Thursday, August 23, 2007

Insane Comics Moments, Part Four

Y'know, when I write these, I've been picking on the Silver Age of comics, pointing out how they sometimes got so far ahead of plot logic in an effort to write an exciting story, they wound up writing something just plain crazy. Back then, comics were just an ephemeral entertainment medium for kids, and nobody took it too seriously, so crazy stuff slipped by without being questioned.

Today, we're going to look at the so-called "Copper Age" of comics, and ask, "So...what's your excuse now?"

Exhibit A for the Prosecution is: Teen Iron Man. That's right, every comics fan just simultaneously winced in pain, because this is the story of how Marvel decided that Tony Stark was too hard to get behind as a character. Iron Man needed a sales boost, an alcoholic bi-polar control freak with a heart condition didn't seem as relevant as it did in the 1960s, so what was to be done?

The answer, of course, was obvious to any editor in the 1990s--kill him off. Or, more accurately, turn him evil, then kill him off. (This was, of course, the default response to any title that needed a sales boost in the 1990s, which is why 'The Death of Jughead' sold 2.7 million copies.) Marvel did a big "event" storyline in its Avengers books in which it was revealed that Tony was being brainwashed by Kang, dictator of the year 5000. His attempts to resist the brainwashing were what caused his alcoholism (sure, Tony. My uncle tried the same line.) But now it had fully taken hold, and he was helping to destroy the Avengers from within and crush all opposition to his rule. (Sort of like Bob Harras. *Rimshot*)

Obviously, there was only one man to stop a genius like Tony Stark--Reed Richards!, obviously, there were only two men to stop a genius like Tony Stark--Reed Richards and Victor von Doom!, obviously, there were only five men to stop a genius like Tony Stark--Reed Richards, Victor von Doom, Henry Pym, Bruce Banner, and Professor Charles Xavier!, obviously, there were actually something like twenty men and sixteen women to stop a genius like Tony Stark, including but not limited to She-Hulk, Jean Grey, the Beast, Doctor Strange, Dracula, and Magneto, but the Avengers decided to borrow a time machine, travel back a decade or two, and grab a younger version of Tony Stark out of the past and pit him against his older, more experienced, savvier self. Who was also wearing a suit of far-more-technologically-advanced power armor that young Tony hadn't even dreamed of yet, let alone invented. And who'd been brainwashed into being a ruthless killer.

The fight went about as well as you'd expect--young Tony took a repulsor blast to the chest, and wound up on the brink of death within about the first fifteen seconds. Luckily this jumpstarted old Tony's conscience, and he sacrificed his life stopping Kang's scheme. The Avengers nursed young Tony back to health (save for the fact that he now had to wear a giant metal corset non-stop or he'd die instantly of heart failure), and suggested that he join the Avengers in the present day rather than return to his native time and live a long, healthy life. (Presumably, this didn't create a time paradox because young Tony came from a different reality than old Tony. On the other hand, that world no longer has an Iron Man and never did, which presumably means a wide variety of horrific things for the human race. Then again, they were spared "Civil War".)

Young Iron Man became the headliner in the Iron Man comics for about seven issues, by which point it became clear that this was one of the biggest blunders in Marvel's long history (and yes, I include 'Street Poet Ray'.) Teen Tony flew into the 'Heroes Reborn' universe, and when he came back out a year later, he was classic Tony again, nobody ever asked why, and the Teen Iron Man era died without even a small, pathetic whimper.

Fun Fact: Marvel is two years away and counting from needing to throw everyone into the 'Heroes Reborn' universe again!


Austin Gorton said...

The Crossing, man...what were they thinking.

Anytime they want to fundamentally alter the origin/status of a "big name" character, the question I always ask myself is "what would my non-comics reading friend think of the new status?"

"Iron Man? He's the cool exec with a heart of steel, right?" asks Non Comic Reading Friend.

"Well, he was. Then he got turned crazy. Now he's the same guy, but younger. Because he's from the past. But not the first guy's past, an alternate reality of the first guys' past. So Iron Man is a younger version of himself from an alternate reality."

Non Comic Reading Friend's eyes glaze over.

Greg McElhatton said...

I keep praying that someone, somewhere, brings Street Poet Ray back. Or better yet, Marvel buys the character and he gets to guest star in Civil War: The Initative. That'd be awesome, right? Right?

Anonymous said...

Every time someone starts whining that Joe Quesada sucks and that this is the worst Marvel has ever been, I remind them of all the garbage that got churned out in the mid-1990s, including both "The Crossing" and "Heroes Reborn." Some people have such short memories.

Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly, Teen-TONY was the result of Marvel seeing how DC's then-recent Green Lantern storyline (turn the original guy into an eeeeeevil villain, and then introduce a younger new guy to take his place) bumped sales on the title and, as they do with alarming frequency, stole the idea outright.

The only difference, was that Marvel tossed in some insane time-jumping to ensure that the original guy WAS ALSO the new guy.

Everything about "The Crossing" was horrid; plot, storyline and art (for nearly all related titles).

Oddly enough, in a bizarre bit of cosmic payback, DC then later stole MARVEL's "out" for the story:
"original" guy was mind-controlled at the time.
Iron-Man had (completely inexplicably) been a thrall of KANG (or was it Immortus... ah tomato/tomahto), and then when recently looking to bring back Hal Jordan, DC made the "yellow mind monster" (or whatever the heck it was) to control Jordan's brain-pan.



Anonymous said...

"Hey! Let's kill Captain America... we'll get him back in a couple of years when we reboot the universe."

I would much rather have "The Spider-Clone" mess over again than "Civil War". At least the former was just a bad idea rather than poor writing by people who should be able to do better.

John Seavey said...

Heck, that woulda been my solution to the Spider-Clone story, too. Chuck both Peter and Ben into the 'Heroes Reborn' universe, do a year of that (although presumably, Todd McFarlane would rather eat his own fingers than draw Spidey again), and when they come back out, there's only one Spider-Man, and he's got both their memories. Which one was the original? Which one was the clone? Who cares, they're merged now.