Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Son of Fire!

Iron Man has certainly been threatened often enough by opponents who had the potential to damage his armor by intense heat, to the point where you started to wonder why most Iron Man villains didn't think to include a heat ray as part of their arsenal. Mikas... Firebrand... Sunfire... the Melter... Sunturion... it only makes sense to point them in the direction of a hero who depends on a shell of metal for his power. And hot on their heels (heh heh, get it?) comes this guy:

Being the "Son of Fire" gives Raga far more grandiosity than he merits, in a two-part Iron Man story that closes out 1972 for the book. Raga, boiled down (heh heh, get it?), would be little more than a minor cult leader were it not for his association with the mysterious Black Lama, who takes him on as a sort of protégé:

(The Internet was still years off when this story was published, but thanks to writer Mike Friedrich this scene may have been our first exposure to the term "world-wide web.")

We get our first look at the power Raga has learned to harness from within himself as he begins training his followers in the Black Lama's methods in the Santa Monica mountains. When one of his cultists, a girl named Cynthia, breaks ranks and decides to have a fling with a forest ranger, Raga becomes incensed--which is precisely how he becomes a threat beyond the lunatic he already appears to be.

Raga then goes on to set the forest ablaze, and the fire quickly spreads to engulf a much larger area in the mountains. That draws the attention of Iron Man (on vacation in California as Tony Stark), who finds and rescues our injured forest ranger and then deals with the outbreak of fire. It doesn't take him long to then locate the source of all the trouble, and just in time.

Fortunately, Iron Man's armor is now solar-powered, which gives him some measure of protection against heat-related threats. Still, it's clear that Raga is a threat to be taken seriously, and, if possible, from a distance.

Raga's sudden spike in power now has Iron Man facing off against a virtual living volcano--assuming he survives this cliffhanger to battle on in Part 2!

Out of immediate danger, Iron Man has a bigger problem to worry about than Raga, as the lava flow created by Raga's attack threatens to inundate a housing development in its path. Thinking quickly, Iron Man uses his might to fashion a man-made dike to divert the flow to the sea; but, upon his return to once again face Raga, he finds a new threat in the form of the Black Lama, who has come to chastise Raga for losing influence with and control of his followers. Raga then seeks to make an example of Cynthia, so as to bring the others back in line; but Iron Man intervenes, only to then find the Lama joining forces with Raga.

As we've seen, Raga's internal power is formidable, but appears to be no direct threat to Iron Man's armor as long as Shellhead limits his exposure. That doesn't stop Raga from trying, of course; and at the very least, we have Raga to thank for giving us a taste of Tony Stark's swingin' '70s lingo.

(No, I don't know when Iron Man's boot jets started doubling as repulsor rays. Maybe "SHOOOSH!" should have been used as the sound effect in place of "ZZZAKK!" Raga probably doesn't care either way, at this point.)

The Lama then steps in again, and mystically brings all present to another plane where its properties will favor his pupil. And it appears at first that Raga has a clear advantage--but, thanks to our brave forest ranger's continuing struggle to save the girl he loves, Iron Man will literally rise to the challenge.

It's now become clear to the Black Lama that Raga is a failure, and will prove insufficient for whatever plans he has for his disciples. Now returned to Earth and abandoned, Raga is left to Iron Man's tender mercies; and Raga's emotions, which once provided him with great power, now prove to be his downfall.

Despite having a two-part story to his credit and a battle with one of Marvel's heaviest hitters, Raga gives the impression of being little more than a B-list villain who reached for the coattails of power only to find, like many others of his ilk, that his reach exceeded his grasp. That arguably qualifies him to be a cult leader, but unfortunately not a super-villain who would be able to stand the test of time.

Invincible Iron Man #s 52-53

Script: Mike Friedrich
Pencils: George Tuska (assisted by Jim Starlin)
Inks: Vince Colletta
Letterers: John Costanza and Artie Simek


david_b said...

I always found IM's villains in these pages extremely 'underwhelming'.

Just look at the early Bronze covers. Do you mean to tell me that a hero with the descriptive 'INVINCIBLE' in his masthead is victim to these two-bit fancy bearded thugs..?


LOVE the Tuska IM art, but I'm a bit vague on the heat aspect. I don't recall the Avengers issue but in one story, added heat was coverted to more energy, thus making Tony stronger..

Kind of a Scarlet Witch 'special powers incongruity' going on here, but I digress.

Great review.

George Chambers said...

david-b, I believe it was on or around Iron Man #3 when Tony built a thermocouple into his suit, allowing him to recharge from either heat or (oddly)cold - I'd mention that's not how a thermocouple works, but Tony didn't really understand how transistors worked either. I do remember this issue as the one where Tony did a further redesign and the armor was charged by solar energy for the first time.