When the Comic Code came into existence any chance for comics to tell stories that dealt with real life issues went flying out the window. While the intent was to keep children from reading stories that were inappropriate for them, there were some topics that could have been beautifully adapted using characters children could relate to to teach them lessons about the dangers of stuff like drugs and alcohol. It wasn’t until the early 1970’s when Stan fought for and won the right to publish the Green Goblin Reborn! story that dealt with the dangers of drug use did stories begin to incorporate real life issues in the story.
We get to the late 1970’s and end up with the Demon in a Bottle story from Iron Man issues 120-128. It details Tony Stark’s battle with the ultimate bad guy he would ever face. Booze. He’d fought some dangerous people before but when it came to alcohol, it was the one demon that almost put an end to him.
I really enjoyed how this issue gets the ball rolling in regards to his drinking but they don’t hammer you over the head with it. In fact, I do believe all of three panels end up dealing with his drinking for this issue. Again, there are nine issues in this particular story so it would not have been a good idea to hit us over the head with a moral lesson from page one.
We open with Tony on a plane heading home. He’s ordering his third martini when a tank breaks off the wing of the plane. (They make it make sense in the story. Trust me.) Tony switches into his Iron Man gear and gets the plane to safety only to discover that they are near a military base on an isolated island. The passengers are saved but Tony is enlisted to stop the Sub-Mariner from trying to keep an old coot on the island that the military did not want. Tony tries to talk to him but Sub-Mariner, who is not known for being the most controlled character in the Marvel Universe, starts a fight. Tony, a little drunk and pissed over past events, decides he doesn’t want to talk. During their fight, the old man shoots Tony and the fight ends in the water where the power to his suit goes out and the last panel shows him drowning.
I have a general idea of the overall story but I haven’t read all the issues yet. (Thank you Marvel Unlimited!) What I loved about this issue was that, despite it being 18 pages, it felt like a full, self contained story with enough of a hook to get me to read issue two. Like an old time movie serial, I felt quite satisfied at the end of the story that I felt an honest conclusion to what I read but I also had plenty of seeds for future parts of the story. I want to know what happens next and that is a great feat.
Now one aspect I didn’t care for was the fact that Tony still had not revealed to the world that he was Iron Man. Think about it. The story opens where a billionaire is riding in first class on an airplane that crashes into the ocean. One of the first panels has a flight attendant carrying magazines with Tony’s face on the cover. Others in first class would probably have a better chance of recognizing him than others in coach due to the likely hood that one, they read the news more and two, they’re more likely to dabble in the stock market and will know who the CEO of a major American corporation is. It is just plain silly to think that people would not notice that he was not a part of their group that was saved from the crash. And hell, during the crash, he grabs a briefcase and heads for the bathroom, kicking an old lady out. Wouldn’t she put two and two together and deduce that the guy that shoved her out of the restroom when she was dropping a deuce was Iron Man?
The movie with Robert Downey Jr. had the right idea with revealing his identity by the end of the movie.
It just makes sense for the character to be open. For someone in his position he would have a much better chance of doing everything he does without too much flack from the government since his company helps out as much as they do with the military industrial complex. I get why Peter Parker, a struggling average guy, would not want the world to know who he is. For a rich industrialist to not reveal his identity is just silly.
The art wasn’t like some of the art you saw from Marvel in the 80’s but it was getting to that point. It feels very dated. The same could be said of course for Amazing Fantasy #15 but in that instance, with the origin of such an amazing character, the dated feel actually goes to make the story a much better read. Here though, not so much. The leisure suit Tony wears at the beginning of the story alone is something that just feels wrong. I see Tony being more comfortable in suits or clothes that would be considered timeless. Seeing him wear clothes of the period almost forty years after the release of this comic just takes me out of it a bit.
It’s not perfect execution but this is the start of one hell of a classic story. I really can’t explain how happy I was that they didn’t start off with preaching about the evils of alcohol since that is the big bad for this series of stories. Tony in this issue forgets how many drinks he has had and it definitely impairs his judgement but nowhere do you see the lecture you would expect in a story like this about the evils of alcohol. Maybe they’re in other issues later in the story but I would have to think it is safe to assume that if it isn’t happening in this issue, it will not happen in future issues. While there are certainly problem areas of the story mostly related to the dated feel, without this story the comics industry would look different. After reading it I really wished Disney didn’t chicken out and stop Shane Black from making this story the basis for Iron Man 3. Robert Downey Jr. with all he has been through in his life would be the perfect actor to bring a story of the fall and redemption of someone due to alcohol abuse. It’s a missed opportunity.