Iron Man #301-305
Issue(s): Iron Man #301, Iron Man #302, Iron Man #303, Iron Man #304, Iron Man #305
I got issues #304-305 from a friend, who i think bought them for the Hulk guest appearance. I wasn't expecting much from them. Len Kaminski's Iron Man run has fallen into the "mostly harmless" category for me, and guest appearances of Merged Hulk have generally been a disappointment. But (maybe thanks to lowered expectations), i enjoyed #304-305 much more than i expected to. Not only is the Hulk used well as a foil for Iron Man, but the issues were just full of various continuity strands that seemed worth exploring more fully. It turns out that these issues are part of a loose storyline called "Crash and Burn" that began with issue #301 and was full of guest stars (we are counting Venom as a guest star and not a villain nowadays, right?). So i figured i would go back and cover the storyline from the beginning using my GIT PDFs. (Issue #306 is technically the last issue of "Crash and Burn" but it's not a direct continuation and if/when i cover it, it'll be in a separate entry.)
The story begins with Deathlok in cyberspace, trying to access Stark's computer systems.
He's investigating rumors that Stark has acquired the work that Cybertek did on the Deathlok project, and those rumors are confirmed.
Meanwhile, Tony Stark is still having trouble getting over his recent paralysis. Luckily he's sleeping with his physical trainer, Veronica Benning, so she's on hand to help him. Then he gets a call from his lawyer, Felix Alvarez, alerting him to news reports of widespread corruption at Stark Enterprises.
Stark calls a board meeting, and learns that someone hacked SE's computers to release the info. Stark still wants to learn how his company was involved in all of that in the first place, and the answer is that he inherited it when he acquired Stane International. Stark orders total cooperation with investigators and also has Abe Zimmer and Bethany Cabe looking into the hack (Cabe has been newly hired as the head of security now that Ling McPherson has retired from her partnership with Cabe).
As an aside: this is a little bit of a cake-and-eat-it-too scenario. Stark can remain squeaky clean since all of the corruption is thanks to what he inherited from Stane and Justin Hammer. That fits perfectly with past continuity where Stark's company, at least since the Enterprises days, has always been super-ethical. But i think there would be more depth to showing that Stark's company does indeed skirt certain regulations in pursuit of profits and what Stark may think is the greater good. And then letting that be used as a point of conflict with other heroes as an ongoing thing, instead of having it explode all at once for a single storyline.
While Stark is working out security details with Cabe, HOMER alerts Stark to an intruder, and it turns out to be Deathlok. Misunderstanding Fight time!
But five pages later (including one double-page splash) they manage to communicate to each other, and Iron Man allows Deathlok to delete all the files.
Iron Man even offers Deathlok a job. Deathlok says he'll keep it in mind.
Later, Stark takes a press conference regarding the ongoing corruption. In attendance is Eddie Brock, who thinks Stark is spinning the usual corporate lies.
So Stark is later attacked by Venom.
It turns out that Venom is really attacking an LMD, though.
Venom finds the real Stark in the penthouse, but Stark holds him off with his floating chair...
...and eventually makes it to the armory to change into Iron Man.
It doesn't seem like the Fantastic Four are sharing info with the Avengers, or Stark hasn't been keeping up, because Iron Man only stumbles on the idea of using sonics.
Iron Man also does what i think a lot of Erik Larsen detractors would want.
Iron Man convinces Venom to at least give him a chance to prove that he's not a corporate villain.
You may be wondering why Iron Man would let Venom - who just attempted to kill someone that he was falsely accusing of corporate crimes - to leave, but the first person narration does address that.
I feel like if it were, say, Whiplash, he wouldn't have let him go, though.
After the fight, Stark relaxes the way he likes best: by having ladies fight over him.
"Several days later", Stark is contacted by Dwayne Taylor, who is concerned about a dam that is being built in Nadua (a fictional nation in Africa). Despite all that's happened regarding the Stane acquisitions, Stark is dickishly brusque.
So Taylor, aka Night Thrasher, assembles the New Warriors to deal with the dam directly.
Meanwhile, Stark is visited by Captain America. Cap has heard about Stark's troubles and is offering to help. Stark kind of makes an insensitive remark while talking about being cryogenically frozen.
In the "hazards of unconventional page layouts" category, i briefly thought Stark was claiming that he didn't know that Cap was on ice for decades.
The conversation with Cap is in depth and good. It covers parallels between Steve and Tony's current situations, and also some commentary on the "younger generation".
The Cap sequences are actually depicted as flashbacks, concurrent with scenes of Iron Man being buried in rubble at the Nadua dam and another jump back as we learn how the confrontation with the New Warriors started. The idea of the "younger generation" being impulsive directly relates to the New Warriors' attack on the dam.
During the fighting, the dam is weakened and then collapses. Thunderstrike shows up in the immediate aftermath, blaming Iron Man.
Turns out it's because he designed it.
But the New Warriors claim credit for the destruction of the dam.
So then Thunderstrike and the New Warriors get to fighting, but Iron Man shuts it all down.
The "next generation" commentary is definitely hammered home.
Issue #304, where i came in the first time before deciding to go back, started with the Thunderstrike fight. It's actually never clear in #304 what the New Warriors' problem with the dam is. Looking back, Night Thrasher mentions "improprieties" when he first contacts Stark in issue #302, and granted it's a "prototype plasma inversion dam" which sure sounds like it could be dangerous. In issue #303, Thrasher complains that Stane used "strong-arm tactics -- including murder -- to suppress indigenous protests" and that it's also causing "environmental disaster". So it seems like the New Warriors had a pretty strong case for doing something, and if Iron Man had learned anything after jumping to conclusions with Deathlok, maybe things would have ended better.
Instead, Tony returns to Captain America to complain some more about the kids today.
It was actually this conversation - the discussion about the state of super-heroics today and the intersection with the disbanding of Avengers West Coast and the upcoming formation of Force Works - that i really liked and which caused me to go back. And i'm glad that i found more such conversation in issue #303.
And then we get to the Hulk appearance. Stark returns to the office and learns that among the Stane holdings are the facilities where the Gamma bombs were being built.
Stark realizes that this will attract the attention of the Hulk, so he heads to Nevada. When he gets there, he stops the guards from shooting over the heads of protestors.
He fires the guards and says that whoever gave the order will be prosecuted.
He then goes to the Gamma bomb facility to wait for the Hulk in a new set of armor.
They made a toy of this Hulkbuster armor as part of the line associated with the cartoon. A lot of elements in Len Kaminski's run were used in the cartoon, including the HOMER AI. I hadn't read much of Kaminski's run, but the idea of Marvel having cartoons - especially based on characters that weren't the X-Men or Spider-Man - was still a novelty at the time, so i of course watched them. But i was a little ...confused? ...disappointed? by all of these elements that i had never heard of. It's nice to see where they came from now. I actually wonder if Kaminski was working directly with the cartoon & toy people.
The comic actually comments on the "action figures".
As for the fight, Iron Man holds his own against the Hulk although he's clearly the underdog and there's reason to believe that the Hulk is holding back. So Iron Man does about as well as i'd expect him to do normally.
When i first read these issues i was pretty upset at what was obviously a bad handling of the situation by Iron Man, especially since we know that Stark has no interest in manufacturing Gamma bombs. But looking at the larger arc, it's clearly meant to be part of a pattern where Stark, despite "good" intentions, keeps getting into fights with good people.
Stark's only concern seems to be about process.
And even then, the "logical schedule" turns out to be right away.
Iron Man (as he did with Deathlok, but not the New Warriors) realizes that he's the problem here.
Also note that Hulk knows Iron Man's secret ID.
It's worth noting that even though the story is designed to absolve Stark of deliberate wrongdoing, there's still arguably a lot of negligence going on here. This actually goes back to Iron Man #288 when James Rhodes originally found out that the Stane holdings contained unethical stuff, and the board handled it by selling some of those holdings to AIM. Granted Stark himself has been very busy (and even dead!) since he acquired Stane, but once again he's failed by a corrupt board of execs who never seem to buy into the company ethos. How many times is Stark going to hire board members who disagree with everything he's trying to do?
I think the corporate intrigue aspect of Iron Man gave it the potential to be more than the average super-hero book. But it needed to be handled... i don't even want to say more "realistically" but definitely with more depth and a little bit of logic. In practice it always seems to result in Stark facing off against a hostile board, which makes no sense given that Stark owns the company outright.
Even so, this storyline created the opportunity for Iron Man to face off against a number of heroes for ethical reasons, even if Stark actually agreed with them all. And at least it ends with Stark deciding to do something about the way he's been running the company.
In subplots, Abe Zimmer tracks down the hacker, Raven, and a back-up story shows Bethany Cabe going after him.
She says she's going to bring him back to Stark.
Overall, these issues are much better than i'd expect for 1994. I especially like the way Iron Man and Cap talk about the next generation and how it serves as a kind of continuity hub, for them to peacefully examine what's going on here, in Cap's book, and with the West Coast Avengers. It's the kind of thing i'd expect from a book written in the 80s but which kind of got dropped thanks to the big splash panel style of the 90s, which doesn't leave a lot of room for quiet reflection. Between this and Kaminski's aborted Hellstorm run, it seems like he was getting better as a writer. The guest stars are fun too. Kevin Hopgood's art is very "traditional". Sometimes not so great. There is a roughness to it, especially on close-ups (lots of hatching). But in terms of layouts and flow, it's not as infected by the post-Image style.
Statement of Ownership Total Paid Circulation: Average of Past 12 months = 198,133. Single issue closest to filing date = 159,625.
Quality Rating: B-
Chronological Placement Considerations: Based on Speedball's costume, this should take place before New Warriors #45, and probably before New Warriors #44 since that issue takes place not long before #45. The MCP has Iron Man's guest appearance in Night Thrasher #10 taking place between Iron Man #304-305, but Iron Man #304 ends on a cliffhanger (the Hulk fight). I think the idea is that it has to take place during Iron Man #304. It definitely takes place after the New Warriors' guest appearance in this story (since it is referenced in the Night Thrasher issue) but it should take place before the end of Iron Man #305 when Tony Stark announces that he's shutting down Stark Enterprises. There may be some dependencies around Night Thrasher #10 and New Warriors #45 related to the Child's Play and Time and Time Again crossovers which cause there to be a large gap in Iron Man #304, but there is room for one after the New Warriors confrontation ends, either between pages 13-14 (before Stark's second meeting with Cap) or 15-16 (before the briefing on the gamma bombs).
"Several days" also pass earlier in the story, in issue #302 (that's before the New Warriors appearances, just noting that a lot of time passes during the course of this story).
This definitely takes place after Avengers West Coast #102. The MCP place the Hulk's appearance here between Hulk #416-417 (after Future Imperfect). Deathlok's own series having been canceled during the course of these issues doesn't affect placement. Venom's appearance is context free. Captain America's appearance takes place after he knows that his super-serum is wearing off, per "recent issues of Captain America" (after Captain America #425). The MCP has Thunderstrike appearing during Thunderstrike #7.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (2): showAbe Zimmer, Bethany Cabe, Captain America, Deathlok (Michael Collins), Eddie Brock (Venom), Erica Sondheim, Felix Alvarez, Firestar, HOMER, Hulk, Iron Man, Mrs. Arbogast, Night Thrasher, Nova (Rich Rider), Rage, Raven, Speedball, Thunderstrike, Venom Symbiote, Veronica Benning
Should the first Hulk-Buster story have a higher historical significance? It definitely has a following. It was also was heavily promoted as something "kewl" for the movies.
Posted by: bigvis497 | October 24, 2017 5:50 PM
Night Thrasher 9-10 are weird. They come out concurrently with this storyline but actually undermine the Warriors' position. We learned that the Warriors were duped by one of the local politicians who wanted to sell oil to Roxxon but at the end the government rejects Stark as well. I guess that Nicieza heard about the Warriors' appearance and wanted to make things morally ambiguous as usual.
Posted by: Michael | October 24, 2017 11:19 PM
Tony's reaction to the Hulk knowing "He knows. But then he's smarter than I've given him credit for" is completely inconsistent with the retcon in Hulk Smash Avengers 4 where Tony takes his helmet off in front of the Hulk. Tony would have to think the Hulk is pretty dumb not to know his identity if he unmasked in front of him.
Posted by: Michael | October 25, 2017 12:19 AM
Len Kaminski's run is becoming more and more underrated to me as I continue to read these reviews. It's certainly aging well when compared to the usual 90s "Image rip-off" storytelling style. I hope that Marvel eventually releases it in an Epic Collection trade format. The story and art are certainly far above the usual norm for the era.
Posted by: Clutch | October 25, 2017 1:13 PM
Updated the HSR for "first Hulkbuster armor".
Posted by: fnord12 | October 25, 2017 7:42 PM
Issue 305 is very hard to find without spending some $$$$
Posted by: Mquinn1976 | October 25, 2017 8:56 PM
Seeing this storyline where Cap and Iron Man discuss philosophies, against a backdrop of the New Warriors "being hotheaded kids" is interesting in the hindsight of 2006's Civil War. Cap saying he'll pick his replacement himself, saying he'll have better judgment than the government. Iron Man bemoans the Warriors as unchecked hotheads, implying they would be better off with supervision or training. I wonder if Mark Millar had read these issues when he came up with the main plot of Civil War?
Posted by: 1976mrk | October 25, 2017 9:51 PM
I really hate to pooh, pooh a professional artist's work but it looks like something a teenager would draw. It doesn't have that Marvel style to it. Anyone working for Marvel should be given a template to work off. Nothing I see here looks like something drawn from Stan Lee's 'How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way'.
Posted by: JSfan | October 26, 2017 12:28 PM
I actually think Hopgood looks a lot more "Marvel style" than almost anyone else from this period. Kind of like a junior Sal Buscema. His characters have weight, there's some decent layouts, and I think his characters look on-model. If anything, the inking could be holding his work down.
He's got a website with some more recent stuff and it looks like he's improved quite a bit: http://www.kevhopgood.com/index.html
Posted by: bigvis497 | October 26, 2017 3:41 PM
Business companies are one of those things that comic book writers are usually poor at writing because they don't know how companies actually operate. The same dynamic exists in a lot of RPG sourcebooks. Generally this isn't an issue, but it is in Iron Man because of Stark's role. I haven't read the comics described here so I am only going off FNORD12's comments. But here are my observations.
1) The Board of Directors are not employees of the company and are not hired by Stark. They represent the interests of the shareholders and are elected by them on a rotating schedule. As a large shareowner though, Stark probably sits on the board himself and would likely have other representatives he'd have voted in.
Posted by: Chris | October 26, 2017 4:49 PM
3) If Stark Enterprises was private, it would not be possible for the consortium in # 280-283 to try to acquire/split up Stark's company.
In other words, while Stark could be facing some issues, there is definitely strange things going on that are not realistic. It could be handled much better and still achieve what Kaminski wants. Certainly shutting down the company does not make sense, but I'll see how that plays out in future issues.
Posted by: Chris | October 26, 2017 4:51 PM
Agreed with bigvis497. While I can't say I was ever a huge fan of the penciling that Kev Hopgood did on Iron Man, his work was still much more professional than quite a few of the other artists that Marvel was employing around this time.
Posted by: Ben Herman | October 28, 2017 8:09 PM
Yeah, this run is not that bad.
Of course, there will be very bad times for the book soon, as the 90s were unforgiving.
Posted by: Karel | November 6, 2017 7:35 PM
The company could be closely healed, with Tony as the majority owner. And board members are commonly also officers in the corporation, and often their representation of stockholders is often nominal. Sometimes they will be representatives of banks or people with a large amount of stock. Indeed, it is generally the officers that run corporations.
Posted by: OrangeDuke | December 23, 2017 3:41 AM
It's a minor thing, but the characters never seem to open their mouths when speaking in the artwork. It makes it feel like all the characters are ventriloquists.
Posted by: kveto | March 17, 2018 4:34 PM
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