1979 · The 70s

August 1979: Iron Man 128: In which we learn what really fuels Iron Man is Whisky.

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Synopsis: Iron Man 128  was written by David Michelinie, with art by John Romita Jr and Bob Layton and opens with a melancholy Tony (Iron Man) Stark, drinking and talking with his armour. Stark’s rival Justin Hammer had used his armour to kill an ambassador, making it look like a premeditated act by Iron Man and Tony is coping in the best way he knows how, he’s drinking. He complains about Jarvis quitted, blaming himself for it, and finally done with all his problems as Stark, he finds a solution, stop being Stark, just be Iron Man. So he downs a shot of (I’m guessing vodka?) and puts on his helmet and flies out into the night. The window was still closed at that point.

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He finds a chemical container truck crashed and offers to help the emergency services there and it goes wrong, spectacularly wrong. Turning a crash into a chemical spill. This sobers him up a bit and he flies off, changes back into Tony Stark and then goes for a bottle of whiskey. This time he is stopped by current girlfriend Bethany McCabe, who forces him to acknowledge that he isn’t a social, or even a problem drinker, but an alcoholic. Backed into a corner, he asks for help and over the next few days, Bethany helps him through the DTs and he begins to open up, to design things again and he starts trying to put his life back together.

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He goes to see his former butler and oldest confidante Edwin Jarvis and asks him to come back. Jarvis agrees but tells Tony that he has had to use his shares in Stark International as collateral for a loan to help with his ailing mother’s medical costs, but has since lost the shares to what is essentially a loan shark. Knowing that those shares could prevent S.H.I.E.L.D. from owning the majority of his company, Tony suits up again as Iron Man to confront the loan shark.  Learning that he is too late, that the shares have been bought by a government agency , Iron Man flies back after roughing the loan shark up a bit and returns as melancholy as the start of the issue at home, where he heads straight for the bottle. Only this time, he finally finds the strength to pass on the drink and choose the right path, to the joy of Bethany and Jarvis. Tony is now resolved to fight back, rebuild his reputation in business and as Iron Man as well as regain control of his company. He’s taken the first step and he’s going to win.

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Notes: To call this issue historic is to understate it. It was the point where writers finally found that personality trait that defined Tony Stark as a character. He’d always had the crutch of technology, but nothing else. Daredevil had his faith, Spider-Man, his guilt, Reed Richards was trapped between devoted husband and father and absent minded professor and so on. Now Tony had his, he was an addict. He was addicted to being Iron Man, to the future, to making up for his original industry and to alcohol. For a 70’s comic, the topic was handled subtly. The word alcoholic was never used, but you know what it meant. It never painted Iron Man as anything other than a man with a problem, who honestly needed help to solve it and it gave depth and pathos to a character in need of it. The issue itself is interesting, the threat of losing control of Stark International through his own actions and the Iron Man related death was well handled and was equalled by the wonderful work Layton added to Romita Jnr’s pencils. This was not a simple one off story, this idea came back later to great effect in one of the best storylines of bronze age Iron Man.

Next Time:  He came from space, but forgot his fingers.

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