Denny O’Neil’s Iron Man: Reforging A Hero – Iron Man #163 by Brandon Masters

It is October 1982, and Denny O’Neil has been writing Iron Man for five months now. After a series of one-and-done issues where the villain is defeated at the end of the story, O’Neil opens the comic up to a series of increasingly insane long running plans that will result in one of the most drastic changes in status quo Tony Stark has ever experienced.

Knight’s Errand! comes to us from Denny O’Neil, penciler Luke McDonnell, inker Steve Mitchell, colorist Bob Sharen, and letterer Rick Parker.

We open up today’s story from where The Menace Within left off last time, with Stark Enterprises heavily damaged from several weird internal attacks from hypnotized employees. Tony is able to free his remaining employees from the weird hypnosis headphones, and uses his armor’s built-in extinguishers in order to put out the fire in the power plant for his New York headquarters. However, the monorail system has collapsed, and the steel beams have crushed the car of a civilian. What makes this worse is that she’s an attractive woman!

At first it seems remarkably altruistic, but this is Tony Stark we’re talking about. Flirting and throwing himself into romance seems to be a core aspect of his character even before the snappy patter of Robert Downey Jr was grafted onto Tony. After investigating the source of the bombs used at Stark Industries, Tony figures it had to come from a bomber in New Mexico. However, before he leaves, Tony has to visit the mystery woman.

Tony is remarkably smitten with her, throwing his wealth at her in order to impress her. What could be remarkably annoying under anyone else comes off as charming under O’Neil, with Tony ordering six dozen roses to be delivered four times a day until whenever he says otherwise. And a pound of caviar. And truffles. And some mink coats, since this is before fur became murder.

Again, this comes off as charming under the pen of O’Neil, like a boy in love and unsure how to get the attention of the lady he has a crush on.

Also showing up for the first time in O’Neil’s run of Iron Man is James Rhodes!

Rhodey first appeared in Invincible Iron Man #118 in 1979, under the creative team of David Michelinie and John Byrne. Unlike his time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Rhodey was literally just Iron Man’s chauffeur when it came to planes and a good friend. He still did have a military background, presumably, and does now according to the larger tapestry of the Marvel Universe. However, Jim is also a remarkably down-to-earth character and often just amusingly shakes his head at the antics of the rich man Tony Stark.

Also important to note is that Jim, like everyone else who isn’t Tony Stark, doesn’t know that Tony is Iron Man. As such, it makes for some incredibly weird leaps in logic that we will look at when they come up.

As Tony and Rhodey fly to New Mexico, we cut over to our mysterious villain who is behind Tony’s current string of bad luck and villains. Running with a chess metaphor, the villain is fairly mundane at the moment. After all, chess has continually been used as a metaphor for scheming and plans. Knight is the one in the above shot, using a hover steed and laser lance because it’s the 1980s. There’s also an old man called the Bishop with long flowing white hair, and a grumbling younger man named Rook. Both have weird long robes of purple and dark blue, which both look great and also like knock-off X-Men villains.

With commands from his master, the grunt named Knight strikes, taking out one of the engines in the plane shared by Tony and Rhodey. Tony has the bright idea to help out.

By donning the armor, popping open the door of the plane, and flying out. Somehow, this does not cause explosive decompression, and Jim does genuinely not notice. While Tony is able to repair the engine so they can land, here is where we hit one of the largest issues with Tony “I’m not Iron Man” Stark’s ability to hide his secret identity.

There is no interior door for Rhodey to not notice the main door of the airplane being thrown open in the air, Tony noisily throwing on Iron Man armor, much less Tony commenting about how he is going to see what’s up outside the plane. The only honest conclusion I can come to is that literally every single employee at Stark Enterprises knows that Tony is Iron Man, but no one wants to call attention to it because it would hurt his feelings. 

Still, Rhodey is able to pull an emergency landing and the plane is put into repairs. Tony chooses this time to check in with Moomji Indries, and it seems the florist has misunderstood Tony’s request for six dozen roses.

I… yeah. That’s not roses. Unless she’s being given six dozen rose shrubberies, four times a day, someone messed up. Tony dons his Iron Man armor, flying out to where the mad bomber who helped wreck his property is holed up at. While Denny O’Neil has been normally really good about writing characters and making everyone unique so far, the bomber named Aloysious Lafferty is a mashup of Irish and Scottish stereotypes, complete with offering Stark a drink once he’s wrecked the landmined outside and massive gun emplacement.

Ripping the ceiling off of the small shack, the man known as Knight makes himself known to Iron Man. They duel in the sky for a few minutes, before the laser lance deals a crippling blow to Tony Stark’s armor.

I admit to questioning the logic of having batteries on top of the armor and in a vulnerable location, but this plays to one of O’Neil’s strengths: making the hero work with a much lower level of power  than they’re used to.

As such, it seems like Tony has it handled. In this case, he leads the Knight into a nosedive at the bomber’s shack before blasting it with his chest-mounted unibeam. The resulting explosion tosses the Knight off his horse and disables the villain’s armor, and Tony finishes the fight with a punch. Flying back home, Rhodey goes along with Tony’s delusions that he doesn’t know Tony is Iron Man. 

I really love how supportive Rhodey is being with Tony, but I’m not sure if it’s coming off as “humoring the boss” or “my pal, Tony,” because I’m getting both from these pages.

No letter column from the future to see if people loved or hated this issue, sadly. With that, we push onward to the monthly Bullpen Bulletins!

This week, Jim Shooter humble brags about going to Italy to represent Marvel comics at some kind of book fair. From his description, it sounds like it was Marvel’s annual attempt to get localizations of their books into comic shops, a yearly industry event that other publishers would also be involved in. The tales of the Marvel Bullpen otherwise are delightful, like how the office for Marvel’s mature imprint Epic literally had no carpets due to the hired crew running out of office carpeting.

As for the big events this month, man. There are some real gems advertised on this page.

Marvel Special 24, best known as X-Men and Teen Titans came out this week as one of the biggest (and last) cross-company crossovers of the 1970s and 1980s. Set in a world where DC and Marvel characters all co-existed, the personification of Man’s evil Darkseid has decided to revive the Dark Phoenix and use her to destroy the universe. Written by Chris Claremont as one of his few times dealing with non-Marvel characters, the man has an awesome handle on the New Teen Titans characters, giving them fleshing out in positive ways that don’t rely on the early “gritty realism” that was found in their comic at the time.

Also, Cyclops holds the entire Phoenix force before shooting it at Darkseid’s face and somehow finds the moral strength to not kill Professor Xavier while doing so.

Unfortunately, the Teen Titans are kind of just… there for much of the book, resulting in the book feeling like X-Men vs Darkseid. However, the Titans provide a lot of fantastic character interaction, and making the Phoenix part of the myths of space for DC as well as Marvel was a nice touch.

What-If issue 35 was also noteworthy, using the original creative team from Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil to see what could have happened if Elektra hadn’t been killed by Bullseye. 

Uncanny X-Men 162 was also a fantastic issue, kicking off Chris Claremont’s Brood Saga. Ripping off the Alien movies while also simultaneously feeling like a prediction of the Predator movies, this specific issue has Wolverine running half-naked through the jungle of an alien world and clawing up the Xenomorph knockoff Brood while desperately trying to remember what the hell happened. This event would also kick off, indirectly, the New Mutants as the first X-Men spinoff ever.

Big things were coming with Marvel this month, but we were just getting started with Iron Man. Next time, the Bishop Strikes!

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