Iron Man vol.1 (#56 – 58) – Steve Gerber, Mike Friedrich

3 out of 5

Gerb steps in while Iron Man writer Mike Friedrich takes a break.

Issue #56 is an early slice of Gerber genius, sticking fully to old-school comic stylings – one-shot villains, narrate-my-thoughts-to-the-reader writing – but layered with the kind of subtle / unsubtle commentary Steve was great at, told in an enjoyably amped up, campy style. Iron Man decides to take a “break,” only to have his day off ruined by a wandering crazy in the park who stumbles in to super powers, allowing him to imbue a recently revealed sculpture called “Fangor” with, like, all of the evils of mankind. Jim Starlin’s art on this thing is wild – very loose, very dynamic – and Gerb’s playing around with the pretensions of art, and also the simplification of evil, is incredible fun.

Issue #57 gets off to some similarly inspired machinations, with workers at Stark Industries going on strike due to circulated pamphlets from a mysterious, er, “Oriental” (the term was a-okay back then) who’s dutifully informing folks that Stark is a commie. Sneaked in here is the idea that having discourse with Communist nations can maybe be a way to settle disputes, but all of this really gets tossed aside when, a couple panels in, our mysterious pamphlet-circulator is revealed to be the Mandarin. We then have to take a long, clunky narrative tour to explain how Mandy got his rings back. Because Mike Friedrich takes over scripting on 58, with Gerb credited for plot, this feels more like an editorially mandated story than anything – i.e. bring back Mandarin – and while it’s enjoyable in its kitschyness, it’s also pretty dumb overall, one of those villain battles where the “twists” and “surprises” require everyone to be functioning with grade school-level powers of reasoning. Friedrich also employs the same pause-and-narrate clunkiness in his issue, in order to rewind and explain how Unicorn gets mixed up in things.

Letter writers didn’t seem to be in favor of artist George Tuska, on 57 / 58, but he does alright, excepting some oddities like when Iron Man’s helmet becomes, apparently, cloth. It’s nowhere near as exciting as Starlin’s stuff, and just sorta gets the job done.

(Special shoutout to Friedrich’s / Tuska’s “Chaos Rules!” panel.)