Sunday, April 16, 2006

Iron Man, Iron Man/Does whatever an iron can...

It never fails. No sooner do I announce a hiatus than I get inspired to post something, and off I go. Anyway, consider that one a retroactive hiatus, subject to resumption at any time, and besides, I have reviews to write in a few days anyway so its days were numbered. Onward I go now.

This morning I was clicking around the ol' interwub, and happened to see where that Doane fella posted a few of what he considers to be remarkable Iron Man comic covers, inspired by Tom Spurgeon's posting of a early 70's vintage IM cover, and the subsequent conclusion that there haven't been a whole lot of really good illustrations adorning the fronts of ol' Shellhead's namesake periodical. And so, in typical lemming-like fashion, I thought I'd see for myself and post ones that caught my eye, a la ADD, and see if anyone agrees or disagrees with my observations.

Which is not to say that I disagree with ADD; some of the covers he selects don't quite yank my crank as much as they do his, but I can see where he's coming from on each of them.

And now, to test your patience further, let me set this up with a personal reminisce. I don't really remember the first Iron Man story I ever read; I think it was this one: Tales of Suspense #64, which featured the rematch between Hawkeye, the Black Widow and IM. It's here my memory gets fuzzy because I read many, many pre-1965 Marvel stories via the late 60's reprints featured in Marvel Tales, Marvel Collector's Item Classics aka Marvel's Greatest Comics, and Fantasy Masterpieces, and so I distinctly remember reading this one and this one. But I think the first one I ever actually posessed was #64, and a few more TOS's after that. My comics budget was kinda limited to the good graces of my parents back then, ya know. Anyway, I kinda-sorta liked IM- not as much as some, but more than others. Kids like giant robots and such, and I liked when he would go up against the Crimson Dynamo or Titanium Man, and the battles against the Mandarin and the Melter were highlights as well. I espcially fondly recall a two-parter where Melter managed to cut him off from his current suit of armor and he had to don the old gray duds to defeat him, done with all the ponderous pretentiousness Marvel could muster. After that, I bought a few issues of his post-TOS solo series; I liked the early issues the best but after a while the art got really bad and the stories were just not all that interesting to me as a early teen. Later on, mostly thanks to the good will David Michelinie engendered with me on his stints writing Unknown Soldier in DC's Star Spangled War Stories and Swamp Thing, I began to pick up his late 70s-early 80s run, which sported workmanlike art by Bob Layton mostly which didn't thrill me much but like most fanboys I got real interested in the Tony Stark-Alcoholic storyline and picked it up for a good while afterwards. I think #156 was the last one I bought on a regular basis, and to the best of my recollection I haven't bought one since.

Scrolling through these covers, and I limited myself to the post Suspense, pre-Heroes Reborn run, they are indeed generally a most uninspired lot, loaded with all kinds of blurbs and word balloons and pretentious titles and stuff designed to make them grab the attention of the potential customer, but really all they achieve is a general morass of clutter that works against itself. Corporate comics at its worst, especially in the 80's and early 90's.

So now, without any further ado, here is a gallery of Iron Man covers which caught my eye. Of course, make with the clicky to see 'em bigger. All covers courtesy of the indispensable Grand Comics Database, because I don't think I own a single issue of Iron Man.

First, this cover from Iron Man #2 by EC great Johnny Craig, who worked briefly for the House That Jack Built in the late 60's. Problem is, he was kinda deliberate in his work habits and wasn't able to maintain the schedule that Stan wanted him to, so he was soon gone. But I had several of the books he drew, and I thought thet were very nicely done in a style that was kinda unusual for Marvel in those immediate post-Kirby days. This cover is a good example, I think, of the "triangle perspective" rule in page composition- a nicely posed, subdued Shellhead in the foreground, frightened girl (Pepper? I forget) at the viewer's right, and the Demolisher robot on the left half, one two three. Nothing wow-inducing, just a solid piece of illustration from a seasoned professional who should have gotten more work.

As everyone knows, Gil Kane came over from DC in the late 60's, and by the early 70's had been appointed Marvel's de facto cover artist, a good choice given his dynamic style. Still, whether from the workload, the cover dress style in effect then, or editorial interference, many of his covers from that period are somewhat generic-looking and unimpressive. This one, however, isn't one. I like that telescoping perspective which draws the eye towards the melting Iron Man, and the villain in the foreground in a classic Kane pose. Too many effing blurbs and word ballons, though, which was a common problem with covers of that period. Not that I liked the recent Marvel policy of dull, static painted pinup covers, either- for the record.

One of the few Layton-era covers I liked, and I think it's because of the way that black background sets off the figures of Doc Doom and Rust-pants charging into each other to do battle. I had this one, and seem to recall some sort of time travel scenario, but that's all I remember.

Obviously, Barry Windsor-Smith got behind with the rent or wanted to buy a car or something, which would explain his slumming on stuff like this. To me, this is an arresting image, making me wonder who tore ol' Shellhead apart like that, and I appreciate the lack of verbiage. Adds to the mystery.

This is an even rarer 90's cover which grabbed my eye- if you squint, it looks just like Steranko, especially in the Mandarin's pose and the design of his tunic, with those symmetrical yellow stripes. Closer inspection yields one of those awful-looking signature boxes (a pet peeve of mine, nine and one-half times out of ten: those cheesy-looking boxes in which artists affix their initials or signatures, sometimes made up to look like parchments or other stuff. But that's a rant for another time, perhaps.) with the names "Ryan" (?) and inker Bob Wiacek- good job, gentlemen.

Finally, a couple of things I noticed as I skimmed over the gallery:

Kids, they used to call this "The Dreaded Deadline Doom". I've no doubt that some editor or another got in a bind and authorised a reprint of #9 in issue 76. But you'd think they coulda at least got a new cover, instead of recoloring and re-dialoguing the old one! Oh well.

And finally:

No comment is necessary, here, I think.

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