Iron Man: Demon In A Bottle

The Stark reality of alcoholism provided Iron Man with his most famous foe - the bottle!

It’s hard to feel sorry for a character like Tony Stark. He’s stinking rich, has a steady stream of glamorous girlfriends and makes weapons for a living – and yet he is one of Marvel’s most popular characters.

You can see why your average comic reader would identify with a character like Peter Parker or want to be Wolverine, but take away the Iron Man suit and what have you got? Who would want to be Tony Stark?

This collection of nine issues of Iron Man, which date back to 1978, gave the character a much needed injection of reality and for the time, took one hell of a risk with the readership by giving Mr Stark an unhealthy appetite for the demon drink and then dealing with the consequences of his alcoholism.

And while it might not deal with the consequences of addiction in the same powerful ways as films like French Connection 2 – this is a comic, after all – having re-read the tale almost 20 years on, it holds up amazingly well.

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All the normal Marvel ingredients from the late 1970s and early 80s are present and correct: there are kung-fu kick ass babes, some truly daft super villains and the odd in-joke, which may or may have been directed at the-then editor in chief, Jim Shooter.

David Michelinie and Bob Layton’s plots take the slow-boil approach, with things taking a while to warm up, but there are plenty of hints of the bigger problems Tony Stark is about to face. His armour keeps malfunctioning and his reliance on the sauce isn’t helping matters at all. 

John Romita Jnr.’s art still rocks and his work here is as good as anything in his long career.

What really still impresses are the decent cliff-hangers. When you read a collection of issues like this, it is easy to forget the impact a cliff-hanger can have, especially when you have to wait a month to find out the resolution. The ending of issue 124, when Iron Man goes wrong with fatal consequences, is a brilliant piece of story telling.

When butler Jarvis quits at the end of 127, it’s a genuinely shocking moment, although as the 2008 reissue explains, there is more to the letter of resignation than meets the eye. It is a real letter of resignation from one of the Marvel staffers, with the names changed to bring it into the Iron Man story. Quite why it was inserted remains a mystery to this day.

The final issue – 128 – is the one where Tony faces up to his drinking problem and there is an added twist to do with Jarvis’s resignation, which lays the foundation for future story lines. 

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Some of they storytelling and the portrayal of Tony Stark as a millionaire playboy may be a little hackneyed, compared to recent Iron Man offerings, but you can see how this collection has taken an important place in the character’s history. Its impact on the recent movie, staring Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark, is there for all to see.

The mighty house of Marvel have been using Tony Stark as a metaphor for poor old George W. Bush in recent years, but this collection proves that the best stories are the ones when super heroes become ordinary mortals, and have to deal with the same old crap that everyone else does. A real hero doesn’t have to wear a suit, just have the courage to face their demons – whatever they may be.