Iron Man #74-75,77,80-81
Issue(s): Iron Man #74, Iron Man #75, Iron Man #77, Iron Man #80, Iron Man #81
Say it with me: War of the Super-Villains. Doesn't that sound awesome? How could you possibly screw that up? Well, one way is to have mediocre writer Mike Friedrich in charge of the story. Another is to have massive scheduling problems resulting in rushed books and fill-in issues (note all the issue numbers that are missing from the run). But above all, you could have a War of the Super-Villains that barely features any super-villains!! Sure, it's got MODOK and the Mad Thinker, and the Yellow Claw makes a brief appearance, but where's Dr. Doom? Red Skull? Dr. Octopus? The Leader? Even leaving out other "boss" villains, is it really a "war" if it's just two eggheads fighting each other by sending a mind-controlled and/or robot Iron Man back and forth? Shouldn't they each have an army of "grunt" villains at their disposal? Friedrich, am i going to have to travel back in time and come over there and write this thing for you?!?
Iron Man returns home from the Avengers and works out in a room he's modeled after what he's heard of the X-Men's Danger Room. He also makes a stray comment about the rumors he's heard about Iron Fist, suggesting that he should hunt him down to show him "who's got first rights to that name!". Meanwhile, as a reaction to the Crimson Dynamo's blunders with the Vietnamese experimental city last issue, the Titanic Three are placed under house arrest (as if the Vietnamese army could possibly hope to force Radioactive Man, Titanium Man, and the Crimson Dynamo to do anything against their will).
Getting into the actual plot, MODOK receives a report from his AIM henchmen...
...that serves as a recap to the prelude to the War of the Super-Villains, including the Yellow Claw/Mandarin fight that left the Mandarin presumed dead, and Iron Man fighting against a group of lesser villains including the Man-Bull, Whiplash, and the Melter (and to be fair, my above criticism is mitigated by these earlier fights, but it's still a pretty weak list and it's definitely meandered over so many issues. It doesn't come close to matching the build-up).
All of this has been orchestrated by a mysterious Black Lama. The henchman, a former disciple of the Lama, also explains why Doom, the Red Skull, Fu Manchu, Magneto, the Leader, and Dracula are not interested (they either consider the Black Lama beneath their notice, have disappeared...
...or, in Dracula's case, MODOK does not believe he exists).
Liking the odds, MODOK accepts the Lama's contest, which involves fighting for a "Golden Globe". MODOK disintegrates a henchman who dares ask him why he would consider involving himself in a pointless contest.
The Mad Thinker escapes from prison, and Firebrand leaves with him. The Thinker takes control of Iron Man and sends him after MODOK. MODOK is wearing his giant body exoskeleton instead of using his floating chair.
The fight continues to the Mad Thinker's lair...
...and the Thinker employs his second best android against MODOK.
Iron Man deals with strange hallucinations, a result of a mental connection with the Black Lama, during the fight. Having defeated the Thinker, the Black Lama sends MODOK against the Yellow Claw next. MODOK takes control of Iron Man and sends him after the Claw, who quickly destroys him. Except the Mad Thinker and the Iron Man that MODOK defeated were really robots...
...and the real Iron Man frees himself from the Thinker's control.
As the lame "war" continues, Firebrand shows up again. He's more of a radical anti-capitalist than a super-villain, but he also wants revenge on Iron Man for the alleged murder of his father.
In the end, Firebrand is the only one left standing, the Black Lama awards him with the Golden Globe prize, except it isn't really much of an award, just something that teleports Firebrand to the Lama's home world. Iron Man wakes up in time to jump through the portal as well.
Here's where things go from crappy but readable to really, really bad.
The Black Lama is apparently actually a king of a boring alternate dimension United States, and he's been dealing with a revolution.
This it totally out of sync with the whole Lama/disciples/eastern philosophy thing. It's like an entirely different story got tacked onto his character. His whole War of the Super-Villains plot was to find a champion that could help him take back his world which again makes no sense, especially considering he's supposed to be a good guy. Why not just recruit a super-hero?
Firebrand is not mystically compelled to help the king or anything and he quickly turns on him. It's lucky that Iron Man came along or the king would have had no help.
How did the Lama expect to get MODOK or the Mad Thinker to help him? Makes no sense at all. Anyway, after two full issues of fighting in this other world, Iron Man and Firebrand return home. This is Friedrich's last issue.
On top of a terrible plot, the characterization is really poor. The Black Lama might as well be two different characters. Firebrand, who could be interesting as a political revolutionary and non-typical super-villain, is instead written as a self-interested thug. Iron Man is basically a cipher in these issues. Pretty difficult to slog through, which is especially disappointing because the high level concept is so simple and cool.
Quality Rating: D
Chronological Placement Considerations: Issue #74 starts with Iron Man leaving the Avengers directly after the Celestial Madonna saga, except it shows the team being composed of the Scarlet Witch and the Vision, who left directly from Viet Nam to go on their honeymoon, and not Moondragon, who did return home with the Avengers. I'm going to write off that first page as symbolic/flashback. Another way of looking at it (this is the MCP approach) is that the first seven pages takes place after the Celestial Madonna saga, and the rest of the issue occurs much later. There certainly is room for a gap of time between the prelude and main story in issue #74. Issues #76,78, and 79 were all fill-ins or reprints, hence the gaps in the issues covered here.
The Android that the Mad Thinker uses here seems to be the one from Fantastic Four #71, but that android is still stuck in the Negative Zone (as will be revealed in Fantastic Four #183), so this must be a copy made from the same template (and maybe with the same original memories).
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (7): show
Magneto would have still been regressed to infancy at this time.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 10, 2011 7:33 PM
That's probably Ducharme in the Fu Manchu panel.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | August 20, 2011 9:04 PM
war of the supervillains is what they should have done with "super-villain team up"
Posted by: kveto from prague | October 1, 2011 3:14 PM
Although he's not really a villain by the end, King Jerald -- Gerald Ford -- is the third Republican leader to become a super villain in the '70s, after Nixon/Number 1 in the Cap Secret Empire arc and Nelson Rockefeller (of the Squadron Supreme's earth) getting possessed by the Serpent Crown in Avengers. Or does that Avengers arc come after this?
Reagan, by contrast, is treated remarkably sympathetically, if usually indirectly, until he gets turned into a snake man during Gruenwald's Cap run. I attribute this less to any latent GOP affinity on Jim Shooter's part than to the overall difference in national psyche in the Reagan as opposed to Nixon-Ford (and even Nixon-Ford-Carter) era.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | December 18, 2012 1:26 AM
Friedrich was clearly out of gas and just decided to make the last two issues a political parody. Remember, he's from Michigan and probably felt like tweaking Ford.
The "war" concept has its benefits, as it essentially makes the bad guys the protagonists and Friedrich gives the victories to the Thinkers and the Yellow Claws who disdain direct action and use more planning (in the classic heroic mold, sort of). And Arv Jones makes good use of small panels, but his figures are too herky-jerky.
But it's Shell-head's book, after all, and so the whole thing feels like a waste. Add in the fact that the book was bi-monthly and all this meandering must have felt like an eternity.
Posted by: Dan Spector | February 3, 2013 5:08 AM
Foom#1(2/73) described Firebrand as an "old X-Men villain"
Posted by: Mark Drummond | February 3, 2013 7:04 PM
FOOM#8(12/74) featured Dave Cockrum's parody of Iron Man's helmet addition called "Invincible Iron Nose".
Posted by: Mark Drummond | February 10, 2013 6:52 PM
I amend a previous note: that isn't Ducharme.
#80 has the weird credit "apologies to Poul Anderson". Poul was a longtime SF writer, and I think the alternate earth mini-kingdoms North America may be his idea.
"Baron Rockler" refers to Nelson Rockefeller, but I don't know if there was a "Baroness Rockler" in the real world.
"Emperor Norton" refers to the actual 19th century loony guy who declared himself Emperor of the USA(and actually had loads of fans anyway), but I think he was based in California.
#81's cover shows Firebrand with an omega symbol-type thing on his chest rather than a fist.
Tony Stark's former crazy girlfriend Marianne Rodgers apparently has some kind of behind the scenes appearances, but I don't think anything ever comes of it(or if she ever comes back).
Posted by: Mark Drummond | May 11, 2013 5:21 PM
Nothing ever comes of it but Marianne returns in the Midas story in the 100s of Iron Man.
Posted by: Michael | May 11, 2013 5:27 PM
Jo Duffy has a letter in #74.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | June 29, 2013 3:50 PM
Here's the link to a description of the Emperor Norton that Mike Drummond mentions. He's really a fascinating character, well known in San Francisco (Christopher Moore has a big nod to him in his vampire books that take place in San Francisco).
Posted by: Erik Beck | March 8, 2015 1:00 PM
MODOK using a giant robot body completely defeats the purpose of MODOK.
Posted by: Andrew | November 9, 2015 8:35 PM
Eh, if MODOK wants to occasionally have a huge human body to fight with, let him. Yeah its probably something you'd more expect with Quasimodo (or the infamous "bald guy with speedo and metal glasses" that Krang used in TMNT '87), but to me it just feels like a "final, final option" thing for the likes of MODOK.
Posted by: Ataru320 | November 10, 2015 8:41 AM
Forget Civil War II or Secret Wars its "The Super-Villain War" that needs to be re-done.
Posted by: david banes | May 25, 2016 1:38 AM
@david barnes: Should it be redone? Heck yeah! Will it...well considering Marvel rather have its heroes keep finding excuses to fight one another (or alternate versions of one another)...probably not.
Posted by: Ataru320 | May 25, 2016 10:17 AM
Marianne is the young blonde woman who appears to Tony in IRON MAN #75 during his hallucinations and links his mind with the Black Lama's. She does the same thing with the Lama to Firebrand. She also helps free him. It is revealed later at the end of IRON MAN #81 that it was her. This also explains why the demons in Marianne's own hallucinations in IRON MAN #52 looked similar to the ones the Black Lama created in flashback. His madness had infected her own. It should also be noted that Marianne was the alternate counterpart of the Lama's daughter, Susan.
Posted by: Andrew Burke | October 4, 2017 9:15 AM
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