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Unexplored Marvel – 1971 Iron Man

For this instalment, I thought we’d look at how one of Marvel’s mainstream characters fared back in the day. Iron Man #33-43 were published in 1971, and only a couple of these issues have been reprinted since (in an Essential Daredevil no less) so lets see how the adventures of the Golden Avenger from back in the day rate!!!

Iron Man Cover



The bulk of this run was written by longtime Marvel stalwart, Gerry Conway, with the art chores handled by Don Heck, a long time Iron Man artist, and George Tuska, with an assist from Happy Herb Trimpe. And what we get is…well, I’ll come to that later. I’ll just leave you with the dangling and frankly not very exciting mystery of why only 11 issues of Iron Man were published in 1971. Yep, December was light an issue…hmmm.

Anyway, what is Stark up to in these books? Well, the tensions between himself and Jasper Sitwell are still bubbling along, much as they had been doing if you’d read Essential Iron Man #2, which pretty much brings you up to this point. Stark Industries is still, well, industrial. And Stark’s heart has taken another battering after a transplant.

On the heroing front, Iron Man is surprisingly reactive in this time period. This isn’t the futurist Tony Stark we see now. This is an Iron Man who mops up the mess when the evil doers decide to sabotage Stark Industries for their various nefarious reasons.

Perhaps the highlight of the villainy involved at this time is perhaps the most under-utilised Iron Man villain that reeks of coolness, Spymaster. He’s always been one of my favourite bad guys, mysterious and a sleek counterpoint to Iron Man’s brute power. And its really fun seeing him and a select group of mercenaries square off with Stark over the course of a couple of issues.

After Spymaster though, the scale of threats descends rapidly to, well, the best I can say of them is that they are relatively uninteresting. Iron Man crosses over with Daredevil to fight the Zodiac, a group with potential that is never reached. Then we get the alien robotic menace of Ramrod! Following that is an arc with the never to be seen again White Dragon, and finally a shadowy figure behind the scenes known only as Mr Kline.

Frankly, it’s all a bit of a yawn. The stories just don’t have much of a zing to them. No A-List bad guys, no decent sub-plots, just some fairly standard super-heroics done middlingly. We do get to see the first appearance of Michael O’Brien in a prototype Guardsman armour, but even then he doesn’t do anything in it. And we also get a story that was very common in Marvel books at the time of an African American man trying to make good after a life of petty crime.

So, we come back to why there was no December issue. I think the audience of the time must have felt much as I do about this run of issues, because in 1972 Iron Man went bi-monthly. Obviously sales were dipping on the book, and I don’t really hesitate to say that it was probably an effect of the quality.

These are simple books, with nothing of great artistic or scripted merit to them. If you like Iron Man, or you can find them in a discount bin somewhere, go for your life and pick them up. Just keep in mind that there may be a reason as to why these issues have remained relatively unexplored.

1 thought on “Unexplored Marvel – 1971 Iron Man

  1. Regarding the missing December ’71 issue, if you read the bullpen bulletins in November, it says that they are planning to combine IRON MAN and DAREDEVIL into one 25-cent comic book. This never actually happened, but my guess is that they skipped an issue while they set that whole merger up, thought the better of it, then backed out.

    You’ll also notice that November 1971 is the start — and pretty much the end — of Marvel’s experiment with raising the page count and cover price of their entire line of comics. A month later, they had scrapped the idea entirely, going back to a normal-sized comic book with a 20-cent cover price, which was either saving the reader a nickel or costing them an extra nickel, depending on how one looked at it.

    There is quite a bit of weird publishing stuff going on at the end of 1971, as Marvel quickly adapts and abandons their 25-cent format: SGT. FURY jumped to 25 cents in October, and had no November issue.

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