Tuesday, May 5, 2015

All Is Fair in War

From the cover that heralds its beginning, it's not hard to get the gist of the seven-issue arc of stories in 1988 known as the "armor wars":

I'm not sure where or when "armor wars" became the comics catchphrase for this series of stories. Originally, it was given the label "Stark Wars," playing on the title of the famous George Lucas film of 1977; and, indeed, Tony Stark is the driving force behind this initiative to safeguard his armor technology from being used by criminal elements. But while "Stark Wars" might serve as the title to the introductory story, "armor wars" perhaps better describes the scope of targets that Stark must take out in order to accomplish his rogue mission. (And it admittedly sounds a lot cooler.)

What puts Stark on this road is his examination of the armored suit which was worn by a former opponent, Force. An examination which reveals components which are familiar to their inventor.

Since Force was a former operative of Stark's most ruthless business nemesis, Justin Hammer, Stark immediately suspects Hammer of stealing his Iron Man technology. But the trail leads instead to the Spymaster, whose name of course describes his proficiency at this line of work.

In an attempt to curtail the use of his technology, Stark develops a device which will lead him to the unique signature given off by his stolen circuits--and, one by one, Stark, as Iron Man, begins to hunt down and nullify each suit by use of a specially designed "negator pack." At first, Iron Man's task is made easy by targeting known villains who are employing his technology--starting with the Stilt-Man and, later, the Mauler.

The Controller, one of Iron Man's toughest customers, is also a target. But their altercation causes the death of an innocent, one of the Controller's mindless subjects--and it will be the foundation for a growing feeling of guilt that will haunt Stark throughout this process.

Complicating matters is the fact that Stark's legal machinery treads on shaky ground as far as justifying Stark's intent to confiscate this technology. In addition, the wheels of justice are moving far too slowly for a man who fears every day that his technology is being used by others to cause suffering:

And so, Stark expands and escalates Iron Man's mandate, sending himself on a relentless hunt to seek out and deal with those who register as using his technology. More villains turn up, such as the Raiders and the Beetle:

Yet Iron Man's sweep also targets government operatives, such as the Stingray and the Mandroids:

Also included are the men using Stark's Guardsman armor, facing an attack by Iron Man which crosses the line on several levels:

The Guardsmen act as security for the government facility known as the Vault, which incarcerates super-villains. Iron Man is successful in his mission to nullify their armor--but his invasion of the Vault results in several of its inmates freeing themselves and now being at large. Iron Man also comes into conflict with the Captain (the former Captain America), and chooses to incapacitate his friend rather than stand down--a decision that would later cause a deeper rift in their relationship when the Captain seeks to take Stark into custody.

Stark is also troubled by the fact that his attack on Stingray was the result of a mistake, since Stingray's suit was discovered to be using none of Stark's technology. Regardless, Iron Man's activities and disregard for the law have created a public relations nightmare for Stark Enterprises, and Stark has no choice but to "fire" Iron Man so that he no longer is associated with the company in any way.

Meanwhile, Iron Man's activities are raising eyebrows and concerns with the Avengers, whose west coast team Iron Man is a member of. Eventually he's forced to explain himself; and team leader Hawkeye demands that Stark put an end to what seems to have become a vendetta. Instead, Stark departs without a word, leaving things unresolved between them.

Iron Man then brings his hunt to Russia, taking on both the Crimson Dynamo and the Titanium Man (whose armor is now manned by the Gremlin) in his stealth armor which has only limited weaponry.

When the Titanium Man seizes the advantage, the situation spirals out of control--and, just as with his battle with the Controller, Iron Man's one-man mission to sidestep the law to do what he believes is right results in yet another death.

The incident forces the Avengers to expel Iron Man from their ranks, though they stop short of attempting to take him into custody. Yet, because Stark considers the death of the Gremlin an accident due to self-defense, he buries the incident in his mind and continues to press on--now making use of his staff to perform a global wipe of databases to erase any details of his stolen technology.

This action essentially concludes the "armor wars" set in motion by Stark; but Iron Man's status as a hero has been damaged beyond repair, his activities having caused a furor with the authorities. Stark himself is at a tipping point, haunted by what he's done and the bridges he's burned--but his worries are far from over, as the government commissions Edwin Cord, once a business rival of Stark's, to test and activate armor that was originally designed to collar out-of-control super-heroes but would now be focused on overwhelming Iron Man and putting him out of action permanently. This new operative, Firepower, is successful, though Stark would survive and go on to live with what he'd done--or, rather, how he'd done it.

In hindsight, the "armor wars" can be seen as one of the earliest instances that offered excellent insight into Tony Stark's penchant for justifying his actions and disregarding the law according to his own moral compass. And while the story hits no reset button, it unfortunately tidies things up as far as Stark is concerned so that Iron Man can go on adventuring in his mag without his actions here constantly dragging him down--a broom and dustpan which are used in Iron Man #232, the story's unofficial epilogue, where a nightmare sequence effectively purges Stark of his nagging guilt and he resolves to "accept" his actions, coming to terms with a part of himself that he realizes will always be with him.  One can't help but notice that he doesn't resolve to keep it in check.


George Chambers said...

Tony was just so full of himself, wasn't he? As if there was something about him that was so darn special that no one else could possibly build tech like his legitimately. Fair enough, Spymaster did steal his plans, but the nature of technological innovation is such that if he hadn't been around to miniaturise his "super-transistors" in TOS 39, then someone else would have made the same innovations - someone like maybe Anton Vanko, or Reed Richards. I guess what I'm trying to say is that Tony Stark feeling responsible about others using powered armor for crime and mayhem is like Hiram Maxim crying about all the death caused by machine guns in World War I. It never rang true to me and I feel it was a crummy, contrived motivation for Tony to go off on a wild tear.

david_b said...

Hmmm, what to say, what to say..:

I restarted my IM collecting 'round this time (because I was bored..) and while I liked the storyline, the art annoyed me.

It all seemed soooo Magnum PI-ish, with Rhodey and Tony's hair..? You name it. Plus the art and inking itself was crisp and all but just seemed like the same panels in each issue.., it just got very mundane, perhaps trite is the best word to describe it.

Just very '80s and very dull, just nothing all that gripping. I did find the red/silver armor a nice alternative for a while, much better than the dismal red/yellow style it went back to once folks were complaining about the 'no-longer-Golden-Avenger'..

Almost as bad as the 'nose'..

Comicsfan said...

George, you make some fair points. Stark, like anyone who's had their property or patents stolen, could have availed himself of the legal system in order to set things right, and indeed attempted to do so--even while he was fully intending to take more decisive action. His bottom line came down to the fear that lives could be lost in the interim--so he made a unilateral judgment call to override legal channels and let Iron Man handle things directly. Being a former munitions manufacturer, we can only imagine what the results would be if he suddenly got it into his head to go after all the weapons systems his technology is now embedded in, technology that any number of governments could have discovered and appropriated to use to take the lives of innocents.

Iain said...

Armour Wars would have made a great movie, also they needed to clean up all the armored bad guys wandering around Marvel at that time, only problem a year after this run most of these deactivated bad guys were back up and running again, cant keep a good bad guy down, ^^

I always liked the Gremlin in the Titanium man Armour too, somehow the image of him sitting in a gap in the chest cavity relaxing hearing the Russian government warnings just looked hilarious.