Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Just Sayin--Free Tacos For DC's post-Flashpoint Reboot

Unless you're going to get DC comics to a whole new audience (Day and date digital is a step in the right direction, but not everyone has a digital device or wants one) that does not go to comic shops as a rule, then rebooting everything is an empty gesture to fleece the last few fifty thousand or so thirty year olds of the last bits of their discretionary income, just like all the other gimmicks you tried previous to this.

Didjutal Comiks: IRON MAN #300

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 #300
January 1994

"Appetite For Destruction!"

Writer: Len Kaminski
Artists: Kevin Hopgood and Tom Morgan (pencils) Steve Mitchell (inks)

A few miscellaneous facts before we begin: This is Post #300 here at Witless Prattle, at least according the "New Post" command here at Blogger. I'm generally too lazy to count it myself, and in all candor, it's not like Marvel hasn't fudged its numbers plenty anyways, so, give or take one post, enjoy our #300th anniversary . . .by reading a review of Iron Man's 300th issue, which has a foil cover, which is the kind layered meta-joke that the 15 followers and other occasional visitors to this place have come to expect from me.

Okay, so, given where we left it last issue (hey, after I dunno how many of these, the posts are actually linking up! How about that?) Ultimo is loose and wrecking shit and letting people know where they are--they're in the jungle baby, and they're going to die.

I should also mention, before I flip the page, that on the inside front cover, the X-Men are fighting against boring underwear. I'm not sure that jamming Gambit, Cyclops, or Wolverine into people's tighty-whiteys is a practical way to combat it, but in the ad, Jean Grey seems down with it, while everyone else looks uncomfortable/constipated. This ad really raises more questions than it answers.

Anyways, back to the action, and it gets worse here every day. With Ultimo seeming unstoppable, Jim Rhodes suits up as War Machine and summons everyone who's ever worn an Iron Man suit ever (Including Eddie March, for heaven's sake), and Bethany Cabe (who is a rocket queen) and decides that anything goes, and they all suit up and go to kick some Ultimo ass.

Meanwhile, in Subplots Corner, Veronica Benning is still angsting over Tony, but he's been torn apart and now he's a court jester with a broken heart. Or, well, actually he's hallucinating about his past as he tries to struggle out of his coma and Veronica drones on and on and is meant to frame the story of Tony struggling through his flashbacks but really only serves to tell us exactly what we're seeing on the other half of the page anyways. The meat of this (Veronica's boring backstory notwithstanding) is that Stark, who's lately been having flashbacks about his abuse alcoholic father, finally triumphs and wakes up from his coma, full of purpose, and good thing too--we're halfway through this double-sized issue and . . .

. . .the Iron Legion are getting their collective asses kicked. Two of them go down, and Rhodes is frankly not happy with himself, because he's jerked a bunch of people around just like Stark would have and all it's done is bring them to their sh-na-na-na-na-na-na knees, knees. He and Bethany decide to take Ultimo on while the rest of the Legion get everyone evacuated.

Meanwhile, over in our other plot, HOMER (who more or less ended up being JARVIS in the movies) has competed construction on Iron Man's new armour (which was a slick bit of design which lasted through quite a lot of things other than the comics--both seasons of the cartoon and every Marvel vs. game up to Marvel vs. Capcom 2) and Stark finally get outs of the chair he'd been in every since recovering from being dead (It's so easy, y'know) and suits up. We get a rather clever bit about this new armour--being modular, instead of separate suits of armour for special roles, he can swap out different parts of the armour for different missions, as well as snap-on different guns and scanners and stuff depending on what he needs at the time (I don't think they really used this that much in practice, but good on them for trying to do something interesting with it--lord knows the next time he gets a new suit, there's absolutely no reasoning behind it save for "Joe Madureria.") It's rather cool.

Anyways, Stark takes the nightrain (well, not really, but we have a running joke today, y'know) and engages Ultimo. We get a good bit where instead of having an extended slugfest with Ultimo (which, 46 pages in, we've had already and I would say, we've got all we can get out of that by now) and scans Ultimo to figure out what he needs to do to stop him--y'know, doing stuff that makes Iron Man Iron man by giving us a look into him figuring it out on the fly rather than just having preemptively worked it all out because he's a "futurist" or whatever nonsense Marvel wants to sell us on now.

Ultimo gets defeated with some vaguely plausible science as Iron Man shuts down his nervous system with an EMP and Iron Man tries to mend fences with Jim Rhodes again, only for Rhodes to knock him on his ass, declare he's tired of being jerked around (yes, again) and to leave him the hell alone (yes, again) Stark is more than a little taken aback and prays for the thunder and the rain to quietly pass him by and offers Bethany a job as SE's Head of Security.

Meanwhile, in subplots corner, Stark tells Veronika that he's his Michelle, and Marcy Pearson and Hacker Guy are busy trying to break in to SE's computer's, which well set up "Crash and Burn" next issue, as something is watching them (it's actually VOR/TEX, who we'll deal with when the time comes) The issue closes with some backmatter about Stark Enterprises which is generally just there to let us know about the supporting cast going forward from here.

So, while this issue has some good bits, it also has a very critical flaw--Ultimo is not really that great a bad guy to hang your anniversary issue on, and while the book does the desperate battle against him justice, and allows us a few moments of awesome (the Iron Legion--seriously, Len Kaminski's knowledge of Iron Man lore is near rabbinical if he's willing to pull Eddie March out of the mothballs) but really, when you compare it to #200, which was the culmination of three years of plotlines and had a real emotional punch as well as a big actiony set-piece, it feels a bit bit thin--it's a big slugfest with a few subplots ticking over and two more starting up.

But, this is balanced out by the good bits--Iron Man is allowed to actually be Iron Man in an interesting way, the new armour is pretty cool, and it hums along so nice and efficiently that you actually don't realise how thin it is until after, and Len Kaminski has a real facility for writing Iron Man in a way that few writers in his run had (though he was doing Hellstorm as well at this time and . . .you know, I've always wondered whether the two were connected somehow, but that could just be me seeing connections where none exist) and I still maintain bringing him back for a victory lap at Marvel wouldn't be a bad thing at all. Just a suggestion that would, y'know, maybe make me buy your comics again.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Didjutal Comiks: IRON MAN #208

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 #208
July 1986


Writer: Denny O'Neil
Artists: Mark Bright (pencils) Akin & Garvey (inks)

Iron Man has determined, in the wake of AIM suckering him into putting a killer satellite into orbit, to go to the non-existent but real sounding country they took over (Boca Caliente) and wreck some beekeeper-suited shit.

Over in Subplots Corner, Bethany Cabe is haranguing her druggie husband and telling him she's having divorce paper's drawn up in a subplot which will be aborted, but not before he's killed off and this whole loose thread is snipped.

Oh hey, an ad for one of those watches that transformed into a robot! Holy shit, I forgot how many of those I bought, much like how I forgot the exact moment I realised those goddamn things were about as far from "cool" as you can get.

Sorry for the digression--Iron Man flies to Boca Caliente using his invisio-power thingy and runs into AIM driving people out of their village so they can recruit them for slave labour. This is appalling enough, of course, but Iron Man's even more worried about the nuclear missile launchers AIM has tucked underground.

As arms control is a bit over his head, Iron Man goes to Washington, and meets with the same stereotypical senator guy that shows up in these comics all the time (seriously, he even has a cigar) Senator Bedfellow says the US Government will do absolutely nothing, and Iron Man shouldn't go meddling either, and if you think this will in any way dissuade Iron Man from taking out the missiles, then your naivete sickens me.

Back to Subplots Corner, wherein Bethany's meeting with a midget for advice of a good divorce lawyer and exposits some more about Boca Caliente, namely that Alfredo Pechter, Boca Caliente's former president, is going to break in to the launch facility and fire the missiles at the US. His expository responsibilities completed, he's naturally shot and killed and Bethany returns fire and interrogates the guy, but he doesn't have anything to do with Boca Caliente (god DAMN I'm getting tired of typing that) which means it still counts as a subplot and can stay in the corner with Baby.

Speaking of subplots, Cly shows up and tells Stark and Rhodes that she's going to reject a job watching for Halley's Comet (ah, 1986.) and stay on with Stark and Rhodes, which would mean something if she weren't going to be largely ignored for the next eight issues and then killed off when Layton and Michelinie try to pick up the pieces of the whole AIM thing.

Anyways, just then, Bethany Cable calls Stark and passes on the exposition, and Iron Man zooms off because this is page 12 and that missile attack the cover promised us has been taking its damn sweet time getting here. Pechter breaks in with knockout gas and a handgun (which shows you that for all AIM's brilliance, their security is apparently a goddamned joke) and infiltrates the launch site while Iron Man hashes it out with Senator Bedfellow, who says he still can't go. Iron Man tells him to eat a dick and breaks his window and does anyway. Iron Man's good enough to angst about all this--in principle, the senator's right--the law is the law--but Stark feels responsible and an Iron Man's gotta do what an Iron Man's gotta do.

Finally, the missiles launch, and being that they're only three of them (very much like the end of After Burner Climax) it's up to Iron Man to stop them without triggering their warheads, which he manages to do, even though I kinda wonder if it's as easy as all that. But then, this issue has shown us that AIM can be brought to its knees with some gas and a pistol, so the notion that they have only 3 nuclear missiles and they're all duds is not as shocking as it would be otherwise.

Later, at his space station, Iron Man laments that while he may have saved the day this time, AIM is still in charge of Boca Caliente and that even though he's on the verge of opening up a new venue in space exploration, he hopes the madmen, tyrants, and bureaucrats from coming along. Oh Iron Man, you might as well have a gingerbread house in the Land of Make-Believe.

This is Denny O'Neil's last issue on the book, as he was busy getting fired because John Byrne raised a stink about how he was editing Hulk in a juicy bit of dirty laundry that Jim Shooter recently recounted on his blog. I should of course credit O'Niel for an amazingly tightly plotted an expansive storyline that spanned thirty issues and three years of the book and holds together very well.

I should also hand out a demerit because this AIM storyline was DOA from the beginning, just a muddled mess that dragged on for six issues (or so) and made barely any sense at all. The one good idea in it (AIM taking over an entire country to use as a power base, a plot point that stuck around for quite awhile) is subsumed under a lot of other stuff, namely the woeful Yorgon Tykkio, who O'Neil tried so hard to sell us on as a Bad Motherfucker, but just fizzled on the page, frankly.

However, for even that misstep, the pre #200 issues are a strong run to stand with the definitive runs on the book--er, all 4-5 of them, depending on whether you count Layton and Michelnie's 2 runs as 1 run or 2 separate runs. The book slides into fill-in mode from here until #215, when Layton and Michelenie will return, tie up the AIM plot a bit, and reposition Stark from being in the space business to something else, and return to form on the book.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #20

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, it's time again for our weekly jaunt into the murky mists of 15 or so years ago and continue to soldier on in our effort to recap every single episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, that red-headed stepchild of the Star Trek franchise. This week, we continue through Season 4, wherein we get the ball rolling in ways other than involve the Klingons or giving Worf anything to do. Here's a pile of maps--let's drive away now!


"Only a Cardassian would call this hellhole invigorating."

When a Cardassain ship named the Ravinok is located, Kira plans to begin the hunt for the ship, but before she can, Dukat beams over, planning to come with her. Because naturally when you're looking for survivors from the Occupation, hey, why not take Space Hitler along?

Meanwhile, in the B-plot, Kassidy Yates is in the process of getting a new job, which will allow her to live on the station and be closer to Sisko. Sisko acts like a schmuck and is afraid of commitment, because it's so goddamn funny when we roll that hoary cliche out.

In any event, the real meat of the story is Kira and Dukat being forced to work together (we will revisit this in a different context later in the season) Each has their own reasons for searching for the Ravinok, but only Kira's forthcoming about why--the man who recruited her into the Bajoran Resistance, but Dukat's reasons remain a little unclear until the third act. They find bodies of some of the Ravinok's crew, and it eventually comes to pass that a woman named Tora Naprem was on the Ravinok, and she and Dukat were lovers. Moreover, a Tora Ziyal is listed on the Ravinok's manifest.

This is several levels of odd because Ziyal is a Cardassian name, and yet it seems to follow the whole Bajoran "Last name first" rule of naming, and eventually it comes out thus--Ziyal is Naprem and Dukat's daughter, and if Dukat finds her, she's dead. Since, as has been frequently mentioned, family is everything in Cardassian society, having a child out of wedlock is consider a great scandal and so, Dukat's going to head that off.

Naturally, this is unconscionable to Kira, who says she will kill Dukat to stop him. Eventually, it's Ziyal herself who forces the issue--if she can't be with her father, she'd rather die here if those are her only choices.

Fortunately, if you've seen The Searchers, you know how all this comes out: Dukat can't kill her, and resolves to bring her back to Cardassia, and damn the consequences, and through a flew bits of flexing, this means Ziyal now joins the party, which makes her +2 against Aeris references.

This isn't a bad episode, really. The Kira/Dukat stuff really drives it along (they're two of the strongest characters in the show, naturally they bounce off one another quite well) and after the Klingon stuff last week, it's great to see that the core of the show hasn't been forgotten. That part's fine.

The parts that don't work are Sisko's utterly embarrassing b-plot ripped whole and bleeding from every sitcom ever made, which is just goddamned excruciating, and the lack of e-ink I expended on it should tell you I found it so annoying that I didn't even want to waste time insulting it.

Ziyal is less a character and more a plot beat that walks like a woman. She's really just there to add some dimension to Dukat, and when that doesn't work, she gets paired off with Garak later in the season, which may have seemed like a great idea, but in practice has a hint of ickiness that never quite gets washed off and then she's just there to leverage any and all plot points, before she's killed off. That the part is continually re-cast doesn't really help all that much either.

I'll have more to say about Ziyal when she shows up again, but for now, let's just say she was a one-shot character who stuck around a bit too long, and I'll try to explain why as we go.


"I can never tell when he's joking."

We Finally Gave Up On Dax, Part 2.

So a couple weeks ago, we reviewed "Facets," and rather than talk about the episode, I really went on at length that we were really coming to the end of the time when the writers of the show made any effort with Dax, save for shuffling her off with Worf and pairing them off in the Problematic Main Cast Corner. I mentioned at the time that we would see the other shoe drop in "Rejoined," and look at that, here we are.

I'm going to talk more about the character more than the episode, so I'm going to deal with the plot in pretty quick strokes: There's a science project afoot to create a stable wormhole artificially, and this is a way for one Dr. Lenara Kahn to come to the station. This is important because one of Dax's previous hosts and one of Lenara's previous hosts were married, and there are still unresolved feelings.

This is a Big Deal, not because of the obvious (to us, anyways, namely they're both women) but because the Trill as a people have a taboo against joined people reassosciating with other joined people. This is, I should add, one of the only Trill laws that makes any fucking sense whatsoever: because the symbiont is really carried in these hosts to develop and grow through new experiences, the notion of them just hanging around with all their old buddies creates basically an aristocracy and stunts the growth of the symbiont.

The punishment for breaking the taboo is exile and eventual death of the symbiont, although given how Dax ends up by the end of the series, that might be a blessing, ha ha ho ho.

Anyways, the science project stuff is a blind, the real story is Dax and Lenara grappling with their feelings and the consequences of acting on them, and that story is, I feel it fair to say, Dax's finest hour. It avoids becoming some much bolshy soap opera stuff generally because there are two equally valid points--Dax is willing to chuck it all and be with her, damn the consequences, and Lenara, while she loves Dax, is too scared to make that leap. That tension between "let's run off into the great unknown and let the chips fall where the will--any bridges we'll cross when we get there" and "I don't know if I can do that" means the story transcends its twin gimmicks (the whole "reassociation taboo" and Dax kissing another woman--wow, remember when that was a big deal?) and becomes a story that's more couched in relationship mechanics that everyone can deal with on levels commensurate with their experience. Everyone, regardless of the sexual orientation has inevitably been in both Dax and Lenara's shoes and been willing to roll the dice, but also aware of and scared to lose what they have. The rest is just details.

It's a very good episode, with some good performances by Terry Farrell and Susanna Thompson (who will go on from here to be wasted on Voyager as the Borg Queen mk. 2) and the benefit of a lighter touch when it comes to non-typical relationships than you tend to get on, say, Torchwood, which seems to me virtually obsessed with shoving its sexual politics in your face.

But while it's good, it's also very sad, because we're not going to get this much thought put into Dax from here on out, and it's a damn shame that just after it's proven that it can be done (and how many tries did this take?) that we decide "eh, that's too hard, just pair her of with Worf. She's done some Kilngon stuff, it makes sense kinda." Looked at in the larger tapestry of the series, you can't help but be sad for what mighta been.


"I only need one shot."

I remember hating this episode when it first aired, and I blame it's problems, then and now, on nothing more or less than massive Special Effects Failure. You see, initially, the plan was that the Defiant would be stricken and slowly sinking on a water planet and there would be an issue with the water coming in and all that.

Somewhere along the way, "water planet" was switched to "gas giant" and well none of the other special effects beats really were changed, and so the result is . . .a little po-faced. It's hard to be as invested running from gas, even if it's something poisonous like methane or the kinds found in bathrooms at Taco Bell.

Here's what you need to know--the Defiant is hosting a meeting with the Karemma (not seen since "The Search") and Worf takes this as an opportunity to run weapons drills and generally be an asshole. This turns out to be a perfect time to for the Jem'Hadar to attack and they critically damage the Defiant and send it drifting into the gas giant's atmosphere, meaning they're blind, critically damaged, and drifting into the core of a planet whose gravity will crush it to a pulp, long after the poisonous gases kill everyone, naturally.

This is, of course, just an excuse for everyone to get their Das Boot on, and it hits all the usual beats--there's fucking sonar pinging done, for God's sake--a race against time, wounded crewmen, only have one shot to get out of this pickle . . .it's nothing you haven't seen before (and probably better) a dozen times.

It's not to say there's not some good bits in there--Kira looking after a wounded Sisko and really kinda pouring her heart out about how it feels to work for the Emissary of her planet's gods, which is really a conversation we've needed to have and is really overdue, because frankly, this should be a big deal--to a Bajoran essentially you're working shoulder to shoulder with Jesus every single day and well, what is that like? I would have liked to see some more of that in the course of the series, but I was grateful for this bit.

I don't really hate the episode anymore (apart from the fact that the gas-as-water thing Just. Does. Not. Work.) but it's just . . .kinda there. It's interesting in bits, but not what one would call essential.


"If they buy poison, they'll buy anything."

My all-time favourite episode of Futurama is hands-down "Roswell That Ends Well," wherein the Planet Express crew visit the site of the rumoured alien landing in 1947 and fuck everything up in their usual style, sparing a moment or two to also whack the concepts of causality, time travel, and the grandfather paradox in the proverbial nuts. For all my love of Doctor Who (well, until this season, anyways) I always have time for stories wherein some utter berks travel through time and generally mess everything up--yes, I can admit it, I actually liked that Red Dwarf where they cause the JFK assassination.

I bring all this up because "Little Green Men" is . . .essentially the Quark, Rom, and Nog getting punted back to Roswell, New Mexico thanks to Fake Science and being mistaken for Martians. Surprisingly, for a Ferengi episode, hilarity actually ensues.

I have no real defence for liking this episode except for the fact that it knows what it is (playing on the culture shock between 1947-era Earth and the "enlightened" Federation era, prisimsed as it is through the greedy acquisitive Ferengi) and plays around with it in such ways that do not involve yelling or mugging and the more preachy bits (Kids, don't smoke or set off nukes. They're bad.) are done in a rather clever way, because when you shock the Ferengi with what you're willing to do in the name of profit or whatever, holy shit.

This is always something I wondered. I forget who said it, but an alien looking in on us and realising that we happily pollute our own atmosphere, use weapons that could kill the planet several times over and we also nailed one or more of our gods to sticks, would probably run in horror from us, because we would probably seem to them to be dangerously unstable. That takes a bit of the curse off of the usual tut-tutting about nukes and smoking being bad--if you have it perceived at one remove, it's not quite so didactic.

It also helps that the Ferengi are basically alone in this--everyone else in the episode is playing the whole episode absolutely straight and earnest and it works perfectly well because you don't have the Ferengi carrying all the comedy weight (which ends in disaster) and having a straight person to play off blunts how annoying they can be.

I will not pretend this is an episode everyone should see--it adds nothing to the overall arc of DS9, it features no dramatic character beats, it's just a pretty silly and damn funny episode. And that's actually OK, y'all.

It's good to end on an an up note, isn't it? That's it for this week. Join us next week when Kor, Dax, and Worf (see, I told you it starts happening early on) go on a hunt through the Cave Set for something sharp in "The Sword of Kahless"; Garak and Bashir get their James Bond on in "Our Man Bashir"; and we get the intended Season 4 two-parter a little late in "Homefront" and "Paradise Lost." Join us next week for Bond, bickering . . .and pleasurrre . . .

Friday, May 27, 2011

Didjutal Comiks: IRON MAN #12

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 #12

January 1998

"Spoils of War!"

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artists: Patrick Zircher (pencils) Larry Mahlstedt (inks)

So, hey, would it shock you to that, if you glanced at the credits above, we start the issue with Iron Man, having had the shit freshly beat out of him recapping the history of War Machine in a couple pages as the new War Machine prepares to toss him off a building as Warbird (nee Ms. Marvel) does exactly jack shit about it.

Iron Man remembers he can fly and shit and doesn't have to take this and blasts War Machine, and Warbird remembers she has, like, powers and stuff, and punches War Machine into the stratosphere. Unfortunately, Warbird and Iron Man can't get on the same page and Iron Man soon flies off looking for his Negator Pack (used in the Armor Wars to destroy his stolen tech) and to once again underline his health problems and keep the other subplots in Subplots Corner humming along.

Iron Man tries to fry War Machine with the Negator Pack, but nothing happens, meaning that there's no actual Stark technology in War Machine's suit (I should add, this revelation makes no sense on the face of it and is never followed up on as such) War Machine beats up on him some more and flies off and Iron Man collapses because Kurt Busiek, that's why.

Later on, Stark works out it was Sunset Bain who sent War Machine after him and tries to suit up, only to collapse before he can finish. We learn that Stark's problem is that the energy fields in the armour are retarding his tissue growth and impeding his ability to heal. I personally think the problem is that he's been mostly having his ass beating up and down the woodpile without so much as a day off isn't really helping matters, but who cares what I think.

We tie up a few loose ends with Warbird fretting over Stark, insisting she doesn't need help with her drinking problem and flying off and Stark being wheeled out to a stress clinic, which, this being comics, is run by the Controller.

So, uhm, this isn't a terrible issue per se, despite my teasing. War Machine works far better as a nemesis for Iron Man than an ally (well, he worked well as an anti-but-not-evil-Iron Man in the early issues of his own book, but that's a discourse for another time) and the fight is very effective, even despite the nonsense with the War Machine armour not being Stark's and Warbird being generally useless. War Machine comes off as a strong nemesis, the mystery about who he is is engaging (even though the eventual revelation lands with a bit of a thud) and you're excited to see what he'll do next.

I should also ad that our favourite fill-in artist here at the Prattle, Patrick Zircher, does a great job keeping the War Machine battle really lively and exciting. He's great, and it's great to see him.

The problem is really in the subplots. For the the main character, Iron Man constantly getting his ass kicked and it's becoming a little numbing after a year's worth of issues, Sunset Bain's plans are so inscrutable that they threaten to become insensible, and Warbird's alcoholism never goes anywhere and is soon dropped after Busiek leaves.

It's an odd issue, because the things I like, I REALLY like. The things I don't, really don't work for me at all, really.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Didjutal Comiks: IRON MAN ANNUAL #9

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 ANNUAL #9



Writer:David Michelinie and Bob Layton
Artists: Mark D. Bright (pencils) Bob Layton (inks)

I knew I had an Annual somewhere on this thing. We begin with Iron Man swooping in to save the day when the Golden Gate Bridge breaks down, only to receive help from an unexpected source, Stratosfire, who helps him out (or to be blunt, upstages him) and is immediately mobbed by the media because she's the hot new thing (er, no pun intended) and Iron Man zooms on back to Stark Enterprises so he can yell at Marcy Pearson for being shown up by the new hero on the block and also because he hates hates hates the Permed Mullet Of DOOM.

Marcy helpfully coughs up some exposition: Stratosfire is Roxxon Oil's answer to Iron Man--a corporate sponsored superhero of their own design. Stark yells at her some more and then goes to brood and exposit some more about Stratosfire, specifically that her powers are alarmingly similar to Sunturion, a guy he fought during the first Michelinie/Layton run (it was the first Space Armour story, #142-144--they also adapted it for the Iron Man cartoon back in the 90's) who apparently died trying to keep a space station from crashing into Florida.

Clearly, Something Is Going On (Given that Roxxon is Marvel's Designated Evil Corporation, this is like saying water is wet and fire is hot) and Stark decides to find out what.

But never mind that shit, here's Stratosfire, or rather Sandy Vincent, political science laureate and her friend, babs. Sandy exposits a little more about how they got here--learning political science in college, getting out and finding out that their degrees were worthless, ending up in Roxxon secretarial pool, and then signing up for the Stratosfire thingy.

More on their relationship a bit later, we got more plot to cover. Jonas Hale (Chief Executive Asshole of Roxxon and minor recurring nemesis from back in the day) gets Sandy to come over--they're sending Stratosfire out to destroy a rival refinery. Sandy balks at this, but eventually acquiesces and she decides to do it. Hale frets over how unstable she's become and threatens to use something called the Zed Control, which will probably send her to Canada or something, I don't know.

Stratosfire attacks the oil refinery by leaping through the phone wires ("control over microwave radiation" apparently is highly plot-convenient while Stark confers with Babs about how worried she is about her friend, and Roxxon, having monitored the conversation with Stark, has her killed off-panel and this naturally sends Stratosfire into "pissed off" and she vows revenge.

Hale is all like "whoa, I didn't think she'd be that mad" and considers using the Zed Control, but decides not to, because "the board" might not like having their expensive custom superhero deactivated, decides to let her run wild for a bit, and idea that immediately seems a little suspect because she goes to deactivate a nuclear plant. Iron Man engages her and she kicks his ass (no, Busiek didn't write this one, calm down) Stratosfire vows that she'll dismantle the war machine and make the world Eden and the crowd just eats it up. Iron Man, feeling like her intentions are noble, but her actions are misguided (echoing his feelings about Sunturion) and he's finding it hard to hate her.

Meanwhile, Roxxon is up to their usual eeevil shit, and still ain't using the Zed Control (because the Annual's only half-over) and sends out a plane on a mysterious mission. Meanwhile, at the commissioning of a new aircraft carrier, Statrosfire attacks and Iron Man's there to stop her. So Straosfire grabs his head and starts boiling him in his own armour.

Things don't look so good, but Iron Man gets an unexpected ally--Sunturion returns (not that it uh, hadn't been telegraphed so blatantly up to now, right?) and engages Stratosfire. Having the edge in experience, he drives her off and suggests Iron Man and he discuss things and blurts out his identity for extra leverage.

We get a little exposition on the whole "why aren't you dead, Sunturion?" question (which raises a question for me in "what the hell--Sunturion was in Daredevil?!") and they try to find out her next move which involves an attack on a shuttle which is carrying part of the "star wars" defence system (because, y'know 1987) while Stratosfire steels herself for the battle to come at the launch site and angsts over Babs dying.

Then we get our fight at the launch site, and frankly, it's worth the price of admission, featuring Stratosfire, Sunturion, and Iron Man fighting under the space shuttle, Stratosfire shuts down the Zed Control like the McGuffin that it is (sorta), and finally Stratosfire readies herself to destroy the shuttle. Iron Man buys some time by asking Sunturion if it's worth it to kill a bunch of astronauts just doing their job in the name of the ends justifying the means, and that buys Sunturion enough time to manually activate the Zed Control. Stratosfire explodes and Sunturion is de-powered and everyone kind of walks off, wondering if Stratosfire had a point, even though she went a bit nuts with it.

There's a couple more pages of backmatter covering the staff and layout of Stark Enterprises, but that's the end of that.

So hey, while most Iron Man Annuals have really weak stories that exist in an odd kind of isolation from the regular book (All apologies to Peter Gillis, but that one where Jim Rhodes is fighting with the Eternals was the most boring damn thing in the world), this one doesn't, at all, which is a refreshing change of pace, as the general rule is that Annuals happen in their own little bubble far from the convolutions of the main book (the Evolutionary War running through next year's Annuals will all but calcify this approach) this one is very much grounded in the current attitude and history of the Iron Man title.

For one thing, we have the return of Sunturion, and a nice echo of the original story wherein a noble goal was undermined by the dodgy means by which it was achieved led to disaster, when Stratosfire, who is very much Sunturion's twin, starting a crusade that is very noble but that nobility may get lost on the way since she's using some rather ruthless means to achieve her ends.

And let's go ahead and get this out there: Uhm, I'm pretty sure that Stratosfire/Sandy and Babs are more than roommates--they're lovers. There's a lot of tap-dancing around it, but they seem to me to be a bit more than good friends. I don't think this is a bad thing (if true--Layton, or Michelinie or anyone else, feel free to correct me) but that scene where Stratosfire is angsting about how she'd stop all this if she could just talk to Babs again really does push the point home. Again, it may be exactly what it is presented there, but reading it now, I dunno.

I should also add here that Iron Man (who is awfully passive in this Annual, but that's not a bad thing) functions as the balance and the link between Sunturion and Stratosfire, respecting their nobility but deploring the means used to achieve them. That the story ends on an ambivalent note really presses the point home that this isn't a victory and there are sometimes when you do things and the question of whether they were "right" or not is something you'll have to grapple with forever, possibly to no satisfactory conclusion.

I should also add here that Bright and Layton were a powerhouse art team, one of my favourites ever on Iron Man. Everything is slick and powerful and bless them for managing to get over the utterly hideous excesses of Flexographic printing. They were just in the groove on this book and stayed in said groove for the length of their run.

It's a great Annual, and well worth picking up.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Didjutal Comiks: IRON MAN #289

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 #289

February 1993

"The Light At The End"

Writer:Len Kaminski
Artists: Tom Morgan (pencils) Brad Vancata (inks)

The Living Laser is back and he's pissed off, ready to kill someone. Jim Rhodes, in a rather darkly humourous little bit, acts like the whole thing's no big deal--The Laser's here to kill Tony Stark and Rhodes shrugs his shoulders and says "well, you missed your shot there, dude's dead." The Laser is a bit taken aback by this (apparently not quite understanding how death works in these here funnybooks) because he had this whole master plan to screw with people's heads by pretending to be Stark and now it's all shot to hell.

But he tries to make lemonade by saying "OK, if Stark's dead, then I'll kill Iron Man." Rhodes shrugs his shoulders and says "I fired his ass, because he was one of the old guard and I wanted people loyal to me." And to further confound the Laser, Rhodes offers him a job to keep him on the back foot until he they finish the silver coating on his armour.

This naturally leads to a fight, withe the Leaser steadily losing his shit and Rhodes fighting back with the twin advantages of the War Machine suit and a strategically deployed "yo' momma" snap, and kicks the Laser into a wide-beam communications laser aimed at the Andromeda Galaxy. The Laser excoriates Rhodes for being so cruel to dangle the possibility of a new life at him and then punt him into another galaxy.

Rhodes takes that pretty hard, and who can blame him. In the wake of the battle, he goes over to Rae LaCoste and angsts about it for a couple pages while we wander over to Subplots Corner where Morgan Stark is talking to a Japanese guy about some eeeeevil plan they're cooking up that starts paying off next issue.

Later on Rhodes is finally let in on the secret--Stark's not dead, he's simply pining for the fjords. Rhodes takes this as well as you might imagine--namely he gets seriously pissed off and quits SE. This particular fissure will last through a healthy portion of the next twenty issues or so as Kaminski tries to give War Machine his own identity and more easily spin him off from the main book.

So, this isn't a bad issue at all, really. The fight with the Laser has a bit more at stake than the usual slugfest and the resolution is actually pretty novel. It's also to Rhodes' credit as a character that he's not exactly happy with what he's done--and is absolutely enraged by Stark's whole "death" charade.

But the whole "death" thing really doesn't work as leverage to divide Stark and Rhodes, and it the longer Rhodes stays pissed off, the more it seems a little forced and frankly, Rhodes comes off as an asshole. Thankfully, we'll get this tied up in "Hands of the Mandarin" (only good thing to come out of that, really) but for now, expect a the following scene to happen a lot: Stark tries to apologise, Rhodes tells him to piss up a rope and leave him alone. It happens a lot from here on in.

Tom Morgan does a guest stint here, continuing the longest running audition for a spot on the regular book in history (seriously, he'd been drawing it off and on for like, ten years or so by now) and acquits himself well. He does shiny stuff very well, and manages to keep John Romita Jr.'s Living Laser design and integrate it well into the mood of the book.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Didjutal Comiks: IRON MAN #244

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 #244

July 1989

"Yesterday . . .and Tomorrow"

Writer: David Michelenie & Bob Layton
Artists: Bob Layton (pencils) Bob Layton (inks)

In the wake of Kathy Dare shooting him through the spine and confining him to a wheelchair, Tony Stark has problems above and beyond his permed mullet--namely the typical "lead character gets crippled but doesn't want pity or anything so he acts like he has something to prove" cliche we've seen a million times.

Meanwhile, Roxxon decides this is an opportune time to mess with Stark Enterprises, so they send the Fixer to sabotage SE's latest project. Since Stark can't use the Iron Man armour, he asks Jim Rhodes to do it, but Rhodes bows out, citing his not-too-good history with the armour. This somehow trickles down to Carl Walker, the erstwhile Force, who got a new identity in the wake of his pre-Armor Wars arc we alluded to last time.

Meanwhile, Stark's still in his funk and decides now would be a good time to flash back to sometime in the recent past (or not, as the armour used in the flashback doesn't match the dialogue and it makes it hard to place in time) when he ran into an old but very close (so close we never heard about her until now!) flame, Joanna Niveneh, which leads into a further flashback, because this a double-sized issue and . . .y'know, I get the feeling there was a last-minute change here.

Anyways, we get Iron Man's origin recapped and add some to it--namely we see what happened when Stark returned from Vietnam (yes, it was Vietnam back then) and learned he couldn't get it on with Joanna, couldn't smoke, and got so tired of it he nearly killed himself when he threw the chestplate away.

So he elected to make the best of it--initially trying to mass-market the Iron Man armour, but when thieves try to break in and steal them, he gets cold feet, because he jolly well couldn't have it fall into the wrong hands, and so he decides to confide to Joanna and let her know what's going on. To cheer him up, she takes him to a tennis match . . .

. . .which is immediately attacked by terrorists. I would suggest that if you want to hijack a sports event to make a political statement, a sport wherein the spectators are actually awake would be a better choice, but oh well. Anyways, Iron Man beats their collective asses, and is called a hero, and at last the penny drops for him--this is a way to make the best of his condition. Joanna even says it's like an engineering project to him--being a hero, being Iron Man is like a technical problem, and he won't stop until he's perfected it, which is a pretty workable analysis of his character, I thought.

Anyways, Iron Man re-builds his armour so he can walk again and takes down the Fixer and the decks are cleared for the next story arc which will involve Madame Masque, the Hulk, and a cast of thousands of henchpeople.

I continue to think this issue was meant to be something else entirely. For one, it's a double-sized issue that doesn't really need to be, Bob Layton's penciling and inking and there are signs that some of it was done at the eleventh hour, and the whole thing is . . .very odd, really.

In fact, this whole late-period of Layton/Michelinie's second run is actually more interesting for the stuff that was happening behind the scenes than in the actual comic. For one thing--apparently there was substantial disagreement over how long Stark was going to stay in the wheelchair (I think it ended up being maybe five or six issues?) and a whole long arc had been planned wherein Stark would get addicted to being Iron Man because it was the only way he could walk, and then editorial got cold feet and it was rolled back.

The practical upshot of this is that ultimately Layton and Michelenie would soon pack up and leave for Valiant, although Layton was supposed to come back and write and ink the book, only he stayed at Valiant, and ultimately John Byrne took over and . . .yeah. We don't talk about that.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Didjutal Comiks: IRON MAN #222

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 #222

September 1987

"The Party"

Writer: David Michelenie & Bob Layton
Artists: Mark Bright (pencils) Bob Layton (inks)

Iron Man begins the day by demolishing a building and this touches off and argument because by destroying the building in seconds, Iron Man's inadvertently cost the union a bunch of jobs and already I cringe because politics and Iron Man comics go together like . . .well, there's no more lethal a mixture than politics and Iron Man comics, is there?--hell, look at Civil War--but thankfully it's just a way to tie up some loose ends and add some quick action beats to what will actually be a fairly low-key issue.

Tony Stark, you see, is hosting a soiree to celebrate his hip new house, which is actually pretty rad. But never mind that shit, here's Mongo--I mean, Iron Man flies off to Stark Enterprises and we are re-introduced to Stark's most awesome secretary ever (Pepper Potts can kiss my ever-lovin' ass) Mrs. Arbogast, who as is her wont, reasserts herself with a vengeance and everyone's happy.

We continue our 32 Short Films About Iron Man vignettes by following James Rhodes, who broods a bit and runs into Marcy Pearson, his on-again, off-again girlfriend who will spend a hell of a lot of time freezing him out until she gets written out of the book, then is written back in and then he fires her. Trust me, it's rather complicated.

Anyways, the party's getting started and the nicest thing I can say about it is that it's nowhere near as excruciating as the party scene in Iron Man 2--man, that thing dragged on for ages until the Iron Men started fighting--and Stark has lost track of time, and in the process of zooming off in his Iron Man armour to get to the party quick--unfortunately, a shedload of small issues keep him from making it in time, up to and including the whole "cat stuck in a tree" deal, the upshot of which means he's late for his own party, and while the party didn't really go as planned, Stark feels pretty good that all the small things Iron Man was able to do really directly helped people.

Oh, and in a teaser for the next arc on the book, Force wrecks a boat and days he's going to see Iron Man.

I doubt you would ever see an issue like this in this day and age--it's got a few quick action pieces to disguise that this is essentially supporting cast and subplot maintenance, and not much can be said to substantively "happen" if you're talking about status-quo shaking events, but it's an issue that actually does something with his supporting cast and fleshes out the "world" of the book.

I suppose nowadays he'd just hang out at Stark tower and talk with the other superheroes about what a drag it is being a superhero, because that's exactly what I want to read, eh?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Whole Damn Thing: STAR TREK: DS9 #19

Like Mega Man's fight for everlasting peace, it's time once again for another lap around the track in our continuing goal to recap every single episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and we will strike, seek and never yield in that attempt.

This week, we reach another milestone--we've moved on to Season 4 of this show, a season which sees a further evolution of the show's status quo in addition to some changes forced on the show from above. How will our favourite show juggle these two things? Let's find out!


"You'd be surprised the things you learn when you're making alterations."

Are there any more unsettling words for a long-term TV watcher than "Shake up the series?" It's never a good sign. That way typically lies stuff like Cousin Oliver, Cybertits, or God help us all, Poochie. It generally feels and all to often is little more than a stunt to hotshot a higher rating and works to the detriment of the series as it was.

I bring this up, because at the beginning of DS9's fourth season, and edict came down from the parent company to do just that. This did lead to some shuffling of plans--the episodes that would ultimately become "Homefront" and "Paradise Lost" later this season were moved from their place at the beginning of this season for . . .well, the Kilngons becoming the Bad Guys again.

Er, sorta. More on that in a sec. Oh yes, and Worf joins the regular cast and they don't really do much with him with any consistency for awhile.

All things being equal, it kind of worked and it kind of didn't. It worked a lot more organically than other shakeups tend to go--we knew from last season, the Dominion was working covertly to stir up internecine trouble and stage wars between powers to weaken them for the day when the Dominion finally decided to roll in, so the fight between the Federation and the Kilngons has a reasonable in-show reason for this change to happen.

The problem is, the actual Federation/Klingon conflict is a bit hedged--there are some fights, lots of tension, and occasionally we get a sense that things are rather desperate, but it never escalates into the open warfare you would expect and as such it feels . . .well, like a sideshow to the larger Dominion threat, which it is and probably would have been no matter what they did--we've spent two seasons building up the Dominion as Bad Motherfuckers, and the Klingons having a shit-fit just pales by comparison.

Anyways, there's a lot to cover here--On the station, Our Heroes are running drills to ferret out Odo, playing the role of Changeling Saboteur (I should note, as a mild spoiler, when there is a Changeling on the station, he pretty much has the run of the place) and they totally lose. However, there's larger problems here--the Kilngons have shown up in force, ready to help their Federation allies fight against the Dominion.

Thing is--the Dominion's been pretty quiet lately. Also, the Kilngons seem tense and on-edge, constantly challenging people, stopping ships and searching them, and beating the shit out of Garak.

That they picked Garak seems to be linked to whey they're here--the Cardassian government has collapsed (remember the dissident movement from "Profit and Loss" and "Second Skin?") and with the Obsidian Order all but annihilated by the Dominion, a new government is in place and they've sealed their borders. The Klingons think they've been infiltrated by Changelings and intend to storm the Cardassian empire and take it by force in the name of security.

They haven't, but that's not the point, really. So to sort it out, Sisko asks for Worf, who was free since the Enterprise was destroyed in Generations. Worf has been getting his head together because really, that was a fucking shitty movie, and he's not really feeling the whole Starfleet thing right now (For all my concerns about this new direction, I do rather like how Worf is in Sisko's role from "Emissary"--it's a nice callback to the beginning) and while he's willing to help Sisko, he doesn't have much hope about going forward.

With Worf having ferreted out the information, things heat up, and heat up fast. The Defiant rolls out to rescue the new Cardassian leadership and is forced to fire on the Klingons, and the Klingons abrogate their treaty with the Federation and attack the station.

Now, when this happened in "Emissary," the station pretty well got spanked. When it happens this time, Sisko (now fully in "A Man Called Hawk" mode, which means he is now Shift-Y against Stupid Klingon Bullshit) orders that the station's defences be rolled out.

And the station is bristling with fucking guns, and manages to hold off the Klingons for awhile . . .and when the Klingons breach the station, they kick ass bare-handed. Again, whatever concerns I have about the direction of the show, holy shit this is action-packed.

In fact, for a troubling episode, there are a hell of a lot of good bits from the regular cast--Garak and Quark comparing root beer to the Federation, Lyta Alexander's on the Defiant for some reason, Sisko using Garak to covertly warn the Cardassians, Dukat and Garak fighting side by side, Worf kicking ass with his new weapon, Kira getting stabbed and still managing to beat ass, and Sisko kicking the crap out of Klingons bare-handed because he's just that fucking rude.

Oh, and there's a new intro, did I forget to mention that? I know some people prefer the original, but I kinda like the driving and more martial beat and it's cool to see the Defiant in the intro because it means that it's here to stay.

So . . .yeah, this isn't a bad episode by any means--it feels fairly epic, is crammed full of action, and while the long term ramifications don't really play out satisfactorily and Worf wanders around the station like a big ol' grumpy-puss, I can't hold it against the episode. It's too much fun and as shakeups go, about as painless as it gets.


"For you, and for the boy I was."

Man, this is one heavy episode. We begin in the future, with a woman visiting an elderly Jake Sisko. Superficially, Jake's done all right--he's a renowned writer, who mysteriously quit at the height of his popularity.

So old Jake tells his story to her--when he was younger, his father disappeared into subspace because of technobabble-related reasons, and this act causes him to obsessively search for a way to make it right, to the detriment of living his own life. When he finally makes a real effort to move on, his father reappears and then his obsession returns even stronger than before.

During the few times that Sisko reappears to him, and is horrified by what his obsession's wrought in his life. In the name of getting his father back, Jake has abandoned his writing, his wife, the chance of a family, all on the slim hope he could Make Things Right.

I don't want to go into too much detail here, because I don't want to spoil things, and also because anything I say wouldn't adequately explain the emotional gut-punch this episode has. It sticks in the mind even more when you've seen the whole run of the series, as there are little echoes of it ("The Visitor" leitmotif pops up in the series finale, but the context of why it shows up will have to wait until then) all the way through, which you wouldn't expect for a done-in-one character study.

"The Visitor" isn't really connected to the larger tapestry of DS9 (and yet it sorta is) and while it's not beholden to the larger points of the shows over-plot, it does more in sixty minutes to sell the bond between Sisko and his son than the past three seasons taken together have done. It's just an amazing episode with some real emotional content and manages to do in a technobabbly way without the technobabble making the plot convolutions incomprehensible. It's one DS9's all-time best episodes.


"The Founders are like gods to the Jem'Hadar. But our gods never talk to us, and they don't wait for us after death. They only want us to fight for them... and to die for them."

It's our first O'Brien/Bashir team-up of the season, and well . . .it's much less funny, because our wacky duo have crash-landed on a planet full of Jem'Hadar--too many for them to fight off. What's more, the Jem'Hadar in question are dangerously to close to severe withdrawal from "the White," the drug that the Founders use to ensure their loyalty. When it's gone, the Jem'Hadar will go berserk, killing everyone they can get their hands on until they finally die themselves.

While all that's standard operating procedure, the circumstances by which O'Brien and Bashir are kept alive isn't. Goran'Agar, the head of the Jem'Hadar unit, has freed himself of his addiction to the drug, with no ill effects, and wants Bashir to replicate the process for his men.

What makes this episode work is that it's not a Bashir and O'Brien vs. the Jem'Hadar episode as much as it is Bashir vs. O'Brien episode, wherein Bashir's Federation optimism that "we can free the Jem'Hadar of their addiction and allow them to grow as people" vs. O'Brien's more rational "They're incredibly dangerous, and while the fact that they're essentially slaves to the Founders is bad, but letting them off the chain has a greater chance of making them more dangerous than they are already."

The better thing is that the episode refuses to stack the deck one way or another, and the episode is much better for it. What's more that "answers to problems aren't always so clear and this show is not really going to tell you one way or another" carries through into it's B-Plot, in which Worf learns that as a security officer on the station (as opposed to the Enterprise) things are one hell of a lot more complicated than he's used to.

As with the A-plot, it's actually surprisingly strong--typically one suffers at the expense of the other, but this episode manages to juggle both adequately. I should also mention here that it's good to see the Dominion again so soon, because this reassures us that they're still an ongoing threat and haven't been shoved aside for the Klingons.

It also gives Worf something to do rather than wander around the station like a big ol' grumpy-ass, and while he'll go back to doing that very thing immediately after, but well, you take your victories where you can.

So, in conclusion, ladies and jellyspoons, this is a good damn episode, really. Three for three this week. Can't remember when we had a run that strong.

And that's all for this week! Join us next week when Dukat and Kira hunt for a new recurring cast member in "Indiscretion"; The last Dax episode where they really try to do anything of meaning with her character happens with "Rejoined"; The Defiant comes down with a bad case of gas in "Starship Down"; and we get one of those rarest of birds--an actually funny Ferengi episode in "Little Green Men." It'll be fun, as these things should always be.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Didjutal Comiks: IRON MAN #195

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 #195

June 1985

"The Thing Most Precious"

Writer: Denny O'Neil
Artists: Luke McDonnell (pencils) Akin & Garvey (inks)

Iron Man (Jim Rhodes, this time) flies in to Lance Storm's home town of Calgary (dramatic pause) Alberta, Canada, looking for Micheal Twoyoungmen, also known as Shaman of Alpha Flight. Yes, this is what you think, and yes, it's gonna be pretty cringing stuff. Shaman squeezes his head and Rhodes freaks out because he's not some dude in a loincloth spouting myths and bullshit--let me tell you something Hoss, his visions are strong.

Yeah, enough Thunderheart references--Rhodes is there to finally cure his headaches, and Shaman says it's a problem with his soul and it's going to require well, essentially a vision quest to solve.

In the B-Plot, Hawkeye is trying to cheer up Stark, who lost his suit or armour in the ocean. We get a couple pages of Stark saying he's never going to put on a suit of armour again (again) and how when he was drowning last issue the armour was dragging him down, just like it always had (in case the metaphor wasn't painfully obvious already) Hawkeye suggests he build a suit for the West Coast Avengers--Stark wouldn't have to wear it, but the WCA could use it as backup. Hawkeye is rather pleased with himself, because he's certain Stark will end up being Iron Man again because the temptation will be too great. It doesn't exactly play out that way, of course . . .

Over in Subplots Corner, Bethany Cabe is visiting Calfornia and for what feels like the 9 zillionth time gets attacked by thugs from Obadiah Stane and beats the crap out of them. Stane and his mystery partner (OK, it's Madame Masque) grind their teeth over Cabe getting away and the Enforcer getting killed by Scourge last week. Stane insists that Stark is a pathetic drunk--I'm sorry "pathetic, dribbling, drunk"--and there's no way he's got his shit together.

Back in the A-Plot, Shaman and Rhodes head off on their vision quest. Said vision quest seems to consist of Shaman dropping him in Steve Ditko-land and telling him it's dangerous and there's not really much he can do. We get a couple pages of Rhodes doing his Iron Man thing, and he says he's getting tired of Shaman's "fortune cookie routine."

I know how he feels.

Anyways, this is just a tortured metaphor for something which had been made clear a few issues ago--Rhodes felt worthless unless he was Iron Man, he saw it as his only means to really be somebody, and when he got the Iron Man armour, he felt like he'd finally made it. But subconsciously he felt unworthy of it, hence the headaches. The Iron Man armour disappears and Rhodes is back in Calgary (dramatic pause) Alberta, Canada again, finally at peace with himself, if a little discomfited by what he's learned about himself.

Man, this issue. Like McDonnell gives it his all art-wise in his final issue of Iron Man, but this story makes my head hurt. Even in 1985 "guy goes to see Wise Indian and get his head together" was a dead-horse cliche by this point and reading 26 years later really hasn't helped it any. While I guess we did need a moment where Rhodes' issues with Stark were made explicit and finally resolved, one wishes a better way had been found besides this. This is a bit of a recurring problem in the #190s--Denny O'Neil has all his major threads tied up--Stark's back on the wagon and finding his way to being Iron Man again, Rhodes has settled his issue with Stark, and the two of them are building a new life in California while Stane moves into his endgame.

The problem is, since the final showdown with Stane can't happen until #200, that means we spend about five or six issues treading water with one thing or another until then, and times like this, it really plays up how thin on the ground meaningful continuing plots points were during this time.