Iron Man #269-275
Issue(s): Iron Man #269, Iron Man #270, Iron Man #271, Iron Man #272, Iron Man #273, Iron Man #274, Iron Man #275
The thing that continues to amazes me about John Byrne's Iron Man run is how slight on plot it is. Byrne's run started with issue #258 and since then we've had only two actual story arcs: Armor Wars II (9 issues; virtually nothing happened) and the retelling of Iron Man's origin (2 issues for what was originally a 15 page story). Here we have seven issues for a plot that can be described in a single sentence: Tony Stark goes to China to find a cure for his paralysis and fights the Mandarin and Fin Fang Foom. The only twists are 1) James Rhodes fights Fin Fang Foom first, 2) there are more dragons than just Fin Fang Foom, and 3) there is no cure for Tony's paralysis and the pretty doctor that Tony falls in love with is already married. The only subplots in all these issues have been to set up the next arcs (the Mandarin and Fin Fang Foom during Armor Wars, and Black Widow running around during this arc). There are no organic subplots just developing additional stories for Iron Man, either in Tony Stark's personal life or as a part of Stark Enterprises or anything else. There hasn't really even been any downtime scenes since we've been in crisis mode right from the start.
I thought i understood the reason for this when John Romita Jr. was the penciler. Byrne was just giving him room to show off his highly stylized art, and while there wasn't much to the stories, the comics definitely had a visual appeal. I actually like Paul Ryan compared to JRJR's current style at this time in the sense that Ryan isn't just all giant splash panels. He can tell a story and lay out the sequential action on a page. (To be clear, i like both artists for what they are.) But Byrne's plots are still very drawn out, and Ryan replaced Romita two issues ago already, so i don't think this is a question of plots that were originally intended for Romita going to Ryan (although Byrne has been known to plot way ahead). To be fair, you do need to give all these dragons room to run around. And to be clear, it's not necessarily a bad thing. There is room in comics for "decompressed" storytelling. But it's a shift for Marvel; it's still not the norm. And it's a shift for Byrne, whose work on, say, the FF or Alpha Flight definitely included subplots and downtime scenes. I never thought of John Byrne as one of the vanguards of decompression.
As far as the open question regarding Armor Wars II, specifically what it was that Kearson DeWitt was upset about, here's what we get.
Another problem with the fact that we've had such long running story arcs is that Iron Man actually appears in other books. At the start of this story, Tony Stark is paralyzed, and can only move when he's in his armor. That makes guest appearances of Tony Stark outside of his armor pretty difficult. Tony does have an image-inducer that he's been using for computer monitor calls, but that's less plausible for in person encounters. Possibly to solve that problem, issue #269 introduces a "portable neuro-net" that allows Tony to move while outside of his armor. It's hidden under a layer of fake skin.
But wearing it stresses him out.
I guess the above scene shows that there is a kind of subplot going on. It's just one that Byrne won't be able to see through to conclusion in this title. Tony's executive board is unhappy with the personal response that Tony is making to the attack from the Marrs siblings. Stark Enterprises is not a public company, so Tony doesn't really have to worry about what his board thinks (and they are left to lamely declare, "Well I never!"), but it does seem to be a developing issue.
After that meeting we can see the neuro-net with the fake skin attached.
The mesh is said to be "so new" that he didn't even have time to create a back-up, so this should definitely be the first time the neuro-net is used.
Regarding Rhodey's use of the Iron Man suit, we saw him get back into it to help Tony for the first time during Armor Wars II. In this arc, he accompanies Stark to China as Iron Man, so that for once Stark and his bodyguard can be seen together. Despite his claims, it seems to be making him a little nervous (or maybe it's just hot, but i've never seen Tony sweat like that).
Tony says that Rhodey's previous problems in the suit were just psychosomatic, although Tony did add a bio-rhythm generator to "prevent flare-ups".
When Rhodey hears that the payment for the Chinese government's attempt to cure Tony is that Iron Man has to run an errand for them, Rhodey knocks out Tony and goes to the Chinese government. He then finds out that it's the Mandarin that he has to fight. Although he actually winds up fighting Fin Fang Foom.
Meanwhile, Chen Hsu, who we saw in issue #265 is a dragon himself (even if the Mandarin seems to have repressed that memory) begins reaching out to other people around China who it turns out are also dragons.
Chen Hsu intriguingly says that Fin Fang Foom is actually "only a child", but we'll learn that he really couldn't have been that young compared to the others (he was the navigator on a space expedition).
The cleverest bit of this story is tying in Fin Fang Foom to the Mandarin's origin. When i first read Mandarin's extended origin from Tales of Suspense #62, i already knew about this retcon, but it seemed like such an obvious connection that i found myself wondering if it really was a retcon at all. It just fit so well. But looking at the revision here again, John Byrne almost made it not work. If you look at the original story, you'll see that Mandarin finds a "gigantic dragon" near the flying saucer crash site. And when the Mandarin listens to the audio log from the ship's pilot (singular), the pilot describes being terrorized by the locals because (as the art depicts), he's the size of a giant dragon, and he was eventually mortally wounded and then died near the ship.
Now, introducing a second dragon makes sense, because the Mandarin saw the bones of the first one. And if you're going to introduce one more, i guess you can introduce a bunch.
Note that there are 10 crew members, and the Mandarin supposedly has 10 rings. The narration describes the dragons approaching the central control dais and taking off their rings "one by one". But the picture shows one dragon wearing all the rings. I'm ok with there being more than 10 rings, because the powers that the Mandarin's rings produce have changed over time. But you may be thinking that it's odd for the dragons to be wearing the rings as rings. From the original story, i assumed that the rings weren't necessarily meant to be used as rings; it's just that they happened to be wearable as rings for a human sized person. But here we see the dragons wearing the rings (or at least one of them). How can this be, if the dragons are "gigantic"? Well, apparently they weren't gigantic yet.
Apparently they started growing over time, doubling and tripling in size. There also must have been more than 10, or maybe they've had babies since coming to Earth, because it's said that 6 were killed initially, but there are still 10 today.
When Tony Stark finds out that his bodyguard Iron Man has failed to defeat Fin Fang Foom, he goes back to his hotel room to remotely send another set of armor into battle. It's always at this point in a story where i wonder why the character wouldn't call in the rest of his teammates, especially in this case since Black Widow is visiting the other Avengers in the set-up for the next arc. As always, i reluctantly accept the idea that the writer of a solo book has the right to make the story about the character they are writing about, but when you're deliberately reminding us that the character is a member of a team, it's harder to justify. At least give us a throwaway line like, "Can't get in touch with the West Coast Avengers and the East Coast team is too far away to be of help. No choice but to call a suit of my armor from California.".
In any event, it's empty suit of armor time.
The Mandarin is a little unsure who the real Iron Man is, but taunts from Rhodey about letting others fight his fights for him convinces him to get into the battle himself. Of course it's kind of a boring battle when Iron Man is just an empty suit and the Mandarin is content to sit around for 20 minutes waiting for it to dig itself out of a pile of rocks.
Then the other dragons show up.
The story is that the Mandarin has never fully unlocked the power of the rings. And now the dragons want them back. Again, i feel like this misses the point. In the original story, the rings were just a power source. A power source devised by an alien race with technology far advanced from ours. To them, the rings were like a chunk of uranium powering a rocket ship. To a human, they granted seemingly magical powers. The idea that the dragons actually think of the rings as powerful weapons in their own right... it doesn't actually contradict anything but it just feels off to me.
Anyway, Mandarin refuses to hand over the rings and instead learns to unlock their power for himself. Seems like just generic blasts instead of all the cool individual powers.
Tony arrives at last in a third Iron man suit and teams-up with the Mandarin against the dragons.
It turns out that even now that he knows the secret of the rings, Mandarin's human body can't fully unleash their power. So Iron Man gets him to channel the power through his suit.
This results in an explosion felt around the world. It even gets the Man-Thing's attention.
The Mandarin loses his hands and possibly his memory.
Tony's armor is wiped of color in the explosion, resulting in a color scheme similar to what Rhodey will later adopt as War Machine. In fact, due to a misplaced word balloon, i thought maybe this was Rhodey's armor for a second.
Note that the dragons are thought to have dissolved, but Stark isn't 100% clear on that.
As for Tony Stark's cure, it's ultimately said that the "parasite" that his competitors installed in him has completely replaced his own nervous system. And the expert Chinese surgeon, Su Yin, eventually confirms that she's unable to cure him (despite previously leading him on at the insistence of her government). But she does fall in love with him, and Stark professes love as well (it all happens rather quickly and i have a hard time believing anyone is really "in love"). However, Su Yin already has a husband, who is also suffering from paralysis, and when Stark learns about that he stops his advances. (This is from Tony DeZuniga's segment.)
The set-up for the next arc focuses on the Black Widow, who suddenly remembers that there is a Soviet sleeper agent named Oktober that will be activated soon. The Russian officials that she talks to tell her not to worry about it, but she persists. She also scopes out Captain America and She-Hulk, acting like she might recruit them for her mission, but nothing comes of that.
She'll instead recruit Iron Man in the next arc.
I don't know. This should have been awesome. And it's not terrible. But it comes across as very by the numbers. Lazy scripting. A weak ending. An overly busy backstory for the Fin Fang Foom's people. The basic idea is really cool. But - and maybe i'm saying this only because i know from his own statements that it was true - it doesn't feel like Byrne's heart was in it.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: When they are in China, Rhodey says it's been a "week" since Vibro's attack. In issue #276, Tony Stark will say that he hasn't been Iron Man since this incident, so that should be the next issue he appears in. After that, Tony's neuro-net will allow him to appear in other books outside of his armor (we shouldn't see him out of his armor between this arc and the start of Armor Wars II in Iron Man #258, unless it can reasonably be explained with an image inducer). Supposedly "six weeks" pass before an epilogue at the end of the story, though. Thor's cameo shows him with a beard, placing this after Thor #431.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (8): show
That scene that Byrne intended to "reveal" Dewitt's secret shows how badly Byrne's writing abilities had degraded- when I first read it, it read like Rhodey was throwing out guesses, not that this was what were to assume was DeWitt's origin.
Posted by: Michael | October 6, 2015 8:32 PM
"This results in an explosion felt around the world. It even gets the Man-Thing's attention."
I love these scenes where we get to see other heroes sensing events like this. Anyone know if there was a site that tracked all these kinds of scenes by title?
Posted by: clyde | October 6, 2015 10:06 PM
Fin Fang Foom is both child and navigator. He's the Wesley Crusher of Chen Hsu's dragon crew.
Posted by: Mormel | November 8, 2015 7:25 AM
Judging by both the order of the dialogue and the placement of the head in that second panel, it looks moar likely that it was the colorist's mistake and not the letterer's.
Posted by: JC | December 24, 2015 8:47 PM
Yes, the DeWitt mystery makes no sense. Tony could have just asked a researcher to go through his financial records to see if his name came up.
Posted by: Andrew | December 31, 2015 5:17 PM
Why did it take so long for Tony's disgusting mustache to die.
Posted by: MindlessOne | June 18, 2017 9:27 AM
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