Monday, March 13, 2017

Iron Man Has Your Back

This week, the PPC will be taking a look at a few issues featuring composite covers--where the cover, like the story inside, is split down the middle and offering the reader a little more bang for their buck. The books we'll be covering range from 1981-1992, though you may find yourself being reminded of Marvel's line of feature titles from the mid-1960s which gave you two stories for the price of one. Both the similarities and the differences are apparent when you line them up together; but it's clear that Marvel, inadvertently or otherwise, had found a way to inject new life into a successful concept from its silver age.

This kind of imagery would be used sparingly in the more contemporary books since the characters involved were already established in their own long-running titles, but it shook things up nicely from time to time and no doubt made for a nice surprise on the comics racks (or, for the collectors among us, in our pull stacks).

Artist Bob Layton gets this ball rolling with his cover from Invincible Iron Man #144, which features Iron Man wrapping up his conflict with Sunturion (which also introduced the new outer space model of armor). As we'll see, the centerpiece of their battle--the Roxxon Oil space station--has been damaged, its explosive core hurtling to Earth; and Sunturion finds himself in the position of making sure his life's work, meant to benefit mankind (before Roxxon had other ideas for it), isn't instead responsible for the deaths of millions.

Materializing inside the station, Sunturion attempts to use the maneuvering rockets on the core as retros, but the effort fails. As for Iron Man, the battle with Sunturion has weakened him to the point of being unable to assist in the crisis; but thanks to a surprising new power source, Sarasotans will live to see another day, including two laid-back fishermen who appear to take the event in stride.

Sunturion's selfless act seems to have come at the cost of his own life, though he would appear again when encountering Stratosfire, a woman with similar powers who also has ties to Roxxon.

Yet the bulk of this issue finds Tony Stark, on a flight to Dallas, reminiscing about his first meeting with his friend and chief pilot, James Rhodes, a relationship that takes us back all the way to Iron Man's beginnings in Vietnam (that is, before those beginnings were revised) where he met and overcame the tyrant Wong-Chu by casting a suit of armor designed to keep his injured heart alive. But though we saw him departing the enemy encampment and heading toward home at the end of that 1963 story, the new Iron Man's travails in Vietnam had yet to run their course, as he finds himself now having to make his way through hundreds of miles of enemy-held territory. Fortunately, his path crosses with another, who finds himself in a similar predicament--the man he would come to know as "Rhodey," though their first meeting is less than auspicious.

Soon enough, however, Rhodey and Iron Man find themselves united by a common enemy--and at this point, Rhodey is happy to take any help that he can get.

With Rhodey's aircraft permanently grounded, the two slowly but surely make their way toward the American perimeter. The journey provides some bonding time for these two strangers, one of course considerably more strange than the other but easy enough to converse with and having obvious advantages in engagements with the enemy. Though in such times, Rhodey still forgets the nearly invincible nature of the man who stands at his side, instances which can have their amusing aspects.

Where Stark and Rhodey are concerned, they often seem to find trouble as much as trouble finds them, a chemistry between them that made for some great stories during writer David Michelinie's run on the title--so it seems only appropriate that their introduction to each other serves as the hallmark of that trend, as Rhodey and Iron Man come across a camouflaged Viet Cong depot. When all hell breaks loose, they have no choice but to plunge right into the thick of it--and only getting out of it, it goes without saying, by the skin of their teeth.

The stolen chopper takes the pair to American lines, with Rhodey dropping off Iron Man at Stark's lab in the area before parting company. From here, Stark must take stock of his new situation, and how his life must adapt to the new chestplate he must become used to wearing (at least for the time being).

As for Rhodey, recuperating in Saigon, he receives an unexpected visitor who makes sure that the ties established between Rhodey and "Iron Man" are available to be renewed if and when Rhodey ever has need of them.

Both Captain America and Nomad get the composite treatment!

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