Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Faces Of War

In the pages of Iron Man, we've seen how difficult it was for Tony Stark to shift his company from being a manufacturer of weaponry and munitions to a company instead focused on research and development and on the future of mankind. It was a tremendous undertaking, and often on a personal level; because while Stark had no second thoughts in eventually turning away from his company's association with death and destruction, he would often find himself haunted by his decisions in those earlier days to, in effect, make war more easy to wage while looking the other way.

"Long Time Gone," a story published in 1975 and written by Bill Mantlo, features a time of reflection for Stark concerning an incident in Viet Nam during the war, a period in history when it was sometimes difficult to pin down just what the United States was trying to accomplish, and where the winning of this interminable conflict seemed overshadowed by the heavy casualties on both sides and the seeming pointlessness of it all. Tony Stark, who of course would have been a key figure in the government's campaign due to his proficiency in advanced and innovative weaponry, is overseeing (as Iron Man) the use of a new weapon in the field that uses satellite tracking to pinpoint its target(s). On his arrival, Stark is in full business mode, eager to see his new device perform; but in his thoughts, he recalls more closely the men who greeted him on arrival, whose spirits were lifted just by seeing this hero from home. It's an uncomfortable reminder to him that the "face of war" can be found in the eyes of its soldiers, if one takes the time to look closely.

Major Stargrom and his unit have crossed into enemy territory "unofficially"--that is, the government will disavow any knowledge of his actions, should their mission there fail. It's a curious addition to the story by Mantlo, since at first glance it would seem to have no bearing on either Iron Man's presence or on the field test of Stark's weapon. But when Stargrom is suddenly taken out by sniper fire, the fact that he'll now be blamed for the repercussions of being discovered by the enemy takes on new meaning for Stark, whose weapon could be viewed as this incident's catalyst.

But there's still a job to do, and Stark's weapon is needed now more than ever:

The silence of the enemy guns, under normal circumstances, would indicate that the weapon's use has been successful. But in actuality, the gun has ceased fire in order to lock onto new targets, targets that have much higher heat emissions than ground troops.

The twin explosions cause Iron Man's boot jets to short out, and he plummets down to the jungle, where he remains unconscious for hours. To make a bad situation worse, his armor now has a more serious problem:

With Stark's weapon destroyed, all the men in Stargrom's unit were basically defenseless against the air strike, particularly with Iron Man out of action. But his chest pain leaves him no time to grieve, so he hurriedly arranges for a makeshift charge from the battery of an overturned vehicle. Rendered unconscious again, he doesn't awaken for a couple of hours--and only then does he give in to the guilt and frustration that finally put his role here in perspective. It's a state his sudden visitor will regret having the bad timing to encounter him in.

A punch that lays low an attacking foe would normally provide Iron Man, the super-hero, with a feeling of pride and satisfaction--but Mantlo doesn't let him off so easy. For one thing, Iron Man is still reeling from the tragedy of Stargrom and his men; but also, the circumstances of his attacker deprive him of any feeling of retribution, however minimal.

Iron Man comforts the boy as best he can, and travels with him further into enemy territory in order to try and locate his home. What he finds, however, solidifies for him his role in all of this, and likely plants a seed within him for changing his life's course at some point.

Iron Man then primes his repulsors for one last, grim task, in an absolutely stunning full-page display by artists George Tuska and Vince Colletta:

However Mantlo has made Iron Man face up to this day here, I can't help but feel that he's short-changed this story a little by giving the boy the face of peace, apparently to act as a bridge between Iron Man's actions and the story's ending. At the very least, the boy should feel like kicking answers out of Iron Man. He knows he's been brought home, but hasn't seen what's happened to it--only being cryptically told by this metal person that home is "no more."  So at the very least he's going to want to wander around and try to find his family or anyone else. The next thing he knows, this man he's with emits a terrifying force that makes it seem like he's decimating everyone and everything in the area, the same man who now wants to take him away. It would be more realistic for those tears Iron Man is crying to be due to the accumulated guilt of not only the loss of Stargrom and his men, but also the result of the boy he's trying to take to safety--a boy who, in a more frank telling of this story, would probably be struggling and wailing in his grip after been rendered homeless and bereft of his family. All things considered, there's no reason for Stark to have already come to terms with everything as he walks out of this jungle.

"Home's O.K. now!" Well, maybe for you, Stark.

"Long Time Gone" ends with a classic "stand tall" affirmation by Stark, who appropriately suits up as Iron Man to punctuate it.

Despite the problem I have with how the story is wrapped up, Mantlo, along with Tuska and Colletta, turns in an important and nicely-done tale that begins to chip away at Stark's feelings toward war vis-à-vis not only his later role as an Avenger, but also the course he would ultimately set for Stark Enterprises and his life's work. The story is one of several interim issues inserted into the middle of the Black Lama storyline (one being a reprint), and it's unclear whether it had been shelved as a fill-in story or whether Mantlo and his team threw it together with short notice.  It stands out well in either case.

Invincible Iron Man #78

Script: Bill Mantlo
Pencils: George Tuska
Inks: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza


david_b said...

Most folks typically enjoy 'their artist' as the first one who drew their titles when they started collecting.

Same is true for me here.., I enjoy Tuska the best on IM. Colan does spectacular Silver Age work, but it was Tuska in the '70s for me. Terrible on group books, but loved him in IM.

Comicsfan said...

I have to admit that Tuska was an acquired taste for me, even though he was indeed the first artist I associated with Iron Man. There are many times I wish his work on IM (and on other titles) was more detailed, and that his characters in motion varied from that standard low-to-the-ground lunge posture that he often resorts to; but there are moments when he takes great care in certain panels, and a strong inker can bring a lot to his table, as well.

Anonymous said...

If you look at the life of Dr Richard Gatling, of The Gatling Gun fame, his life has many parallels to our Golden Avenger. A man who made and lost many a fortune during his lifetime, he was always searching for the next innovation, the next grand discovery.

The Prowler (in search of the next great place to nap).

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