Denny O’Neil’s Iron Man: Reforging A Hero – Iron Man #164 by Brandon Masters

The year is 1982, and it is November. Denny O’Neil is also in the middle of his run on Iron Man, and is laying out comics that will affect Iron Man for almost as long as the Reagan era these comics were published within. You see, the next level of Chessmen will strike Iron Man abroad in Invincible Iron Man 164!

Deadly Blessing is from the usual suspects of O’Neil, Luke McDonell, Steve Mitchell, Rick Parker, and Bob Sharen.

Our story opens with the Chessmen agent Bishop springing the Knight out of jail. For those who weren’t here last time, Knight lost against Iron Man when Tony Stark chose to blow up an entire building to stop the guy. However, the leader of the Chessmen has no plans for Knight. As the Bishop and Knight fly off, held aloft by the Bishop’s staff, so some shocking decisions are made.

Bishop is a fairly cruel character, and one who makes a very decisive introduction! This also provides another glimpse into the mysterious leader who has been trying to break Tony Stark and Iron Man. Failure is not something they will tolerate. And speaking of being dated in time…

Tony Stark has spent yet more of his seemingly infinite money to treat his newest romantic interest Idries Moomji to lunch at the Twin Towers in New York City. Information is sketchy on which kind of restaurant might have been Tony’s venue of choice, but it was likely among the Windows of the World venues found on floors 106 and 107 of the original World Trade Center.

While the food is only cited as “very good” by reviewers of the day, it would still be incredibly expensive and showy for the time, with a fantastic view of Manhattan island. Records, and the archived website from March 2001, show that there were a network of smaller restaurants operating under the name throughout the 90s and very early 00s before the disaster of September 11th, 2001. As such, I can’t be more precise than “one of the dozens of food places that existed during the 80s.” The World Trade Center was only finished off seven years prior at the time of publishing, and would have been still a massive way for Tony to show off his money to Indries. Especially considering he rented out the entire place.

Their meal is interrupted by a phone call from Stark’s chief of security, who explains to Tony that they found out where Knight came from: Northern Scotland. Tony cuts the lunch short, but not before Indries says her farewells. O’Neil is really pushing her as a romantic interest for Tony, but we’ve spent very little time with the mysterious Moomji aside from her being flattered over Tony’s insane spending. It’s not that weird for Tony to date people who are just vague pastiches of human figures, but it feels weird for O’Neil to have introduced someone without fleshing them out more than “name.”

Well, don’t worry. We’ll be getting more screen time for her soon. While Tony and Rhodey fly out to Scotland, it turns out that Indries has snuck on board to spend more time with Tony.

Tony and his small JRPG party travel out to Glen Travail, a castle in the middle of Scotland. Like a lot of international locations in Marvel, Glen Travail isn’t actually a castle in Scotland. However, the owner of this fictional castle is a bear of a man who goes by the name of Jaime. He welcomes Tony and his traveling group because he knew they were coming, but Tony isn’t taking any chances. Noticing the room he’s in has a hidden camera, Tony rips out his Iron Man helmet and activates a jamming device somehow.

Tony flies out of the castle and into the Scottish countryside, though for what reason is decidedly unknown. Luckily, Tony still somehow finds what he’s looking for.

The Bishop strikes at Tony, whacking him several times with his sceptre. Looking like an old man in flowing robes, the astonishing thing is that he doesn’t seem to have projectile weapons. Instead, the Bishop seems content to wail on Iron Man and the castle around them, with the castle breaking easily under his bronze sceptre. Like with the Knight, what is a hilariously goofy concept turns out to be actually kind of awesome under the pencils of Luke McDonnell. All the while wailing on Tony, the Bishop rants and raves about his Master and also about how he is a holy one, anointed by God.

Meanwhile, the Glen Travail’s dining hall has a massive flat screen television up, showing the struggles of Tony as Iron Man tries to fight the Bishop. It’s fairly odd that such a setup exists, but neither Rhodey or Moomji decide to question it. In fact, when Iron Man is shoved underwater by the bishop, Rhodes finally decides to take the opportunity to help out Shellhead. And is then promptly knocked unconscious by the laird Jaime, who much like the Kingpin of this time, proudly proclaims that he’s more muscle than fat.

Of course, Tony has an air supply in his helmet, allowing him to take some time while the Bishop tries to go all Salem Witch Trials on his armored form. Tony’s been out of sorts this entire fight, and realizes that the Bishop’s hat must be sending out tons of electromagnetic waves that are bombarding his body, causing weird muscle reactions. Admittedly, said waves should have been stopped by the armor, but the SCIENCE used in Iron Man often makes little sense. Using a rock from the river, Tony is able to knock off the Bishop’s hat, and makes short work of the man. He even uses the sceptre as leverage to hurl him up into the sky.

I’m not sure if he can walk again, but Tony’s ok with the man being unconscious at the best. Tony breaks the front door of the castle down, only to come across laird Jaime once more. The man shows no fear against the armored avenger, boasting that if Tony happens to take action against Jaime directly, it could harm his friends. What could he mean by that?

Oh, hell. Jaime also brags that there is a poison from those spiders ripping through his system at the moment, and Rhodey will only have an hour before it kills him off. Further, Jaime is another one of the Chessmen. While he doesn’t have a fancy costume or superpowers, he is the Rook. And like the chess piece, the Rook is a castle. Or, rather, the Glen Travail itself!

Can Tony take down the entire castle and save Rhodey? And where is Moomji in all of this? Well, we’ll have to see in Invincible Iron Man 165!

This month, Jim Shooter continues to expand on the idea of Epic Comics. As it was previously mentioned, Epic Comics was Shooter’s idea of allowing modern comic creators a vast control in their work, even owning the comic license itself rather than letting Marvel have it. In a way, it was like Image Comics before Image themselves was made of fleeing Marvel employees in the 90s. Epic would launch with Jim Starlin’s personal work Dreadstar, a sword swashbuckling tale in space so far as I can tell. 

The comics were priced higher, $1.50 versus the $0.60 seen on the cover of Invincible Iron Man, but these comics were larger by page count, had fewer ads, weren’t beholden to Marvel’s higher ups, nor were they required to follow the rules of the Comics Code Authority. The CCA was organized in the 1950s after government panic circled around the comics of the day. Unlike modern days, where things like video games would develop their own ratings systems, the CCA was created to keep everyone squeaky-clean as comics were considered only for children. Even certain titles were forbidden, as they were somehow considered part of the problem.

Japanese masterpiece of black and white Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo would be published under the Epic label, chopped into pieces from six massive volumes in 1982 to 38 still massive individual issues in 1988. As black and white comics were still considered “indie” at the time, Otomo himself actually requested Marvel color his comic for release, and specifically chose Steve Oliff for the job. Oliff would actually persuade Marvel to use computers to color the comic, and Epic’s Akira was instrumental for changing the landscape comic creation by showing what computer coloring could do. While the original’s black and white is stark and fantastic, the coloring job is stunning on a level few manga ever receive, even today. Dave, you have to let me write about this someday.

Other popular mostly-indie works like Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, Sam and Max, Elfquest, and even George RR Martin’s Wild Cards would all see releases under this label. While Jim Shooter might have made some really horrible decisions in the 80s, it looks like Epic was genuinely one of the good ones.

Also, Shooter takes the time to announce that Stan will be making a huge announcement about work with Marvel Productions. Odds are, these are the animated releases that would show up in the 80s under the MP logo. My best guesses involve that Stan could be talking about the GI Joe cartoon, Transformers cartoon, the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon, and Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies, though the lesser-known creations Pandamonium or Meatballs & Spaghetti could also have been in the running under Stan Lee’s help. 

As for big comics at the time, we’re looking at Daredevil 188 under Frank Miller’s excellent run. Matt Murdock attempts to recover his heightened senses, while the (former co-star of the comic) Black Widow attempts to find a cure for the poison running through her body. Awesome stuff for the time, and it has aged well.

The Vision and Scarlet Witch miniseries also began this week, taking the two popular Avengers attempting to live a normal life in the suburbs. Further, Magneto was revealed to be the father of the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, until he suddenly wasn’t in the weird event comic AXIS in 2014.

So yeah, this was a big month for Marvel! But what about the fan reaction from this comic? For that, we need to look into Iron Man 168 to find out…

It’s actually really fun to see fans guess at who’s behind Tony’s woes at this time. Steven Scott Beau Smith has several guesses for the future… all of them wrong. Other fans like Rod Wahowake set up all the clues as they see them, but admit to not having the faintest idea!

That said, I do love the note from W. Gregg Stamey Jr, who takes the time to note that a lot of then-modern clergy members seem to focus on fire and brimstone fearmongering, rather than reaching out to the sinners they seem so determined to save. This was the era of the televangelist, and evangelical leaders who would put themselves on television, begging for money and claiming that the world could end in just a matter of years if they didn’t meet the right level of funds.

I can’t say we’re any better these days, frankly, considering many modern evangelicals are just as convinced the world could end any day.

Coming next time, it’s the house against Tony Stark. Can Tony come out on top? Probably. But let’s find out in Endgame!*

*No relation to the Avengers movie of the same name.

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