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, exciting, weirdly specific and slightly iconoclastic feature.
Iron Man #224
Writers: David Michelenie & Bob Layton
Artists: Bob Layton (Pencils) Bob Layton (inks)
Blacklash, the Beetle, and the new Blizzard have found and are about to kill Clay Wilson, the man formerly known as Force. Force left Justin Hammer's employ last issue and went to Stark for protection. Stark put him in police custody, apparently having a bit of a brainfart related to the Permed Mullet of DOOM and failed to realise that any twit in a costume can make it past the cops, even as woefully stupid a guy as Blacklash.
Blizzard has walled off the rest of the police and Jim Rhodes with a wall of ice, so Rhodes decides to make the best of a bad situation by plowing through a wall and running them over with a riot tank. New Blizzard panics and freezes Blacklash allowing Stark, Wilson, and Rhodes to make their escape. The bad guys make their escape as well and Stark decides that he might as well protect Wilson himself as he gets read the riot act for stealing the riot tank. Stark pulls rank and calls the mayor of Los Angeles to get himself off the hook for all this.
Cut back to Stark Enterprises, where Force exposits on what he did for Justin Hammer and why he left. Simultaneously, Hammer is upbraiding his goons, who he very graciously gives another chance to screw up--er, I mean to finally punch Wilson's ticket. Oh, and there's one page showing us Scott Lang has made the move to the West Coast, and he's brought his Ant-Man suit along with him, because dammit, if Bob Layton is at all involved, dammit, Scott Lang will be in this book one way or another.
Deciding that there's no way that Hammer could have known he was bringing Wilson to the police unless he had an ear in the department, Stark decides to set up an opportunity to get Hammer to back off, and wouldn't you know it, he's acquired one of those tourist trap Old West towns which, if you believe movies and TV, dot the California landscape like . . .well, dots.
At last it's more or less an even contest--Wilson's suited up as Force, Rhodes is armed with something a little more effective than a riot tank, and Stark has the Iron Man armour. Blacklash distinguishes himself as the Iron Man villain of record by being taken out by James Rhodes, who is armed with a stick. Says it all, doesn't it?
The Beetle doesn't do much better, nor does Blizzard, and they quickly beat a hasty retreat. Iron Man congratulates Force and Rhodes on a job well done, but says this could easily happen again, so Force has to die.
The issue ends with Stark placing a call to the cops saying that Force flew into some high-tension wires and fried himself. Meanwhile, at one of Stark's subsidiaries, a man named Carl Walker starts his first day on the job . . . .
Man, I really do like this Force arc. It's a crackerjack story that hums right along, hits some nostalgic beats (Iron Man and Force have tangled once before) introduces the new Blizzard, who would go on to be on the Thunderbolts during Nicieza's last run on the book, and has Blacklash being beaten up by a guy with a stick, which is personally just no end of hilarious to me.
There's also a good story in here about a bad guy trying to go straight. I did really like the status quo of having Force working for Stark and occasionally helping out, even if he did vanish for long stretches of the book, ultimately returning in about 2004 in a story I have expunged from my memory but for the phrase "Man, Phillip Tan's redesign of the Force suit is . . .not great." I understand they also brought him back in Dark Reign, but I could care less really. The point is, it was a cool concept and a lot more could have been done with it, but never was.
I should also add that this story is essentially one long prelude to the Armor Wars, which begin next issue, when Stark finds out that Force's armour is built from his designs, but it also functions as a story on its own. That's one of the things I lament about comics today--unless you can compartmentalize it neatly in a trade or whatever, the notion of small stories which form larger stories which have threads of even larger stories running through them is all but a lost art nowadays, and comics really suffer for the lack of it.