the main purpose of the story is to show off Tony's new armor, and the Hydro Armor is really cool. If you ask me, the Michelinie/Layton era of Iron Man is rather underrated and is worth a read.

Bob Layton does some fine work in this issue. To me, he's the artist for the Armored Avenger. I especially like the way he draws the armor. He always makes the armor look like it's shining. I love that so much. If you want to read the story yourself, it can be found in two places: The trade paperbacks The Many Armors of Iron Man (A collection of stories that focused on the various armors Iron Man wore over the years), and Armor Wars Prologue (A collection of issues that set the stage for the famous Armor Wars storyline).

Next time, we go to the DC Universe and join the Justice Society of America, as they have to fight to clear their names thanks to one of their own...

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