Iron Man #258-263
Issue(s): Iron Man #258, Iron Man #259, Iron Man #260, Iron Man #261, Iron Man #262, Iron Man #263
Byrne & Romita's first story had to be Armor Wars II, because Marvel solicited that story when David Michelinie & Bob Layton were still going to be on the title. So since the commitment was made, Marvel had to do the stories or, as i understand it, dealers would have the option of returning their issues. You'd think a Byrne/Romita creative team would mean that no one would want to return anything, but i guess that was the risk (and there's probably more to it than i realize). I also don't know if Armor Wars II had to be quite so long. This entry covers six issues, and the entire storyline is nine. But on the other hand, the first six issues, at least, have virtually nothing to do with any kind of Armor Wars, certainly not in a way that relates directly to the first one. So i guess Byrne could write whatever he wanted and call it Armor Wars II, and that was a no brainer.
Another reason for the length is the degree of decompression, which leads to very little content per issue. John Romita's style at this point has evolved into big splash pages and panels.
In fact the entire first issue can be summed up as "Iron Man has a practice session and then investigates a problem, at a nuclear plant (but doesn't learn anything until the final panel)".
There are a few relevant details to go through, of course. The first is that in the training session, we learn that Tony Stark has developed a second Iron Man suit that he can control remotely.
"Supposedly" had the Danger Room? You used to be more sure about that, Tony.
The second detail is that there is a Mr. DeWitt that is monitoring Stark's health status.
And the third detail is that the thing he learns in the nuclear power plant is that the Titanium Man seems to be responsible. Or rather his ghost, since it's the one that Iron Man killed. And ok, that's a connection of sorts to the original Armor Wars.
The Titanium Man "ghost" is intangible...
...so there's not much to do but go through him and carry out the overheating reactor core, which explodes "safely" in the ocean. Stark then doesn't return to the power plant, and instead goes home. As he's getting dressed, he thinks to himself that he doesn't want to be "caught napping", but then suddenly wakes up three days later in a luxury hotel, with a woman that claims to have slept with him (but we see that she's really working for DeWitt and has just been babysitting Stark while he slept). Stark worries that he's returned to drinking, but he doesn't feel like he has.
Iron Man then returns to the nuclear plant and tries to apologize to the Titanium Man ghost, which is conveniently still waiting around, for killing him. But the ghost turns out to be a hologram generated by the Living Laser, who just wanted Stark to admit that he was still the original Iron Man (since Stark faked the death of his "employee" in the first Armor Wars).
So they battle, with a lot of art that looks like this.
However, during the fight, we see Desmond and Phoebe Marrs, from John Byrne's Namor run, show up at the lab where DeWitt and his team are working.
Desmond demands that DeWitt activate a device that is implanted on Stark, and it shuts Stark down, causing him to be paralyzed.
The Laser isn't happy about this, and he leaves. A medical team arrives, and declares Iron Man dead.
But i promised you Fin Fang Foom. This really has nothing to do with Armor Wars (not that anything does). John Byrne is also developing an upcoming arc. It starts with the Mandarin, who, as we saw in previous issues (Iron Man #240-243 and Uncanny X-Men #256-258), has been allowing his rings to be used by his followers. He has now learned that one of the rings was duplicated, and he was given a copy. He tortures and kills his henchman to learn who duplicated it, and then goes to find the main responsible. The man's name is Chen Hsu.
Hsu returns the Mandarin's original ring, which he was keeping inside the mouth of his Fin Fang Foom action figure.
You'll notice Hsu making reference to the fact that the Mandarin hasn't been fully himself lately. When the Mandarin puts on his ring, he passes out.
Since the Living Laser/DeWitt plot and the Mandarin plot never intersect during these issues, i considered just covering the Iron Man story first and then coming back to do the Mandarin half all at once. But issue #261 uses the split page format that John Byrne previously used in Fantastic Four #277, with the Iron Man story on top and Mandarin on the bottom.
I continue to dislike this technique. It's too distracting to have to jump back and forth between plots. But the short of it is that while Stark is paralyzed, he's still able to contact the second remote control suit and use that to take him away. And for the Mandarin, it turns out that he transferred some of his intellect into his rings during a previous battle for fear that he was going to die. And since he was missing one of the rings, he's lost memories. Hsu restores them.
An argument breaks out between DeWitt and Desmond, and Desmond, after some threats, agrees to allow DeWitt to deactivate Stark's paralysis for now. During the altercation Desmond engages in some more abuse of his sister (twisting her arm), and when they are leaving, DeWitt stops Phoebe and expresses sympathy (and romantic interest). Phoebe seems briefly please by that but quickly recovers and angrily withdraws, admonishing him. We see DeWitt thinking conspiratorial thoughts after that; he's planning on using his control of Iron Man for his own purposes.
While Stark sits up now that he's been released from the paralysis, Hsu takes Mandarin to a desolate mountain range where a pair of men in archaic armor guard a huge door. He passes the guards and enters the door, where he awakens Fin Fang Foom.
Note the reference to a "long sleep". It can't have been that long, by any reckoning. Byrne seems to acknowledge Fin Fang Foom's early Silver Age appearance in Strange Tales #89. But Fin Fang Foom has subsequently appeared in Astonishing Tales #21-24.
Petty squabbling of flesh?! Dude! Ignoring continuity inserts, when you last ventured forth, you teamed-up with a giant stone colossus against a giant alien gargoyle. I know dragons can get pretty jaded, but that was pretty awesome.
Granted even twelve hours might be considered a "long sleep", but the implication is that he's been sleeping for decades, and when he wakes up he immediately resumes what he was doing in Strange Tales #89: stomping the Chinese army.
When he's done, Fin Fang Foom turns to Mandarin and Chen Hsu, but Hsu just puts the dragon to sleep.
Meanwhile, Stark gets himself checked out, but doctors can find nothing wrong with him. In fact, he doesn't even have any liver damage or other signs that he abused his body during his drinking phases. But soon after he's released by the doctors, DeWitt (who thinks to himself that this is payback against Stark for an "old debt") activates his device again, this time taking full control of Stark. Luckily Jim Rhodes is around and is able to follow him.
Rhodey finds an agent of DeWitt's that has infiltrated Stark's building and taken control of the security cameras. He knocks him out and then has to fight Stark as well.
The idea that there's "no way" that Rhodey could bean Stark in a fair fight doesn't seem right to me. Rhodey's been holding his own against super-villains with nothing but a broomstick. Stark may stay fit, but it doesn't seem so unbelievable that Rhodey wouldn't at least have a chance against him.
Anyway, Rhodey gets Stark into the remote controlled armor suit, since that seems to block whatever is controlling him. The end blurb of issue #262, five issues into Armor Wars II, tells us that next issue the Armor War begins in earnest.
But it doesn't. Issue #263 mostly has Iron Man flying around wondering what's going on, although there is a funny scene when he tries de-armoring one of his arms, and DeWitt takes control of it and causes it to swing around wildly, smacking poor Rhodey.
And then Living Laser resurfaces. Rhodey tells Stark that in his condition he shouldn't be going off fighting the Laser again, and Iron Man says "If I don't go... who will?". Seriously? How about the Avengers? And Rhodey agrees, and calls in Wonder Man and Henry Pym to help out.
Iron Man uses his repulsor to interfere with the Laser's frequencies, dispersing him.
He says he didn't actually kill him but it will take him years to pull himself back together.
And that's basically it. I'm pausing here because "five days" take place before the start of next issue.
Look, John Romita Jr.'s art is very interesting, and his Fin Fang Foom is awesome. And i don't care if this story can be called an "Armor Wars" or not. But my god is it slow.
I have a second printing of issue #258 that was published in 1992, apparently for JCPenney. I didn't realize that first, and i'm reading through the issue looking at all these ads for Silver Sable and Cage and going "Oh my god, did all this stuff come out in 1990 and i missed covering it?". I don't know what caused this issue to get reprinted in 1992.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (5): showChen Hsu, Desmond Marrs, Fin Fang Foom, Henry Pym, Iron Man, Kearson DeWitt, Living Laser, Mandarin, Mrs. Arbogast, Phoebe Marrs, War Machine, Wonder Man
I wonder if Byrne knew of, or cared to avoid to not think he knew of, the "It the Living Colossus" series prior to writing this. The fact he ignores it just makes me wonder if he just wants to go with what he thinks he knows (dragon woke up in the Monster Age, crushes Red Chinese) instead of just using full continuity.
But hey, Foomy's an old dragon and his memory could just have blinked out the idea he fought with a giant stone colossus.
Posted by: Ataru320 | July 23, 2015 4:10 PM
How Living Laser got back will be explained in Quasar 30.
Posted by: Michael | July 23, 2015 8:32 PM
If you dislike decompressed writing what do you think of Jonathan Hickman?
Posted by: Ryan | July 23, 2015 8:49 PM
I don't want to derail the comments here, so just briefly: i've tried Hickman a few times as single issues (Secret Warriors, FF, Avengers) but i never got into his stuff and never stuck with anything. That said, i regularly hear good feedback and i'm looking forward to (eventually) reading his stories all at once when i get to the relevant years.
Posted by: fnord12 | July 23, 2015 9:08 PM
Byrne is a little infamous for ignoring or undoing all but the earliest stories and essentially continuing from where they left off as if only his changes count. His 90's work on Spider-Man will involve undoing all recent developments and even attempting to flat out replace his origin stories with a new continuity, not only with Year One but also with a proposal that the Shaper of Worlds literally recreate the world so that it resembles the one Peter knew in high school (although with the current supporting cast and modern day setting), with his real memories fading away.
Posted by: Max_Spider | July 24, 2015 10:20 AM
I recently read Byrne's Iron Man run for first time in ages. Different strokes for different folks, but I enjoyed it more than his Namor run of the same time, for me it's the last really good thing he did. One or two plotholes, but overall it works for me. It could be blamed as a precursor to today's decompression, but to me the slow build works, especially for the Mandarin and Chen Hsu plot. Though I'm talking about the whole run 258-275, I can see how reading this section on its own might seem unsatisfying. The decompression doesn't seem forced to me though, it feels to me like a chess game where Stark and Dewitt keep nullifying each other's last move. Anyway we've already had McFarlane's 5 issue Lizard story that had far less plot per issue than this, and with much worse writing (I like the whole scene of Mandarin walking to wake Fin Fang Foom, for a start.)
Posted by: Jonathan | July 24, 2015 12:07 PM
I picked these up in a dollar bin years back for the JRJr art moreso than Byrne. He was and is one of the greatest superhero artist in the business.
I'll never understand why I see some people today run down his work but praise other artists currently using the generic house style of whatever company they work for.
As far as decompressed storytelling goes, I was always under the impression that Warren Ellis' Authority and Planetary introduced it to super-hero books, but that Brian Bendis was the one who popularized and mainstreamed it during the Quesada/Jemas era of Marvel when Ultimate Spider-man became a massive hit.
Posted by: Red Comet | July 24, 2015 1:15 PM
I think it's more of a trend. Comics have been decompressing since Lee, Kirby, & Ditko were telling complete stories in half an issue of Tales To Astonish.
Posted by: fnord12 | July 24, 2015 2:39 PM
I also think it has to do with trade paperback sales really taking off and exploding in both comic shops and regular bookstores like Barnes and Noble around that same time in 2000.
Six issues was the perfect trade length for a $10-$12 (or was it even less?) trade back then so it's no surprise the creators and editors all taylored their plots to be six issues.
Posted by: Red Comet | July 24, 2015 3:07 PM
I remember at the time being excited by "Armor Wars II" because it seemed like John Byrne was laying the groundwork for a crossover between Iron Man and Namor the Sub-Mariner. The Marrs Twins funded DeWitt's plot, and once Stark found out about their role he declared all-out corporate war on them. It felt like this would have been a great way to bring Stark and Namor (who was now also acting in the corporate world) into some sort of conflict, because Desmond Marrs had tricked Namor into thinking he was a friend and an honorable man.
Therefore I was more than a bit disappointed that all we saw was Desmond going off the deep end in the pages of Namor's book because his company was being decimated by Stark's hostile takeover. No actual appearances by Tony, much less interaction with Namor.
As for DeWitt, I will share my thought on him when fnord covers the final three issues of this story.
By the way, I do agree that the artwork by John Romita Jr & Bob Wiacek is incredible. They do an especially awesome depiction of Fin Fang Foom.
Posted by: Ben Herman | July 25, 2015 2:26 PM
Great art, but a so-so story, and one that did nothing to build off the name of "Armor Wars". Anyone expecting an actual or thematic sequel would be disappointed (not that Layton's own plot would have done better). If not named Armor Wars II, I'd probably have liked it a little more. Not rational, but there it is.
The one thing I did like was that the arc made the Living Laser a cool, powerful villain. Someone who was a worthy foe of Iron Man or even an entire team of Avengers. I really wanted to see him again soon. It would have been better though to do this as a follow up story after an actual Armor Wars II that involved the surviving armored villains, or new ones powered by a new technology.
That would have been interesting - armor powered by the robotics/cybernetics of Donald Pierce, or the original workings of Anton Vanko modernized by a Hammer associate, or a hodge podge of the various original technologies of all the armored bad guys. Then they team up to destroy Stark just out of petty revenge. Instead of using the same old powers, you could have some unique twists to distinguish the pre-Stark Wars and post-Stark Wars. You can get the best of the old characters, but eliminate the redundacy/generic issues of power-armor characters - make them unique by having cybernetic implants in their brain or something, so not just anyone can use the armors.
That, or something like it, is what I was hoping for.
I actually disliked the involvement of the Marrs twins. They had not yet "earned" the right to be opponents of a second hero, and when a writer uses the same cast over multiple books, I always feel like it is cheating (a problem I have with much of Claremont's writing). There's nothing that really indicates a real motivation for Desmond Marrs to oppose Tony - it's rather generic villainous writing.
Posted by: Chris | July 25, 2015 7:09 PM
Considering the decompression of the story, its actually a bit of luck that Byrne makes it to the end of the Mandarin/Fin Fang Foom story in 275. Other than Alpha Flight, which he got bored of and left of his own accord, I think all of his other recent books he left due to disagreements with editorial, often in the middle of a storyline. (FF and the two Avengers books he left cliffhangers for others to finish, and to a lesser extent he didn't totally complete the Hulk and She-Hulk stories he'd intended. And earlier he quit Captain America due to editorial and X-Men due to Claremont, plus Byrne by his own admission was happy with Stern's Byrne-friendly editing but left during Louise Simonson's Claremont-friendly editing.) I guess the other reason I like this Byrne run is he doesnt have a big axe to grind like he did with Vision + Scarlet Witch. He retcons Iron Man + Mandarin's origins, but personally I didnt mind that much. But he really must have wanted to work with JrJr, it's easy to imagine him quitting the book when he heard he had to write an Armor Wars 2. I think Fnord is right that he didnt change the story he had in mind much. Maybe he just added Titanium Man to make it seem like a sequel. But he had quit other books for less.
Posted by: Jonathan | July 26, 2015 12:17 PM
Byrne made the revisions to Tony's origin in an attempt to solve the sliding timeline problem.
Posted by: Michael | July 26, 2015 12:42 PM
Good point. Though I think he also tied Mandarin into Tony's origin, that hadn't been established before had it?
Posted by: Jonathan | July 26, 2015 1:11 PM
JRjr had mentioned that his run with Byrne along with DD:MWF with Frank Miller were amongst his most enjoyable experiences, mainly due to both writer/artists giving him tons of leeway to tell the story. Byrne himself had said that he'd give him plots where there's just "Fight!" for the action sequences, letting JRjr decide the choreography himself.
Posted by: Vincent Valenti | July 29, 2015 11:29 AM
Anyone have thoughts on the Armor Wars II Redux by Michelinie, Layton, and Dave Ross? I have to say that I enjoyed this Armor Wars II more than that one, although comparing the two might be unfair. I'm not sure if that was their original plot for their AW2 or if it was just something they cobbled together two decades later but it didn't impress me.
Posted by: Robert | January 9, 2016 2:53 PM
According to Layton, the original plot involved the Stark-Duplicate being defeated by some sort of substance addiction, so no, it wasn't their original plot.
Posted by: Michael | January 9, 2016 3:14 PM
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