May 25, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 820: Iron Man #200, November 1985

Skipping ahead a little further, and we hit a milestone comic. The 200th issue of any series is really something to celebrate, especially in our current climate where, while a series or character might reach this milestone, they've likely undergone numerous numbering changes and reboots by that time, so keeping track of when the 200th arrives is problematic at best. Such was not the case in the earlier years of the medium.

From what I can tell from the previous issues, Tony gives up the Iron Man armour because he's worried that getting back into the suit will drive him back to drink. But he realizes, in today's issue, that abdicating the armour doesn't mean abdicating the people who hold grudges against him and the armour, nor does it mean that the people he is close to aren't still in danger. A death close to him drives this point home, and in response, we see the new Iron Man rise from the West Coast Avengers compound.

What's actually quite cool about this comic is that much of the final battle between Tony and the Iron Monger serves as the basis for the plot of the first Iron Man film. Obadiah Stane is a much more long-haul villain in the comics, taking away Tony's company and his designs, and seeing himself much more explicitly as a Lex Luthor-type villain, with pretensions to world domination, than the Jeff Bridges version of the character who seems to just want the company. That said, had the Iron Monger escaped at the end of the first movie, we might actually have see this villainous evolution. It's one of the definite advantages the comic book versions of the stories have over the films: space to grow, not just for the heroes but for the villains as well. We get continuity of character through the MCU output, but really only with the main heroes. Take, for example, Zemo, the villain of Civil War. In the comics, he's a legacy villain, his father having fought Captain America in the Second World War, and he's perhaps one of the most fully realized villains the Marvel Universe has produced. Check out Roger Stern's Avengers: Under Siege collection, or Zemo's leading role in Thunderbolts. He's fascinating and compelling, though thoroughly fascistic and evil. In the film, he's a Sokovian soldier who wants revenge, and there's a good chance we'll never see him again. Though I'm a fan of the televisual Marvel U, I think that this is one way in which we can talk about the transition to film being unsuccessful. Comics, and superhero comics particularly, work really well because the antagonists of the stories are, in the best cases, just as well-realized as the protagonists. We understand the nuance of personality in the villains, rather than simply their stereotyped motivations.

This is why the confrontation with Obadiah Stane in today's comic is so dramatic (or would be, I suppose, for those who followed the series) - even simply according to the notes, the Stane storyline goes back 40 issues, which is almost 4 years of story. That's a lot of time and space to flesh out a villain, and make his defeat in this issue affecting.

Can such a thing happen with the MCU? Absolutely. The recent re-introduction of Grant Ward in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. speaks to this. The character was built up and fleshed out over the course of a few seasons, so to see him return, and to fulfill many of the hopes viewers might have had for the character initially, creates a wonderful sense of drama and involvement. What the films lack, unfortunately, is their seriality, an intrinsic factor in superhero narratives.

To be continued.

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