Monday, May 16, 2011

Didjutal Comiks: IRON MAN #182

Digital comics are the future of comics, so says everyone on the Internet and everyone trying to justify their purchase of an iPad and leveraging that into a desperate attempt to generate content for their blogs and stuff. It is in this spirit that the management at Witless Prattle continues the following new, exciting, weirdly specific and slightly iconoclastic feature.

Iron Man #182

May 1984


Writer: Denny O'Neil

Artists: Luke McDonnell (pencils) Steve Mitchell (inks)

You can tell just by looking at the cover this is gonna be an all star laff riot, eh?

So Tony Stark, now well past meltdown and well into his new career as a raging wino is looking for Gretl Anders (Oh Denny O'Neil, I don't know why you come up with names no real person would ever have.) who told him to go screw after he discovered his fortune was frozen--he was trying to get her a doctor because she's pregnant.

Unfortunately, he's picked the worst possible time for it--there's a blizzard raging through New York City and if he stays on the streets, he's going to die. Double unfortunately, Stark really doesn't care all that much, so much so he sells his coat for another bottle of liquor to celebrate "The living end. The end of living."

Stark angsts about his situation, deciding that if he's willing to do this to himself (the alcoholism, etc.) he's not worth saving and sits down ready to die. Before he can do that, however, Gretl shows up--her labour's started and so has the blizzard. Stark thinks of how he used to be Iron Man, and how being "Invincible" ended up being equal parts liberation and prison and how badly that's messed him up, how it isolated part of him and how now all he wants to do is "hurry along the slow dying." while Gretl starts her contractions.

The weather, the ravages of alcoholism, and the strain of labour is too much for Gretl. She dies right as her son is born, and Stark resolves to keep the baby alive, no matter what. And somehow, despite being so determined to die himself, they make it through the blizzard--in Stark's case, barely. Gretls ends up buried in a pauper's grave by someone who considers her a lousy drunk and just another stiff and a person we watched die about two pages is buried and barely regarded as a human being in two panels.

Meanwhile, Jim Rhodes has just popped back in from Secret Wars (man, remember when everyone just kinda popped off, did the mini-series, and came back with no dickering around with tie-ins and crap like that? Man, good times) and learns that the upgrades to his armour don't work quite as well on Earth as they did there. When Morley Erwin can't work out how to restore the armour to its normal functionality and also drops the plot point about Stark being in the hospital and Rhodes charges over there to see him.

We get some angst that will ever so gently set up the next act of O'Neil's run, when Rhodes wonders if he didn't subconsciously want stark to fail so he could take his place, and Stark wakes up explains what happened with the baby--Stark realised the most valuable thing there is is life--any kind of life, and if it was important to save the baby's life, it was just as important to save his own, and he's going to stop killing himself and get some help. Rhodes offers to give the armour back, but Stark refuses and we jump ahead in time and Stark is released and we end on a far more hopeful note than we began.

So, by dint of this being the end of a run of comics that were darker than midnight in a coal mine, this would be a great comic, because it meant this was over with (this run was so bleak in fact that even during Assistant Editors' Month, the April Fools Day of it's time, the Iron Man issue collapses into depression) But it's a great issue also because it calls back to something that happened when Stark first turned the armour over to Rhodes. At the time he said whoever wears the suit is Iron Man, and on its face, it's the truth.

But not everyone is a hero, and Stark proves himself one in this issue because even though he's convinced he's worthless, even though he's all but resolved to commit suicide at the beginning of the issue, he still finds it in himself to be willing to sacrifice himself for someone else, which is what really makes a hero. It's a grim, but really moving, issue.

I doubt that this sort of extended tearing down of a hero would fly in this day and age--for all comics now are superficially grim, this is far more bleak and adult. Of course, they did recently do an extended teardown of Tony Stark, but that had less to do with any real exploration of Tony Stark and more to do with winding back the clock on Civil War, or at least his culpability in that.

It's not an easy issue to take in, but a good one.

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