Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Burrowing To The Bottom

One of the most excruciating periods in my reading of Iron Man comes instantly to mind--the series of issues where Tony Stark, having lost his company to Obadiah Stane and recovering from falling off the wagon, forsakes his identity as Iron Man and heads to California to start over in business, becoming partners with Clytemnestra and Morley Erwin in a start-up called "Circuits Maximus"--while James Rhodes, who accompanied them, continues filling in as Iron Man. Writing and artwork during this time was done by Denny O'Neil and Luke McDonnell, respectively--and for an interminable two-year period, Iron Man essentially shuts down.

I knew there would be a light at the end of this spiralling-down tunnel, so it was just a matter of hanging on until then. But I think what made me finally cry out "For the love of Irving Forbush, enough!" was the story of Iron Man vs. ... vs. ....

Dear lord, I can't even say it.

You've now seen this book scrape the bottom of the barrel.  Dante himself couldn't go lower.

If the "Rhodey" you're expecting to see in this story is the same Rhodey who was such a vibrant character during the Michelinie/Romita/Layton run, who had loads of personality and the tight friendship with Tony Stark--well, that would have been nice, because that Rhodey would have made one hell of an Iron Man. Instead, we got a bitter, morose man who O'Neil also burdened with a psychological problem. And while he dragged both the stories and us down with him, we had battles with mutant termites to keep us entertained.

O'Neil was obviously taking a different tack with Rhodey's turn as Iron Man--showing us how someone without Stark's intuitive electronics skills or considerable experience as a super-hero would nevertheless give his best and offer his own brand of battle savvy to become an admittedly different but still compelling Iron Man for readers, at least for the duration. Unfortunately, the blasé writing style of O'Neil during this time was heavily mirrored by Stark, who hadn't a speck of drive or personality left in him. And when putting he and Rhodey together, this is often what you got:

But, hey, I bet you're waiting to see more of the incredible battle between Iron Man and the Termite. It plays out over two, count 'em, two issues, mostly because Rhodey's might-makes-right mindset doesn't take into account the Termite's power to dissolve anything just by touch. And while the Rhodey we used to know would use his head more and act like a human piledriver less, this Rhodey is driven by subconscious guilt of being undeserving of the Iron Man armor, and doesn't have his head in the game.

Sigh. Yes, the building comes down.

By the time of Rhodey's final meeting with the Termite, he's at the point where he doesn't care what happens to innocent bystanders as long as he nails this guy:

It's then that Stark shows up to add insult to injury, disabling the Termite by using the weapon that Forge designed to rob Rogue of her power. And the story ends as it began where Rhodey is concerned:  bitterly.

McDonnell would end his run on the book when Rhodey sought out Shaman (of Alpha Flight) to help him get to the psychological reason for his severe headaches--close to issue #200, where Stark reclaims the Iron Man identity. Oddly enough, once Rhodey clears that hurdle and McDonnell departs, O'Neil snaps this book and these characters back to life, and, under other artists, the stories and characters become interesting again--engaged again. Remember Bethany Cabe? Just look at her take on some goons out to capture her:

I know, I know--dull stuff like this doesn't hold a candle to the Termite, does it?

1 comment:

Kid said...

Absolutely unconnected to the issue, but did you know that termites can't digest wood? Apparently they have a parasite living in the lining of their stomachs or intestines that digests the wood for them. Amazing, eh?

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