Friday, February 1, 2019

The Heroism of "Iron Man" March

Being a friend of Iron Man is risky business, as most of his friends who have stood by him through good times and bad would attest to (those who are still with us, that is). Being a regular reader of Invincible Iron Man provided the opportunity of not only seeing new friendships for a figure like Tony Stark come and go, but also to see old friends resurface and step back into the lives of both Stark and Iron Man, whether it was only briefly or for an extended period. During those times, you couldn't help but be curious as to why some supporting characters who clicked with readers stopped appearing in the first place, which also begged the question of why they were brought back (though I would think it would be attributed to different writers coming aboard with other supporting characters in mind); for return engagements, however, it was good to catch up with them again, however long their stay would be.

In the case of prizefighter Eddie March, a character who first appeared in 1970 and managed to make appearances off and on for nearly twenty-five years, he had an interesting story from the beginning which you would think could only take him so far. A former sparring partner of Happy Hogan, Tony Stark's close friend, Eddie was a rising star in boxing, until one match rang down the curtain on what could have been a rewarding and lucrative career.

The rest of the match was brutal, with Eddie taking a good deal of punishment, but he rallies and finally decks his opponent.  Yet despite winning his match with Hogan and Tony Stark in attendance, the news he receives later in his dressing room is the kind of devastating news that brings an end to such careers.

And so, meeting the press afterward, "Iron Man" March stuns the reporters (as well as Hogan and Stark, meeting him in back) by announcing his retirement from boxing. But to avoid being pitied, he strikes a deal with his doctor to keep silent on his medical condition, so that his fans would think he'd simply decided to go out while he was on top.

Of course, with writer Archie Goodwin taking the trouble to put in place Eddie's introduction as well as his tragic circumstances, the words exchanged between Eddie and Stark should give you an idea of what's in store for our former boxer.

Oh, you can count on that, Mr. March.

As for how Stark ties into this, he's recently received surgery that has finally freed him from his debilitating heart condition; yet he's since found himself unconsciously holding back in battle as Iron Man, concerned about how the stress of leading such a life may impact on his now-healed heart. His doubts again come to mind when he suits up to save his love, Janice Cord, from the new Crimson Dynamo, though both Janice and Stark are unaware of the Dynamo's identity as well as his place in Janice's life.

Thus, Goodwin has nicely set the stage for taking Stark out of the picture where Iron Man is concerned, and bringing in Eddie, the perfect choice given his background as well as his enthusiasm for the role--but perhaps not the best choice for Eddie, under the circumstances.

Soon enough, Eddie faces his baptism of fire as Iron Man, when Stark sends him to investigate a mysterious smuggling shipment. By this time, Eddie, having seen no signs of dizziness during his training, has convinced himself that he can handle the role of his new armored identity. But complications arise when the Dynamo arrives on the scene, looking for not only payback against Iron Man but to also defeat him as a setback to Stark, whom Niven sees as his rival for Janice's love--and Eddie finds himself in a full-fledged battle, which proves nearly fatal for a man in his condition.

Yet with his tenacity to not go down in a fight, Eddie hangs on and battles through the pain, determined that Iron Man doesn't succumb to defeat. It's a race against time for Eddie, as well as for Stark, who hurries to the scene to save his friend. But while Eddie makes good on his word, Stark is frantic at the thought of the price that might have been paid.

As Eddie is taken to wage one more battle--this time in the operating room, as he fights for his life--his example has spurred Stark to take a hard look at his own choices, as he realizes that he cannot ask others to assume a risk that he himself isn't willing to shoulder. It's a moment that owes its honor and resolve to Eddie as much as to Stark.

Iron Man goes on to have a final reckoning with the Dynamo--as well as the Titanium Man, who happens to be the cargo our mysterious ship was smuggling in. Unfortunately, though he receives the welcome news that Eddie will pull through, the battle exacts a heavy toll on Stark.

As for Eddie, his life begins taking some unusual directions from this point, as Goodwin and other writers attempt to make use of him in follow-up stories. Goodwin, for instance, has Stark make Eddie an interesting offer upon his release from the hospital:

Yet the politics involved in the community center's establishment, as well as the position of Director not feeling like the right fit for him, move Eddie to accept a position at the Iron Man Foundation.

Three years later, Mike Friedrich has him crossing paths with a west Africa economics minister, Dr. Obatu, who has come to America seeking to hire Iron Man as a bodyguard as protection against a slew of attacks from powerful assailants.  And guess who lends a hand during one such onslaught?

Unknown to anyone at the time is that Obatu is actually Dr. Spectrum, whose power prism's alien intelligence has been rebelling against its human wielder and has created attackers from thin air in order to compel Obatu to accede to its wishes.

In Detroit, where Iron Man is currently located, Spectrum makes his move against his old foe, forcing Iron Man to retreat in order to repair his armor. In the interim, Eddie has suited up as Iron Man in order to take the heat off his hard-pressed friend--only to fall victim to the prism's intelligence, which has decided to take possession of "Iron Man" and abandon Spectrum. And as if Eddie, his consciousness suppressed by the prism, wasn't in enough trouble, now he faces a thrashing by no less than the God of Thunder, who quickly realizes that Iron Man is not who he appears to be.

Yet the prism is unaware of Eddie's medical condition--and though it was likely on its way to defeat from Thor, it has already begun to fall victim to Eddie's injury, which has been exacerbated due to the stress of the battle.

The situation grows worse when Spectrum, on his way to police custody, reclaims the prism from the fallen Iron Man and fully asserts his will over its intelligence. Spectrum flees the scene, with Thor taking off after him--even as the real Iron Man returns and is shocked to find Eddie at the scene, at death's door. In a rage, Iron Man catches up to Thor and Spectrum and asks Thor to tend to Eddie while he settles things with Spectrum. To cut to the chase, Iron Man prevails, thoroughly trouncing Spectrum and destroying the prism for good measure.

But returning to the scene of Eddie's fall, he finds that Thor's human alter ego, Dr. Donald Blake, is grim as to Eddie's prognosis.

It's certainly clear by now that Eddie is every inch the hero, willing to put his life on the line repeatedly despite the great risk to himself. And since we finally have a surgeon of Blake's renown on this case, you'd think we'd at last be witness to a happy ending for Eddie, perhaps even the eradication of the blood clot which is at the heart of the problem. But just look at where this goes:

Yes, the enervator--perhaps Stark's biggest disaster of an invention, yet which continues to be given the green light to treat patients, this time with even Blake signing off on its use. And just in case that isn't enough to make you want to rip Blake's medical license to shreds, let's hear from him post-op once Eddie is subdued and brought back to the hospital:

Fast-forward to four years later, to a Bill Mantlo story where Eddie is among a group of friends recruited in an effort to convince Iron Man to reclaim Stark International from the takeover of the villain known as Midas. Eddie, you'll also notice, has apparently forgotten to bring his wheelchair along this trip.

Something Mantlo belatedly gets around to explaining three issues later:

Eddie becomes involved in a similar situation over fifteen years later, courtesy of writer Lee Kaminski, when Jim Rhodes recruits another band of Shellhead's friends to join the "Iron Legion"--tasked with stopping Ultimo, while the crippled Tony Stark focuses on getting out of his own wheelchair to don a new suit of Iron Man armor.

(Our friend Eddie is pictured lower left, in the no-frills armor model.)

To my knowledge, Eddie never returned to Iron Man for the remainder of the 1990s and into the 2000s--though with the resurgence of Iron Man in the films, I'd be surprised if Eddie hasn't reappeared in some capacity by now, hopefully in some role other than as part of a posse. It's well past time that his friends rallied around him, wouldn't you agree?


Anonymous said...

Don Heck isn't a name that gets tossed around a lot when great comic artists are mentioned, but he sure did some great work on Iron Man. He seemed to really have a feel for the character and the title.


Big Murr said...

Don Heck? Really? I would have bet cash money that was George Tuska.

Comicsfan said...

You're actually both correct, gentlemen--Heck's work is featured in the scene where Eddie is released from the hospital and considering Stark's offer to head the community center.

Anonymous said...

Dang it! I always get those two guys mixed up! Yeah, it was Tuska I was thinking of for his work on Iron Man. My bad!

A very mortified M.P.

Jared said...

This is a character I have not thought about in some time. I think in a way, the superfluous supporting characters coming in and out of a hero's life makes being a Marvel hero seem more real. A great writer makes the reader care about people outside of the traditional circle around a character. I liked this post and your retrospective on the issue of Hulk where Jim Wilson died. I would love to read more on the obscure supporting characters of the Marvel Universe.

Comicsfan said...

There's certainly no shortage of those to choose from, Jared. All I can say is, stay tuned! :)

dbutler16 said...

Jim Wilson died? Dang! :( I'll have to check out that post.

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