Monday, September 26, 2016

Iron Man: Marked for Murder!

While the cover of Invincible Iron Man #125 is shrewd enough to provide its money-maker title character exposure in some capacity, the character who steps forward to take the lion's share of this issue's story is none other than... Anthony Stark, man of action!

That shift in focus is due to the machinations of Justin Hammer, whom we have to thank for taking Iron Man out of action by framing him for murder. This story lands us in the middle of a crisis for both Stark and Iron Man, following a U.N. reception for the Carnelian ambassador where the press and an assembled crowd watched in horror as Iron Man put a repulsor ray through the ambassador's chest. It was one in a string of unexplained malfunctions of Iron Man's armor, and surely by far the deadliest one--and this time, there would be consequences, as the police move in to arrest the Avenger.

As we can see, Bethany Cabe, a private investigator who's been dating Tony Stark and had been hired as security for the ambassador, is standing at Iron Man's side, though not as a friend. At this point, Bethany doesn't yet know that Stark is Iron Man, and her relationship with the Avenger has been tepid at best. And now, having witnessed Iron Man's monstrous act, she appears to have stepped in to make sure he remains on the scene until law enforcement arrives; though if we scrutinize Iron Man's numb posture, we can be reasonably sure it's not her pulled Smith & Wesson that keeps him rooted to the spot. This is a man in shock--but, nevertheless, one who doesn't plan to surrender to the authorities.

But what does Hammer have to do with all of this? We'll find out those details as Stark does--and it's indeed Stark who will take us forward from here, as he complies with the police order to surrender his armor. It's one of the times when the fact that Stark hasn't made his identity as Iron Man public knowledge has worked out to his benefit; with people convinced that Iron Man is working for Stark, Stark is free to move forward in the window of time that he has to discover the reason(s) behind what's been happening to him. And so we find him at the Mayor's office, forced to proceed with an investigation without the use of his most valuable piece of equipment--a suit of armor that has been compromised. The gathering of city and Carnelian officials is cordial enough under the circumstances--but not everyone present is willing to give Iron Man the benefit of the doubt.

You might have already guessed that we're at the point in the book where Stark's drinking problem is now a sub-plot of its own, becoming increasingly noticeable and a crutch for Stark when it comes to business setbacks, personal problems, or any other hurdles that seem to pile up on him. Not surprisingly, having murdered an innocent man and not even knowing who or what is responsible, as well as the rift that's formed between himself and Bethany, have put Stark on a first-name basis with any bottle of alcohol within reach--and he arrives at his office following a bender that doesn't appear to have run its course yet.

While Stark's reckoning with his alcoholism is imminent, there is the more immediate problem for the book to deal with; but it adds an interesting element to Stark's character in that he must find a way to function in order to make progress on his search for the truth and retain enough of his focus and resolve to get to work at tackling this situation. And speaking of tackling, his first stop is Avengers Mansion, in order to make sure that he isn't entirely defenseless while conducting what will likely be a dangerous investigation--and for his trainer, he makes the best choice possible.

Stark receives a crash course in self-defense--emphasis on the "crash" part, thanks to his red-white-and-blue trainer's tendency to acquaint Stark with the floor mat--and from there, he follows a lead from a previous battle as Iron Man, where his foe, Whiplash, let slip the name of his presumed boss: "Hammer." Fortunately, writer David Michelinie has assembled a superb and capable supporting cast for Stark that regard him highly--and former ex-con Scott Lang (whom Stark doesn't realize is now Ant-Man) insists on paying a discrete visit to Ryker's Island to interrogate Whiplash on the subject.

The information Lang retrieves puts Stark on a plane to Monaco with his close friend and pilot, James Rhodes. Stark doesn't yet know who Hammer is or where to locate him, but his network of international friends and acquaintances serves him well.

For over twenty pages of this story, we've seen no action, and no Iron Man to speak of; yet Michelinie's story that finally has Stark on the trail of his enemy is finding enough for Stark to do to keep the reader engaged, as well as providing Stark with a more visible profile in a book that doesn't even carry his name but in which his presence is crucial--something that both Michelinie and co-plotter Bob Layton, along with artist John Romita Jr., have excelled at during their run.

With Rhodey along for the ride, Michelinie also takes advantage of the excellent chemistry he's established between these two men, as Stark's prominent contact provides him with the location of a local imports branch that's part of Hammer's holdings but whose operations are suspect. And with the tendency of Stark and Rhodey to attract trouble with a capital "T," it doesn't take long before they find themselves, as usual, in the thick of it.

Hammer's goons remain in hot pursuit, which is a fair indication that Stark has struck paydirt as to the person who has it in for him. Complicating matters is that the police have now become involved, narrowing their options for escape--but with Rhodey at the wheel, it's likely that this pair will simply have to be more creative in their thinking. Or, to put it in the words of one unfortunate bystander: sacré bleu!

Yikes! Is Cap's pupil up to this challenge? These guys don't exactly look like "street punks and the like," do they?

Stark's new enemy revealed! Or, like the caption said...

Invincible Iron Man #125

Script: David Michelinie
Pencils: John Romita, Jr.
Inks: Bob Layton
Letterer: Joe Rosen


Anonymous said...

Hammer is the spitting image of Peter Cushing who starred in Hammer films :D

Jason Atomic said...

Mr Jones beat me to it. That's Cushing for sure!

Comicsfan said...

Colin, that is an excellent observation!

Unknown said...

the only time jr jr didn't ABOLUTELY SUCK was wen Layton inked him. I stopped reading ANY Marvel title when jr jr became the penciller. Only thing worse was Don Perlin (barf)

Comicsfan said...

Yes, Layton is a strong and distinctive inker, Kitty, and a very good match for Romita in these early days of his Marvel work. It's one of my favorite artist runs on this title.